STURGIS — Hillclimbers from Montana to Nebraska descended on Sturgis for Friday’s professional event at the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club Grounds.

Jon Henderson is a 29-year-old from Ashland, Neb., who entered the 250X, 450X, and 700X divisions. 

“Other than hoping to win, I want to race hard, ride to my ability, and push my limits,” Henderson said in describing his goals. 

Family brought Henderson to Sturgis for the first time since 2015. His girlfriend’s family is from Montana, and another relative came from Billings. Everyone decided to meet halfway, in Sturgis.

Henderson started hillclimbing at age 2 ½. His father John and uncle Dave Perrigo competed, so it was natural that Jon would follow the trend.

“Growing up, we didn’t have what we have now with these big toy haulers,” Jon said. “We roughed it in a tent, and I remember climbing around in the back of my dad’s old Chevy van.”

The family aspect appeals to Henderson, as does the camaraderie that hillclimbers share. He said that makes him proud to be part of the sport.

“It’s you against the hill,” Henderson said. “It’s a fight to get over it, and to overcome it.”

He tries to stay relaxed on race day, and part of the preparation is to study the hill.

Henderson works for the American Beer Equipment company that manufactures craft brewery equipment for companies around the world.

January found Henderson invited to the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo., for the snow hillclimb event. He was the first alternate but was able to participate just before the first run, when another rider’s bike broke down.

“It was a dream come true, to say the least,” Henderson said of that experience. “Getting the go-ahead to make runs up the hill was amazing.”

The North American Hillclimbers Association hosted a Buffalo Chip Campground event in 2015; that led Henderson here in 2015.  

“Having a crowd full of people like us that ride bikes and have that passion for motorcycles,” Henderson said in describing those memories. “They were here to have a good time and to watch us.”

Hillclimbing is a race against time, and Henderson said an “attack mentality” is key.

He and others will compete in Poags Hole, N.Y., next weekend.

Billings, Mont., resident Shawn Widdicombe filled a dual role on Friday. He competed in three divisions and coached his 9-year-old son Kael (Pee Wee, 80 classes).

Shawn entered the 450, 700, and Open X classes. Winning and having fun were two of his objectives.

“Everything I do pretty much nowadays is to teach him (Kael) so that he has a future in the sport,” Shawn said. Kael is a fourth-generation hillclimber.

Bob Widdicombe has come to Sturgis since the 1960s and competed regularly. Darold Widdicombe marks the second generation, followed by Shawn and Kael.

Darold competed in the Seniors class Friday, having come out of retirement after a 20-year hiatus.

Sturgis’ hill favors technical riders, and Shawn said that works in his favor. 

“It’s always a good time to come to Sturgis,” Shawn said. “There are so many things to do, lots of friends, lots of people to go see that I normally don’t get to see that are in the motorcycle industry.”

Shawn started hillclimbing at age 4. His earliest memories centered on traveling with his family throughout the nation.

As for the family tradition, Shawn said, “To me, it means everything.” 

Travel and camaraderie are what Shawn enjoys the most about hillclimbing. His biggest challenge comes from the mental aspect.

“It is an adrenaline rush,” he said. “To be able to calm yourself down and really focus in: it’s a tough deal.”

Season highlights include a fourth-place finish in the Open division at Columbus, Mont. A later Motoclimb Super Series event found him third in the Open X class.

Kael has earned top-two finishes in each event this season. Shawn said Kael is beginning to understand how to ride on a hill, which is much different from traditional riding.

“He has five years until he can get his pro card,” Shawn said. “When he gets that, I’m going to retire, take a step back, and starting focusing on him a little bit more.

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