BILLINGS — The Bentonite Nightmare was already intimidating enough.
Then, go ahead and add 15 vertical feet to the top of it.
“This hill is the hill that continues to grow,” joked Darrell Devitt, a longtime promoter of the Great American Championship Motorcycle Hill Climb, which returns to the Billings Motorcycle Club on Friday and Saturday.
As a result of adding the 15 feet the course is approximately 25 feet longer and is now a daunting 525 feet from the starting line to the finish line, promoters estimated on Tuesday morning at the BMC.
The five months of equipment work and moving dirt on the championship hill, which was done a “loader bucket at a time” Devitt said, will be noticeable to fans at the two-day event in the heart of the South Hills.
Cord Mitchell, one of the promoters of the event, said the side-by-side course has also been changed and there is a new rhythm section. All the work was done to make the hill “more challenging” said Mitchell.
So while it’s the 103rd anniversary of the Great American, even the veteran riders will be challenged by a new-look Bentonite Nightmare.
“The hill climb is looking good and the hill looks good,” said promoter Shannon Chamberlain, who as an active rider captured the 1993, 2006 and 2007 Great American overall title. “We have gotten a bunch of water on it. We have a new rhythm section, and it should be kind of a new deal and something different. We have an awesome turnout of riders. We have a ton of good riders.”
The professional classes begin at 1:30 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday with an approximate ending of 10:30 p.m. on both days. The approximately 110 riders who make up 300 professional entries will be competing for their piece of a $30,000 purse.
The Great American is the finale in this year’s Rockwell Pro Hill Climb Series, which earlier featured a hill climb in Utah and the Big Sky Challenge at the BMC in early June.
Logan Mead of Concord, California, who claimed the overall title at the Big Sky Challenge and the 450cc, 0-700cc, and 701cc-open classifications at the event, is the defending Great American champion.
There are plenty of challengers to Mead’s throne.
Austin Teyler of Billings, the 2013-15 Great American overall titlist, is entered. Other former overall champions in the field are Ryan Gallegos (2016) of Casper, Wyoming, and Corey Erhardt (2012) of Billings.
That’s not to say there aren’t others who can contend in their respective classifications and for an overall title.
In fact, promoters are encouraged as there are quite a few new and up-and-coming riders.
"That's how it exists," said Mitchell. "We see new people and it's the next generation starting to ride and continuing and keeping the sport going."
Nitromethane is not allowed to be used as a fuel to power motorcycles in the Rockwell series. The Rockwell is also a rubber tire series and steel to help with traction is not allowed on the tires.
“Honestly, half of the field I don’t recognize their name,” said Mitchell. “I think that’s why the BMC has stayed on the course it stayed on.
“You can go buy a bike at the dealership and put extensions on it and come out here and race. These guys, we have classes that are stock-style classes for.”
Devitt said with the rules, “the rider talent shows up more.”
On Friday, the 0-600cc class begins the day at 1:30 p.m., followed by the 450cc class, the 40-plus pro masters and then the side-by-side qualifiers.
On Saturday, the 0-700cc begins the competition at 1:30 p.m., the 701cc plus follows, then the championship class should start at approximately 8:30 p.m. The side-by-side run-off will conclude the night under the lights.
The riders who advance to the championship class will be the top five in the 450cc, 0-700cc, and the 701cc. A rider can only qualify once for the championship class.
If a rider qualifies more than once for the advanced class, they need to pick what bike they want to ride and the next person up in the classification not chosen will advance to the field of 15.
All told, each rider will have two attempts up the hill in the championship run-off to crown the overall titlist. The rider with the best time, or footage, in the advanced class will earn the championship.
New this year for spectators is they will receive a piece of paper with a code they can scan into their smart phones at the gate.
“You scan a code and it prompts you for an app. It’s free and it will tell you in real time who is in the lead, the running order and it will provide an in-depth look in real time,” said Mitchell. “If you are a spectator it tells you everything.”
NOTES: A trophy hill climb is scheduled for Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. … Vendors serving food such as barbecue, pizza, hamburgers, and hot dogs, along with beverages, will be on site. Snow cones, “people can have a mountain of snow cones,” joked Devitt, will also be available. … Camping is available for a $40 fee. Tickets are $15 per day or $25 for the weekend and those 10 and under are admitted free with a paying adult. Tickets are available at the gate.