by Sev Pearman
As we go to press, the Umpeenth Annual Sturgis Rally & Races is just around the corner. Regular readers will recall our recommendation of Sturgis Stories (MMM #51) prior to the 62nd Annual Rally. This month we direct your attention to Sturgis: The Story of the Rally, by Dr. Carl Edeburn.
Mr. Edeburn has written an excellent book that traces the origin of this milestone event. Bookshelves are full of fluffy books on the “Sturgis lifestyle.” These are fluffy coffeetable books containing little more than images of choppers, RUBs and a packed mainstreet. The author digs behind this façade and traces the business origins of the Races and the colorful characters that brought it to life.
The event is largely the idea of Sturgis businessman and Jackpine Gypsy stalwart Clarence “Pappy” Hoel. Pappy ran a small Indian dealership out of his garage in the days prior to World War II. The event was originally cooked up to boost sales and repair work at his dealership, lure riders to other Sturgis businesses and promote tourism in the greater Black Hills. As early as 1939 Pappy was mindful of public perception of riders, and always donated a portion of the Race profits to local parks and causes such as the Sturgis Fire Department.
The Races survived World War II and were quickly adopted by riders from across the country and Canada. Attendance grew steadily and by 1958, the Jackpine Gypsies were forced to limit all awards and prizes to “Rally entrants who have come to Sturgis by motorcycle.” Trailer use is so common today that vendors sell them outright to riders (trailerers?) at the Rally.
Mindful of this National attendance, the South Dakota Highway Department connected SD Highway 24 (enters Sturgis from the east) to the then-new SD Highway 34. SD 34 is the only State Highway which connects South Dakota’s east and west borders, and became a conduit for race attendees from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. It is hard to remember a pre-Interstate America, and the simplicity that a direct route offered travelers.
The author unearths many gems, such as the 1964 debut of the famous motorcycle-only parking on Main Street and the increased visibility of so-called “outlaw motorcycle gangs.” In 1969, Meade County Sheriff John Eggar reported a few undesirables riding near Deadwood. About twenty “Hippie-type Cyclists” were riding “machines in clear violation of the SD Vehicle Code” and were physically escorted out of the state.
Each race result is detailed with riders, times and bike makes. H-D and Indian are well-represented early on, but European brands like Triumph, Norton and even Ducati(!)started placing in the 50s. The 60s saw the domination of H-D and British marques and the rise of Asian manufacturers. Whatever you may ride, there is something in Sturgis: The Story of the Rally to put a smile on your face.
Well-researched, light-hearted and informative, we give this month’s selection 3 out of four cylinders.
Trailer Jockey–“They race bikes at Sturgis?”
Newbie–Read this book then plan your trip.
Longrider–You’ll nod knowingly.
Sev Pearman welcomes your comments and future book review ideas. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org Please put “book review” in the subject line.