John Lee Hillard
FAREWELL TO JOHN HILLARD – A HILLCLIMBING CHAMPION
By: Bud Northrup
The Indiana and Illinois hillclimb programs suffered a tragic loss last December 19 when 35 year old John Lee Hillard died from injuries resulting from a snowmobile accident near his home in Georgetown, Illinois. John was a veteran rider on the hillclimb circuits in Districts 15 and 17, and was well known for his full throttle attacks on even the most difficult hills.
Few riders are willing to challenge the hills on big bore Harleys and the incredibly high-revving and unpredictable Kawasaki 750cc triples, and even fewer are willing to meet that challenge with the twist grip pegged to the limit. John was one of those even fewer daredevils that took the challenge on both machines. Spectators and competitors alike stopped their conversations, bike preparation, or whatever they were doing when the announcer called John’s name and turned their full attention to the hill – knowing they would likely see an incredibly fast high flying run resulting in either a great time or a stupendous crash. John never let the crashes slow him on his next ride.
John was highly successful in his competition. My records back to 1995 show that in the five years 1995 through 1999 he claimed three District 15 Championships, winning the Open Class on his Harley in 1995 and 1996, and when he blew the Harley engine in 1998 he still had enough points to place third, while also finishing third on the 750cc Kawasaki. He took over riding the triple from his brother Jim who was sidelined due to injuries he incurred riding the wild machine. John adapted to the triple quickly, riding it to the District 15 750cc championship in 1999. He didn’t ride in but about half of the District 17 events in this time period, but still accumulated 3 thirds, a fourth and 2 fifth place finishes in Illinois. He took a sabbatical from racing in 2000 to relieve the stress on his wife, Julie, who was pregnant and delivered a beautiful son, Jonathon Alex on September 1, 2000. He was looking forward to hillclimbing in 2001.
Julie noted his finest hillclimbing moment came on August 21, 1999 when he not only took the the District 17/Illinois State Championship title on the triple but also the overall Fast Time award with a 4.484 second run on the 230 foot long King City Dirt Rider hill near Mt. Vernon, Illinois.
Hillclimbing is truly a family sport for the Hillards. John’s father, John, and brother, Daren, were veteran climbers, as well as his uncles Jim Grubb and Paul Hillard and cousin Jim Grubb. The Hillard Hillclimbing Team of the 90’s included John, his brother Jim, Jim’s son Kieven, and cousins Mike and Paul Hillard. John’s absolute first priority, however, was his family. He loved his wife Julie deeply, and was totally dedicated to his new baby boy Jonathon – he loved nothing more than the precious time spent with his son.
John was also known for his sportsmanship. Bobby Fisher (the ‘Flyin’ Fish’) tells of the time that when his (Bob’s) Harley broke, instead of celebrating because his toughest competitor was sidelined, John went home and got some of his own spare parts and gave them to Fisher so he could repair his bike and compete – a really classy thing to do. In addition, John and his brother Jim proved to be excellent mechanics and machinists, and built their own bikes as well as help many climbers with their machines.
Many clubs run Saturday night – Sunday doubleheaders and allow the climbers, families and friends to camp on their grounds overnight. Some of the most enjoyable times of the season come sitting around the campfires telling hillclimb stories. It is certain that when these stories are told in the future John Hillard’s name will come up often. We all have our memories of John fearlessly attacking a hill on his roaring Harley or the screaming triple, flying high and bringing the crowd to its feet. These memories will be passed down. We will miss him – his thrilling rides of course, but most of all his friendship. It won’t be quite the same without him.
Now I’m not one who is too much in to poetry, but the following was written and read at John’s funeral by John’s 15 year old niece, Amber Hillard. I was tremendously moved by her words and would like to share them here:
He didn’t get to live his entire life,
He left behind a new son and wife.
The Lord said it was time to go,
On that fateful evening as he rode through the snow.
On that curve he did not make,
The Lord said your soul I shall now take.
He’s now an angel in the sky,
Watching down on you and I.
When we meet again I cannot say,
It’s up to the Lord to make that day.
Until then, Uncle John, I’ll remember your always smiling face,
And when you gave hugs, your oh so tight embrace.
I’ll miss you so much, I know we all will,
And forever and ever, I’ll love you still.
Farewell, John – Thanks for the memories. They will last and be shared as long as Illinois and Indiana hillclimbers gather and tell their stories. You will not be forgotten.