Cycle Week fans cheer return of Hillclimb

06 15 Hillclimb 1 Karen Bobotas

This driver crests the top of the hill of the hill at Gunstock’s Hill Climb event on Wednesday.  (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)


GILFORD — The return of the Motorcycle  Week Gunstock Hillclimb to its original location at the 70-meter Torger Tokle Memorial Ski Jump hill at Gunstock Mountain Resort was warmly received by those who turned out to witness yesterday’s event.
Several thousand people turned out for the hillclimb and cheered on the daredevil riders who pitted their skills against the steep slope, with some of the loudest cheers going to those who had spectacular failures on their way up the hill.
The Gunstock Hillclimb was first held in 1946 during Laconia Motorcycle Week and was run at Gunstock until 1962 and again from 1993 until 2011, when Ridge Runner Promotions, which sponsors the event, and management of the resort failed to renew their contract. For the past five years, Ridge Runner Promotions held a competition in the Pro Hill Climb Series at the organization’s site in Canaan.
Dennis Vallee of Laconia, who is himself a motorcyclist, marvels at the risk-taking by those riding their bikes up the mountain. “I like watching it, but I wouldn’t do it.”
And he’s glad that it’s back at Gunstock. “It’s back here and I’m coming back here because of that. It’s a lot better than it was up there in Canaan. It belongs here and it’s the best place to watch it.”
Others echoed that sentiment, including Paul Cantin of Peabody, Massachusetts, who said he’s been coming to Motorcycle Week ever since 1982 and has missed taking in the hillclimb for the past five years.
“I came here in 1982 and returned the next year with my own motorcycle and have been here every year since then. But it wasn’t the same without the hillclimb,” said Cantin.
He said that he was celebrating his 55th birthday that day and that hillclimbs are a part of his family’s history. “My grandfather, Bill Rheault, was a hillclimber in the 1920s and ran an Indian motorcycle. It’s a lot of fun to watch,” said Cantin.
Others taking in he hillclimb for the first time included Frank Sura of Malone, New York, who owns three motorcycles, including a Harley-Davidson Street Glide. “It’s a beautiful spot. I love it,” he said.
Also impressed with the beauty of the area and the event itself was Cliff Baker of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, who attends the Sturgis Rally every year but has missed out on its hillclimb event.
Baker said that he’ll be staying in the area right through this coming weekend and is glad that he made hist first ever trip to take in Laconia’s Motorcycle Week.
Hillcimbers were equally pleased to see the event return to Gunstock.
Lou Welch of Glastonbury, Connecticut, said that he took part in the hillclimb when it was revived in 1993 and recalled that there were so few riders that “We kept riding the hill all day.”
The hillclimb reached the peak of its popularity about 10 years later and drew as many as 12,000 spectators, But attendance declined after the event was moved from the ski jump hill to the Smith Slope near the Gunstock Base Lodge.
Welch, who now rides in the over-50 category, was riding a Honda CRF 450 which he shares with his son, Kyle, 24, who has been involved in motorcycle racing for 12 years.
Welch’s daughter, 21-year-old Samantha, also races in the 450 class and 200 class, and was having some success at Gunstock.
Welch said the cycle he and his son were riding was set up for Pro Hill Climb competition and was once owned by Ian Loud, a pro competitor.
“I’ve owned it for six years and we’ve done pretty well with it,” said Welch, adding that he and his on had both made their first runs up the hill in 7.1 seconds.
Josh Kobel of Holden, Massachusetts, said he was enthused with his runs on his Kawasaki 450 and Kawasaki 500. “I love this hill. I haven’t been here for 10 years and it’s great.”
Kobel, who is a truck driver for Harvey Building Products, was a champion in 2012 when raced a Yamaha 250 and won 10 of 12 hillclimbing events and placed second in the other two.

06 15 Hillclimb 2 Karen Bobotas

Lou Welch of Connecticut takes off from the boards at Gunstock's Hill Climb event on Wednesday in the over-50 category.  (Karen Bobotas/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

06 15 Hillclimb 3 Karen Bobotas

Crowds gathered at the base of the 70-meter jump for Motocycle Week’s Hill Climb at Gunstock on Wednesday.  (Karen Bobotas/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

Belmont Elementary principal to retire

BELMONT — After 24 years in the field of education, three of them as the principal at Belmont Elementary School, Sheila Arnold is ready to retire and “be open to what lies ahead.”
The Shaker Regional School Board accepted Arnold’s resignation Tuesday night and, having completed the field work, she will be finishing her last course in preparation for an examination to become a board-certified behavior analyst.
Before coming to Belmont, Arnold had taught at all levels and administered grade levels K-12 in Massachusetts. She said she applied for the Belmont principal position to continue her advocacy for children.
She cited the community’s involvement in the schools and the students’ involvement in the community as being among the strengths of the elementary school.
“It has been a great pleasure working with the Belmont Public Library, Chief of Police [Mark] Lewandowski, Officer Joe Marcello and the Belmont Police Department, the Belmont Fire Department, local retailers, and corporations such as McDonald’s and BJs,” Arnold said.
“Students are encouraged to be active community members by participating in such things as the pumpkin festival, food drives, and Jump Rope for Heart,” she said. “Your community is only as successful as all of its members.”
Arnold said, “My fondest memories would be the laugh of a pre-k student, giggling right down to their toes; the completion of the Belmont Mosaic; working with the Friends Program of Concord and our nine volunteer Grammies; working with the NHASP Legislative Committee; providing activities funded through the Children’s Literacy Foundation grant; working in the school garden, made possible by grant funds from Whole Foods; beginning a STEM club, made possible through a grant from BJ’s and Donors Choose, and so much more.”
As she ponders her retirement from education, Arnold offered parting thoughts. “To the parents: Continue to be your child’s number one advocate because, if not you, then who? I have enjoyed getting to know you and working alongside you for your children. Thank you for your support and well-wishes as I move on to the next stage of my life.
“To the students: Never be afraid of change. Remember your Habits of Mind, be a good friend, be humble and kind and never stop learning.
“To the staff: Remain committed and passionate and do not forget your primary focus: the students.”

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Sheila Arnold

Sturgis Motorcycle Rally organizers visit Laconia

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Jerry Cole (left) and Lance Scherer, who organize the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota,  look at a McLaren sports car outside the Naswa Resort Wednesday. They are in Laconia to observe Laconia Motorcycle Week events. (Rick Green/Laconia Daily Sun)


LACONIA — Two men from the Black Hills of South Dakota are doing intelligence work at the 94th Laconia Motorcycle Week.
By finding out what's hot and what's not, Jerry Cole and Lance Scherer hope to improve their own prominent bike event in Sturgis, South Dakota.
“We are here to learn from you, our older brother, sister motorcycle rally,” Cole, director of Sturgis Rally and Events, said at the daily Motorcycle Week news conference at the Naswa Resort on Wednesday.
The 77th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally will be held Aug. 4-13.
Lance Scherer, who works in sponsorship development and reports to Cole, said the scenery is a big draw for the Laconia event.
“The water, the pier, the boardwalk, the natural beauty here is stunning,” he said.
Laconia Motorcycle Week bills itself as the oldest motorcycle event in the world. Rallies at Sturgis and Daytona, Florida, are perceived to be larger, but there is no official count of attendance at any of them.
Laconia's event is organized by an association, while the city of Sturgis runs its rally. Cole and Scherer work for that city, which has a population of about 7,000.
“As a part of city government, we have access and control that a separate association wouldn't have,” Cole said. “We just have to convince the City Council to do it.”
On the other hand, Cole said the Sturgis city fathers would not condone something like the NasKini Bikini Contest, set for 3 p.m. Thursday at the Naswa Resort. The grand prize is $1,200.
This should be a popular event, said Jennifer Anderson, Motorcycle Week Association director.
“In the weeks leading up to the start of the rally, I was getting phone calls from young ladies from all over asking about all of the information for it,” she said. “Usually it's a several-hour celebration of people down there hanging out in anticipation.”
In Sturgis, a bikini contest would have to be held outside of city limits, Cole said.
“Sometimes we have a good idea to do something and we can't do it because some of the city elders believe that would be the wrong direction,” Cole said. “We lose out on that because of the government association.”
At any big rally or festival, it is a balancing act to enhance the visitor experience as much as possible while trying not to alienate residents who might get frustrated with traffic, noise, parking problems, or other issues that surface when thousands of people ride into town.
Still the benefits of such events far outweigh the negatives, Cole said.
“The benefits of the festival are not only the influx of cash that comes, but the people who see a little bit of the area during the rally and return later on vacation, buy property, or even retire here,” he said.
Some of the participants in Laconia Motorcycle Week are old enough to be thinking about retirement.
The biggest number of motorcycle rally participants tend to be in the 45-65 demographic, Cole said.

The Sturgis rally focuses on music to attract younger people.

“In Sturgis, we bill it as a motorcycle event and a music festival,” he said. “We have 100 to 150 concerts in 10 days all around the Black Hills. All the way from the local bands to Ozzy Osbourne, David Allan Coe, Blink 182, so it's all types of music from country to jazz to old rock 'n' roll to new alternative.”

Charlie St. Clair, executive director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association, said the music scene is a draw for rally participants here as well.

St. Clair said he hopes organizers of the two rallies can help each other and set up future cooperation.

“What I want to learn is how we can work together to help both rallies, because we are sister rallies,” he said. “Anything we can do to help Sturgis and anything they can do to help us.”