After 75 years, it’s almost upon us. It started innocent enough August 14, 1938, when a small motorcycle club calling themselves the Jackpine Gypsies hosted a dirt track race on the old half-mile horse track at the county fairgrounds. It’s said only nine racers attended. The club was founded by the owner of an Indian Motorcycle franchise in Sturgis, a gentleman called Clarence “Pappy” Hoel. “Pappy” was married to a dynamic woman of many talents, one Pearl Hoel, who worked in the courthouse, served as a county official, and was instrumental in selling the rally to community leaders. Pearl and “Pappy” would host Gypsy Tour riders in a circus tent pitched in their yard, welcoming them back from the ride with hot coffee and homemade donuts. Pearl was not only a gracious host, but a living history book filled with first-hand accounts of each Sturgis Rally.
And though “Pappy” and Pearl are no longer around, the Jackpine Gypsies continue to be torch-bearers of the rally. The motorcycle club received its official American Motorcycle Association charter in 1937 and has been hosting races in Sturgis since. The Jackpine Gypsies own 40 acres next to Interstate 90 and annually host short track, motocross, and hill climb races. The motorcycle club continues to carry on the spirit of “Pappy” and Pearl.
Excitement about the 75th has been building since the 74th annual Sturgis Rally ended. Crazy numbers like one million people have been tossed about. Adding access roads to popular destinations to help alleviate the impending traffic nightmares has been debated. Vendor licenses have been selling like hotcakes. A new pavilion has popped up, and City Park is once again open for business as Sturgis has pulled out all the stops in order to appease the impending hordes.
Because they’re coming. And will be coming from the four corners for a couple weeks. The party is sure to get started earlier than ever, a fact that the Sturgis Buffalo Chip recognizes. In fact, The Chip is hosting a Pre-Rally Party this weekend, hosting three days of free concerts at its CrossRoads beginning with Pop Evil Friday night, July 24th. That’s just the beginning. If you’ve never seen Symphony Tidwell rock a stand-up bass, you’re in for a treat because her psychobilly band The Living Deads plays Saturday. By the time Metallica tribute band ONE starts strumming its first chords Sunday, there’s no looking back. There will be those who try to beat the masses by getting in the week before the official kick-off of the rally, then there’s the damn-the-consequences others who embrace the biker crawl down Lazelle like a rite of passage. Party on, Garth!
Harley-Davidson is wasting no time getting in on the action. First it entered an agreement with the City of Sturgis to become the official motorcycle of the rally for the next 75 years. Then it began constructing the Harley-Davidson Rally Point on Main Street. When the clock strikes 12 Friday afternoon, June 31, the official chain-cutting ceremony for the new rider’s plaza will commence with music and guest appearances. There’s also a photo area where riders can snap a pic next to their motorcycles with the Sturgis sign in the background.
As mentioned, the return of City Park as a vital Sturgis destination is big news, too. Once a hub of biker revelry, the party at City Park just got too wild, bikers’ behavior fueled by bonfires and booze. So they kicked the rally out of the park. Despite objections from many townsfolk, Sturgis City Park is hosting a full slate of events this year. It starts with an AMA Supermoto “Elephant Run” race Saturday, Aug. 1, and continues all week long, from freestyle Harley riding demos by UNKNOWN Industries to bike shows every day of the week. Most of the events are tailored to attract a younger crowd as they’ve enlisted the services of members of the new guard like Roland Sands, Rusty Butcher, The Speed Merchant and Biltwell to host the various shows. The Boz Brothers, Ben and Eric Bostrom, are in on the action too, hosting the Boz Bros Charity Ride Wednesday, Aug. 5, out of the park.
Bike shows. There’s more than ever this year at Sturgis. No AMD World Championships – no problem. Dave and Jody will be holding the Perewitz Paint Show Wednesday, Aug. 5, at the Easyriders Saloon on the edge of Main Street. The saloon is also hosting the Easyriders Magazine Bike Show (Sunday, Aug. 2), the Wrench Magazine Old School Chopper Show (Monday, Aug. 3), the Twisted Tea Trike Show (Thursday, Aug. 5) and the Misfit’s “The Masters” Bike Show (Friday, Aug. 7). Paul Yaffe’s Bagger Nation Bike Show goes down Tuesday, Aug. 4, at Michael Ballard’s Full Throttle Saloon. That same day, Billy Lane of Choppers Inc. fame is holding a Vintage Bike Show out at the Broken Spoke. The City Park lineup of bike shows includes one hosted by Roland Sands (Saturday, Aug. 1), a “Sturgis FXR Only” show (Sunday, Aug. 2), Biltwell and The Speed Merchant’s “Dyna Only” contest (Monday, Aug. 3), Street Chopper Magazine’s “Winner Take All” show (Tuesday, Aug. 4), Hot Bike Magazine’s “Winner Take All” show (Wednesday, Aug. 5), Baggers Magazine’s bash (Thursday, Aug. 6), followed by Biltwell and Rusty Butcher’s “Tracker Only” bike show (Friday, Aug. 7). Moving on to the Sturgis Buffalo Chip, there’s Full Throttle Magazine’s Bike Shows (Sunday, Aug. 2 & Monday, Aug. 3), the Indian Motorcycle and Classic American Iron Black Hills Rally contest (Tuesday, Aug. 4), Cycle Source’s Annual Chopper Show (Wednesday, Aug. 5), and the granddaddy of them all, the Rat’s Hole Custom Bike Show (Thursday, Aug. 6). An exhaustive list, and there’s still others we missed.
The list of bands playing at the 75th is equally insane. Classic rock – you bet. Country artists. Yup. Tribute Bands a plenty, along with edgier bands, too. The Sturgis Buffalo Chip keeps a constant rotation on its Wolfman Jack main stage, running three concerts a night for nine days straight. The Texas Hippie Coalition kicks it off Friday, July 31, and it only gets better from there, with Five Finger Death Punch, Godsmack, Brantley Gilbert, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Def Leppard and a long list of others scheduled to perform throughout the week. Hank Williams, Jr. will light it up at the Broken Spoke Saloon Friday, Aug. 7, while Thursday night is the night to be at the Full Throttle Saloon as the Jackyl concert is always a wild and crazy party as Jesse James Dupree really knows how to work the crowd. Wednesday night would be a good night to hit up Glencoe Campground as Saving Abel and Puddle of Mudd are scheduled to perform. Whitewood Campground is stepping up its game this year with Lee Brice, The Charlie Daniels Band and Sawyer Brown all scheduled to perform. And while all of the campgrounds listed above are outside of town and charge for concerts, the Easyriders Saloon is right off Lazelle and has a slew of quality entertainment for free. POD plays on the Easyriders’ main stage Thursday, July 30, Candlebox rocks it Saturday, Aug. 1, Puddle of Mudd headlines Tuesday night, along with rally favorites like Hairball and Cold Hard Cash.
Riding for a cause can never be wrong and Sturgis 2015 offers plenty of opportunities to help raise money for various charities and rub elbows with celebrities and industry leaders. The Buffalo Chip is putting on its eighth annual Legends Ride that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Black Hills Special Olympics and other organizations. This year’s Legends Ride sees John Paul DeJoria of Paul Mitchell Hair Care and Patron Spirits fame leading the ride. DeJoria will be joined by power duo actress Kristy Swanson and her Olympic skating husband Lloyd Eisler, Arlen Ness and his ever-popular custom bike building family, famed painter David Uhl, the Dirty Bird himself John Shope, and others. Of course, phenomenal photographer Michael Lichter will once again be catching all the action through his lenses. Lichter also hosts his own ride through the Black Hills along with chopper icon Sugar Bear on Wednesday, Aug. 5 at 11 a.m. at the Easyriders Saloon. Michael Ballard, Angie, and Jesse James Dupree from the Full Throttle Saloon honor “Pappy” the same day with the annual FTS Hoel Ride. The trio will lead a group from the Full Throttle through spectacular Spearfish Canyon to Deadwood with proceeds raised going to local charities. Women riders will be celebrated in the Sturgis Buffalo Chip’s annual Bikers Belle Ride Tuesday, Aug. 4. The event starts at The Lodge in Deadwood with a full slate of leading ladies in the industry as guest speakers. A special addition to this year’s event is a 90th birthday celebration for Motor Maid Gloria Struck, a real firecracker who still rides annually to events like Sturgis and Daytona Beach. New this year is Indian Larry Motorcycles’ inaugural Aidan’s Ride on Thursday, Aug. 6. It starts at the Indian Larry Motorcycle booth on Lazelle at 8 a.m. then heads out for a 75-mile ride around Bear Butte before ending at the Buffalo Chip’s CrossRoads for a catered brunch. Money raised will benefit the Aidan Jack Seeger Foundation that lobbies for newborn screening for the inherited genetic disease Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD). If undetected, ALD can be fatal, but if it is discovered early, is treatable. Aidan Jack Seeger, the son of Indian Larry’s Bobby Seeger, was the unfortunate victim of ALD, and since his passing, Bobby and wife Elisa have passionately lobbied to make ALD screening at birth mandatory nationwide.
If group rides aren’t your thing, there’s still a bounty of riding opportunities in and around the Black Hills. In fact, the magic of the Black Hills is what makes Sturgis so special. A day trip through Custer State Park brings about memories of the old West with its incredible rock formations, tunnels cut through mountains, and bountiful buffaloes. Travel a little further and the Badlands are steeped in mystique. Head into Wyoming and Devil’s Tower casts its own spells. Then there’s national treasures like the Crazy Horse Memorial and Mount Rushmore that have to be seen to believe as icons of our country’s heritage.
The heritage of Sturgis itself centers on racing and the 75th anniversary rally will keep that tradition alive. As mentioned, an AMA Supermoto race will be held in City Park. On Tuesday night in Rapid City, AMA Pro Flat Track will rip up Black Hills Speedway’s Half-Mile. The Jackpine Gypsies are hosting a full slate of racing events, highlighted by pro hill climbs Friday, Aug. 7. The Sturgis Buffalo Chip will host its own Nitro National Hill Climb at its new PowerSports Complex. In fact, The Chip has a full slate of racing activities scheduled throughout the week, from truck and tractor pulls to pro ATV races to 900 horsepower TORC trucks.
A few other destinations and events we recommend if there’s time in your schedule include a trip to Black Hills Harley-Davidson on the outskirts of Rapid City. The Harley dealership has its own mini-rally going on, with entertainment, food and a long list of top-notch vendors. You’ll find Vance & Hines, Baker Drivetrain, Mustang Seats, Progressive Suspension, S&S Cycles, Tucker Rocky, Klockwerks, Dakota Digital and a host of others setting up shop there. Many manufacturers are also offering demo rides at Sturgis, and Victory and Indian Motorcycle Co. are offering a crack at riding their brand spanking new 2016 models. The Michael Lichter Motorcycles as Art exhibit out at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip is always incredible. “Naked Truth” is the theme of this year’s showcase, with 35 custom bike builders featuring their work along with approximately 100 of Lichter’s photographs. While you’re at The Chip, Doug Danger is going to recreate Evel Knievel’s jump over 22 cars Thursday night on Evel’s own vintage 1972 Harley-Davidson XR750. Evel failed, as did another daredevil in 2001. Will Doug Danger be able to do what Evel couldn’t? We’ll see.
We were there when Clint Ewing crashed and burned in the Tunnel of Fire. Hopefully Doug Danger’s stunt goes better.
Motorcycle USA heads for the rally next Tuesday. We’ll be riding out with friends from Harley-Davidson from Milwaukee, arriving in Sturgis on Friday just in time for the chain-cutting ceremony of the new Rally Point. After that, we’ll be reporting daily from the scene, so follow along on Facebook, Twitter, and check the site for photos and videos from the rally. The time is nigh, the party will be epic, and we hope to see a couple hundred thousand of our MotoUSA friends there.