SOUTH RANGE — Motorcycle climbers from across the Midwest converged on the 620-foot sheer cliff of Whealkate Bluff in the South Range to find out who had the talent to summit.
While more climbers topped the timing beam at the summit than last year, Whealkate Bluff still proved to be the test of man, machine and guts.
It was during the 2021 MASTERS Racing Circuit motorcycle hill climb in which only one race set a time, namely Circuit No. 1 motorcycle climber Mike Kirtland of Greenland.
At this year’s Hillclimb, seven riders cleared the digital timing beam.
One of the seven was Kirtland, who not only remained the top MASTERS driver, but expanded his rankings. Kirtland captured Vollwerth’s Meats-Settlers Co-Op’s Modified King of the Hill, Twilly’s Mod Uphill Drag Race Champion, Class 4 Champion and the icing on the cake, the Bam Tools Fastest Time of the Day.
Earlier in the day, Kirtland climbed the hill in 12.22 seconds. On the radio, comments from MASTERS officials ranged from “check this time again,” at “Are you serious, 12.22?
One comment that could not be confirmed was “It must be close to the record.” Nobody has the results of the 70s and 80s.
Houghton’s Terry Lahti was competing then, but stopped when the South Range Business Association stopped running the Hillclimb in the 1980s.
“When the MASTERS brought back the Motorcycle Hillclimb, I went out and bought a motorcycle,” said Lahti. “After not doing the hill last year, all I wanted to do this year was get to the top. It didn’t matter if I won a course, or even took King of the Hill. All I cared about was being on top.”
Lahti managed to win the feature class, Top Gun. Winning this class qualified him for the King of the Hill Shootout. Lahti tied to run second in the shootout. With three points to decide a winner, Kirtland went first.
In the Mod Shootout, Kirtland ran 12.84 seconds. Lahti ran a 12.83.
“I had to look at the time again and again to make sure it was showing 12.83,” said MASTERS official Wyatt McIntyre. “You can’t blink in a hundredth of a second, here Terry (Lahti) ran over 600 feet up the hill a hundredth of a second faster than Mike (Kirtland).”
With Kirtland winning three modified classes, the Mass City climber had two more races. He ran 12.90 seconds in his 3rd run. Traverse City’s Chaz Forcia qualified for the Shootout but did not race.
“When I saw those moments when Terry and Mike ran, I just didn’t think I could beat them,” said Forcia, a former resident of Baraga.
In Kirtland’s last run to beat Lahti, he ran 12.55 seconds to win $450.
Four climbers qualified for Merritt’s Travel Center Stock King of the Hill. Kirtland, Harrison Kerchner of Calumet, Brian Pence of Rockland and Shane Bandola of Crystal Fall. Bandola started first and set the bar at 13.28 seconds. Pence then raced over the hill with a run of 15.94 seconds. Kerchner raced the smallest motorcycle of the quartet and covered more than 200 feet before the hill pulled the young man down. Then it was time for Kirtland to sweep the King of the Hill Shootouts. Kirtland failed to make it to the top.
“I watched the line that everyone was taking throughout the day. I knew what line I wanted, it was just a matter of whether I could hold that line” Bandola said. “I was confident from the start this morning. It was just the question of how everyone would do.
Talk in the pits throughout the day focused on Bandola’s talent.
“Mike (Kirtland) had to do well, the question was how (Shane) Bandola, with the Havela racing team, would do,” McIntyre said. “The surprise that surprised so many of us in the pits was how Terry (Lahti) would do. After all, he’s a 68-year-old.
“Terry (Lahti) was one of the best drivers with my brother, Tim (Tousignant) in the 1970s”, said Craig Tousignant of Ontonagon.
Lahti set the highest mark to win the Stock King of the Hill last year.
The Hillclimber the riders, crew and fans were “looking for” was Nick Gustafson. He works for Polaris Industries in Roseau, Minnesota, and has become one of the most popular and beloved MASTERS racers over the past 30 years. Gustafson was a Top Gun Champion in Snow Drags, a representative for the MASTERS racing circuit at the HIllclimb Snowmobile World Championship in Jackson, Wyoming, and one of the top Watercross snowmobile racers.
Gustafson cleared the hill in 17.99 seconds. Later that day he crashed his Honda near the top of the hill and injured his knee. He was helped down the hill.
The hill climb featured three father-son tandems. Kirtland’s two sons, Brady and Gage, competed. Other father-son pairs included Brad Havela and his son Gage, and Leif Forcia and his son, Chaz.
One of the thrills of the whole event was seeing 4-year-old Otto Walli competing in the “Kids King of the Hill” premium foam and coating competition. Walli had only used his 50cc Micro Mini Moto three times after removing the “drive wheels”. After ascending 58 meters, Walli ran down the side of the hill and flipped his motorbike.
“The motorbike landed on him. He got up, left with the Trophy above his head. He took it like a champ. said her mother Brittany Barrette. “I’m sure he’ll be in a lot more crashes as he gets older.”
Robert O’Connell of Atlantic Mine won the Junior King of the Hill by setting the highest mark of 163 yards.
Ishpeming’s Jesse Perry held off popular Joliff Brothers racing team half Colin in both Uphill Stock Drags bikes. Perry went a few feet higher up the hill to win this thrilling finale.
MASTERS -Vollwerth’s Meats – Pat’s Motorsports – Wildlife Refuge Cabins – Keweenaw Chevrolet Buick GMC Motorcycle Hillclimb Results
Vollwerth’s Meats – Settlers Co-op MOD King of the Hill: Mike Kirtland, Mass City, Yamaha, 12.55 seconds.
Meats from Vollwerth – Merritt; s Travel Center STOCK King of the Hill: Shane Bandola, Crystal Falls, Honda, 13.28 seconds.
Settlers Federal Credit Union / Diamond House International MOD Uphill 2-Bike Drags: 1) Mike Kirtland, Mass City, Yamaha. 2) Gage Havela, Ishpeming, Yamaha.
Twilly’s Sports Bar/M&M Powersports STOCK Uphill 2-Bike Drags: 1) Jesse Perry, Ishpeming, Yamaha. 2) Colin Joliff, Mass City, Yamaha.
Jr. King of the Hill Premium Spray Foam and Coatings: Robert O’Connell, Atlantic Mine, Yamaha, 163 yards
King of the Hill Kids Premium Spray Foam and Liners: Otto Walli, Lake Linden, 58 Yards
Bam Tools Fastest Time of the Day: Mike Kirtland, Mass City, Yamaha, 12.22 seconds (Mod 600)
Twilly’s Sports Bar TOP GUN: 1) Terry Lahti, Houghton, Honda, 12.68. 2) Mike Kirtland, Mass City, Yamaha, 13.38. 3) Nick Gustafson, Roseau, MN. Honda, 208 yards.
Pat’s Motorsports Stock 350-500: Shane Bandola, Crystal Falls, Honda, 13.63. 2) Mike Kirtland, Mass City, Yamaha, 15.10. 3) Colin Joliff, Mass City, Yamaha, 16.69.
Keweenaw Chevrolet Buick GMC Stock 350 (2-stroke) 450 (4-stroke): 1) Mike Kirtland, Mass City, Yamaha, 12.62. 2) Brad Havela, Ishpeming, Honda, 13.72. 3) Brady Kirtland, Mass City, Yamaha, 166 yards.
Wildlife Refuge Cabins Open Stock: 1) Mike Kirtland, Mass City, Yamaha, 12.97. 2) Terry Lahti, Houghton, Honda, 13.41. 3) Gage Havela, Ishpeming, Yamaha, 210 yards.
Ben DeHaan Trucking MOD 401-600: 1) Mike Kirtland, Mass City, Yamaha, 12.22 (fastest time of the day). 2) Gene Romero, Freemont, Honda, 13.25. 3) Craig Tousignant, Ontonagon, Yamaha, 208 yards.
Joliff Brothers Logging MOD 500 (2 stroke) 650 (4 stroke): 1) Mike Kirtland, Mass City, Yamaha, 13.43. 2) Nick Gustafson, Roseau, MN. Honda, 17.99. 3) Randy Antilla, Greenland, Honda, 160 yards.
Mosquito Inn/4 Season’s Convenience 250 (2-stroke) 400 (4-stroke): 1) Brian Pence, Rockland, 166 yards. 2) Nick Gustafson, Roseau, MN. Honda, 130 yards.
Ewen Building Supply STOCK 250-400: Chaz Forcia, Traverse City, KTM, 16.37
150 (2-stroke) 250 (4-stroke): Harrison Kerchner, Calumet, Kawasaki, 74 yards