In 1982 Wichita Falls, Texas was only 3 years removed from a devastating tornado. At the time it was the largest and most destructive tornado ever recorded. The people of Wichita Falls were down but not out. The town pulled together like never before and began to rebuild. And rebuild they did, becoming stronger than ever before. They developed a sense of, one of closeness and resilience. By 1982 the town had bounced back from the devastation and would be celebrating 100 years of existence. Community leaders were looking for a way to celebrate the spirit of Wichita Falls and its people.
The centennial publicity committee was formed to create a special kick-off event to bring attention to the town. This group of people retained a consulting firm from New York to come up with ideas to celebrate the city. The consulting firm came up with an proposal that they claimed would be so outrageous it would end up on a Times Square bill board. Their suggestion? A rocking chair marathon, an event other cities were using at the time.
One of the members of the centennial committee was Roby Christie. Christie was a founding member of the Wichita Falls Bicycling Club. The club had been looking for the chance to put on a huge bike ride and this was their chance. Christie told the committee that rocking chairs did not represent the city’s founding fathers or the city itself. His suggestion was a century ride. A 100-mile bike ride that would show the heart and great history of the City. The centennial committee agreed and tasked Mr. Christie with making it happen.
Christie took the idea back to the Wichita Falls Bicycling Club, and the WFBC was quick to agree. Meetings to plan the ride started right away. While most rides of this distance were held in September when the weather was cooler and riders were in their best shape, that was not what Wichita Falls needed. The town needed to stand out and a standard, cookie cutter bike ride just would not do. In the end the ride was planned when it was least expected–the last Saturday in August. This would bring the weather into play, with average temperatures at that time of the year normally well over 100 degrees. With the date set, the next step was to give this centennial ride a name. Many ideas were tossed around but nothing felt right. One of the members, upon hearing the ride was in late August, commented that the weather would probably be “hotter than hell”. This was a hit with the members of the committee and so the ride became known as the Hotter’N Hell Hundred. HHH would stand for 100 years of Wichita Falls, 100 miles and very possibly 100-degree weather.
Some on the committee were worried that the name would cause controversy, and it did in some ways. Children were not allowed to wear ride shirts to school because they had the word hell on them. Radio stations would substitute the word heck when discussing the ride on-air. But the committee stuck with the name and the Hotter’N Hell Hundred was born.
The HHH name was not the only unusual thing about the event in 1982. Christie insisted that ride would have at least a 1000 riders. At the time most rides of this distance had maybe 200 to 250 participants, but Christie insisted he could get over a 1000.
The WFBC went to work in getting the word out. They visited other bike clubs and bike shops all over the region. They sent out flyers all over the country and at one point wore orange shirts that said “Ask Me About Hotter ‘n Hell Hundred Aug 28, 1982”.
They had lots of preparation to do. They needed to chart a route and select rest points among other things. One of the ways to pull in more riders was to have shorter distances for those who might not be able to ride the full 100 miles. So the ride also offered routes of 6.2, 25, 50 and 100 miles.
After all of the effort and planning the day finally arrived. On that day in August 1982, 1,203 riders left the parking lot of Memorial Stadium in Wichita Falls. Mr. Christie had his 1,000 riders. Surprisingly the ride went off very smooth without any major issues. It was a success in getting the word out about the Wichita Falls Centennial celebration.
During the planning and preparation stage for the ride there was never really a discussion about whether there would be a second HHH. But most members just figured there would be a second ride. Not only was there a ride in 1983, this year in 2016 the ride will be celebrating 35 years. Over the years the ride has gotten bigger and better and continues to grow each year. Officials expect over 13,000 riders will take to the streets of Wichita Falls and the local country roads.
One of the big changes over the years happened in 1988, when the ride added races for the first time. In 1987 race-related support traffic with chase vehicles had become dangerous for the riders. So in 1988 the HHH gave permission to put on the first official USCF race at the HHH. There would be a criterium race on Sunday as well as a road race on Saturday. The first few USCF races were only 90 miles rather than the full 100 miles. This was done to keep casual riders and racers separated. Over the years the race has changed and went away for a few years. While no longer on the official circuit the HHH race still draws a full field of talented races from all over the world.
HHH has had a major effect in the Wichita Falls area including the founding of Midwestern State University’s Team Arrow in 1990. Team Arrow was among the first university programs in the country to offer scholarships to riders and this was all due to the HHH. The MSU cycling team has developed into a cycling powerhouse on a national level and continues to grow stronger each and every year.
In recent years the HHH has added a half marathon and a mountain bike ride. There is also a trail run and many events on the weekend of the HHH. On Friday night the riders take part in a spaghetti fest to load up on carbs. One of the other side effect of the success of the HHH is the formation of Wichita Falls Streams and Valleys. The Streams and Valleys helps to promote city pride and growth. While maintaining and promoting local history. Today the HHH organization helps put on many Festivals around Wichita Falls.
The success of HHH is growing year by year and in 2016 the 35th running of the HHH looks to be the biggest and best yet.