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August 26, 2013

Sports cars rumbled up Mount Utsayantha in the early 1960s

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The Daily Star

---- — Princess Utsayantha, the legendary American Indian maiden, normally rests very quietly in her burial spot near the top of the mountain bearing her name in Stamford. The princess was in for a bit of a rude awakening during the early 1960s, unless she happened to be a fan of sports cars. 

Stamford was becoming very busy during the summer months of the early 1960s, even after the resort tourist business had greatly dwindled after World War II. Efforts began to re-establish the vibrancy the village had in earlier decades of the 20th century. The Stamford Chamber of Commerce and other local groups had established the annual Kiwanifair in 1961, which attracted several thousand people to the village. The Chamber felt they could establish other events, so in 1962 they partnered with the Southern New York Region of the Sports Car Club of America to create the Utsayantha Hill Climb.

“Participants, who will make timed practice runs on Friday, will come from a 500-mile radius for this hill climb,” it was reported by the Stamford Mirror-Recorder of Wednesday, Aug. 8, 1962. The event took place Aug. 17-18. “First timed runs will start at 9:30 Saturday morning and last throughout the day.”

“After looking over the road up Mt. Utsayantha, officials were very much pleased with the route and it has been decided to have similar runs in Stamford every year. The two-day event will demand the services of policemen and firemen. Officials also pointed out that it is unusual for spectators to have such a commanding view of the runs up the mountain. A large area has been set aside for the ticket holders along the route.”

Lee Dean of Afton, driving “Rumble Guts III,” captured first place in the overall competition with a one-minute, ten-second run over the 1.5-mile route that rose some 700 feet. Dean’s average speed was better than 75 miles per hour. Sam Price of Hazleton, Pa., came in second, driving a Porsche at 1:12, and Sherm Decker of Oneonta, driving an MG, came in third, at 1:19. There were no accidents or problems throughout the weekend.

In all, 25 cars were entered in the hill climb, and 30 drivers participated. The Mirror-Recorder reported the event to be a success and plans were being made for the next year’s climb.

The 1963 Utsayantha Hill Climb was moved to July. That year, 50 cars were entered in competition on Saturday and Sunday, July 20-21. Although there was heavy rain reported, the event went on. Only one incident took place on Saturday when Bob Moran of Buffalo, driving a Triumph, passed the finish line but then flipped over and onto the side of the course, and fortunately was not injured.

The Stamford Body Works, working all night, put Moran’s car back into shape so he could race on Sunday.

David Hillson, event chairman at the close of the race said, “due to adverse weather conditions, we were happily surprised with the large number of people who attended the meet. The contestants proved themselves real sportsmen to compete under such adverse conditions.”

The 1964 edition of the Hill Climb was apparently the last. While there were advertisements for another, no results were published by The Oneonta Star.

On the same weekend of July 1965 as the previous two hill climbs, the Stamford Chamber of Commerce was sponsoring a new event, a Quarter Horse Show, a two day event that took place on state Route 10 at the ball park, “adjacent to the Conservation Office.” It boasted of prizes, games and “Western Stars and Personalities.”

Princess Utsayantha had regained her peaceful, less noisy rest on Mount Utsayantha.

This weekend: A back-to-school picnic for boys in Oneonta, in 1923.

City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.