LAUREL RUN — The day he turned 66 turned out to be two times the fun for John Burke.
He won his second straight Giants Despair Hillclimb in his second year racing the event.
He wound up finishing 1-2 with his son.
And he shattered the event’s top speed record not once, but twice.
Burke celebrated his birthday by flying up the challenging Laurel Run course in 38.024 seconds on his ninth attempt of the weekend Sunday, setting a new standard in the 108th Giants Despair and winning the nation’s oldest hillclimb by more than two seconds over his second-place son Connor Burke.
“That’s a great birthday present,” said the older Burke who hails from Rumson, N.J. “The history here - Carroll Shelby drove in his race, Roger Penske, Oscar Kovaleski - it’s incredible. It still hasn’t sunk in yet.
“It just blew me away.”
Burke used his third run Sunday to blow past the course record of 38.360 that Giants Despair legend Darryl Danko set in 2011, hitting a time of 38.247. As he took a cool-down cruise down the hill in his ‘97 Reynard Champ Car formerly driven by professional Champ Circuit driver Adrian Fernandez , Burke was greeted graciously by Danko - who bowed out of the weekend competition with car trouble after aborting his first try of Sunday’s final runs.
“I know what it takes to get the record,” Danko said. “I’ve gotten to know John pretty well over the past two years. I was happy to see him break that.
“But that doesn’t mean I’m going to let him have it for long, that’s for sure.”
Actually, the new mark didn’t even last an hour.
Burke used his fourth attempt Sunday to rip through the sharp-angled, one-mile, mountainous incline in 38.024, besting the record he’d just set by more than two-tenths of a second.
“That car is so fast and has so much power, I really didn’t want to do anything stupid,” said Burke, who was less than three-tenths of a second away from Danko’s old mark - and chopping off speed with each run - by the time Saturday’s opening five runs were finished. “I knew the car could do it. The car was great all weekend.
“I was getting close,” Burke continued, “I didn’t want to do anything distinctly different. Then when I got it, the pressure was off. I could try some different things, and I did - launched the car harder, took a different line through Turn 3. This car is not made to do that kind of stuff.”
But the result was an electrifying sprint that put Burke so far ahead, he didn’t even take a 10th and final try.
“I felt it was time to just put it away,” Burke said.
“I’m real proud of him,” said Connor Burke, who kept setting new records in the Formula Atlantic hillclimb division through the weekend - with his fastest time of 40.364 placing second overall to his dad at Giants Despair. “I love that we got 1-2. We had just a fabulous weekend. It’s like a story out of the book - it’s his birthday, he broke a record. We’ve been talking about it all year. It’s been the plan. It didn’t surprise me he broke it again.
“I think he could do it again and again.”
Once again, Danko wasn’t able to do much to defend his title.
The seven-time Giants Despair champion - he still holds that record - struggled from Saturday’s start with the new Jedi Indycar he debuted at this race. After opening with a time of 43.884 in his first run Saturday, Danko struggled with balky boost lines on his turbo that either aborted or slowed the rest of his tries Saturday. Then Danko had to abort his first try Sunday when the back end of the car gave out.
He shut it down after that.
“I’ve said it over and over,” Danko said, “we just have terrible luck here. I’m more disappointed I didn’t get to run rather than him (John Burke) breaking my record. I got one real run this whole weekend.”
“Darryl was great,” John Burke said. “He walked out in the middle of the road and said, ‘I’ll be the first guy to shake your hand. And he was. He gave me a high-five, then he came over later and gave me a hug.”
After all, such camaraderie seemed to make nearly 100 drivers and estimated crowds of thousands of people embrace the Giants Despair Hillclimb once again.
“You know what, a lot of people came out to see the cars, which is good,” said Danko, who is also a co-chairman of the race. “It’s just cars you can’t see everyday - there are Indycars here, Champ cars - and it does bring out the people. And everybody wins. It’s a good, all-around thing.”
And what comes around keeps going around.
“We’ll be back,” Burke said. “This is just so much fun - the crowd, the camaraderie, the support we get. We’ll be back.”