Monday, August 27, 2001

Gravel hill has a pull on daredevils

By Jenny Callison
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        CLEVES — It's part sporting event, part county fair and part family reunion. This weekend, thousands of racing fans converged for Gravelrama, a salute to the power of internal combustion engines and the folks who like to tweak and then test them against natural forces — like gravity.

        King of Gravelrama is the Eliminator Hill, a 165-foot pile of pea gravel with a 60-degree slope on one side and a 50-foot drop on the other.

  Gravelrama's final event, an obstacle course, will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at Gravelrama Park, intersection of U.S. 50 and Ohio 128 in Cleves. Admission is free
        For most, the Sunday afternoon Eliminator Hill race is the four-day event's high point. Some racers stall out in mid-slope, some don't negotiate the peak, and still others “launch” from the top because they had too much momentum.

        “My son launched a few years ago and crashed,” said Gravelrama veteran Fred Garneau of Plymouth, Mich. “They carried him away on a stretcher, but he was fine, and we fixed the racer.”

        Mr. Garneau and his family have been trekking to Cleves every August for years. The event, begun in 1970, is sponsored by the 150-member IOK (Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky) 4 Wheeler Club.

        While most of the contestants are men, fans Angel Annis and Kim Hawk hooted at the notion that Gravelrama is a man's domain.

        “I remember when Sandy Crosby was the first woman to climb the Eliminator Hill,“ said Ms. Hawk. “It was back in the early 1980s. That was a thrill.”

        In the shadow of the hill, where high-performance engines snarled and giant tires spun and spit gravel Sunday, the two women talked about the August event that has become a family tradition.

        “I've been coming to Gravelrama since I was 5 years old,” said Ms. Hawk, who lives in Cleves. “We're members of the (IOK) club. I don't race, but my father did. When he sold his Jeep, I cried. Sunday morning, 58 kids ages 6 to 16 competed in a special youth contest.

        “What's really important is that they are going to be our replacements,” Mr. Garneau said. Once they get a driver's license, kids compete in the adult contests.

        “I like Gravelrama because everyone's nice,” said Geoff Glumm, 14, of Garden City, Mich. “Some of the races we go to are really cut-throat and people start yelling at each other. At this one everybody helps each other out.”

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