With the 75th Anniversary of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally on the horizon, tourism officials are speculating attendance could range from 750,000 to 1 million— making it the biggest biker bash ever staged. It’s hard to believe it all started with a race of 9 participants competing on a half-mile dirt track.
In 1938, Indian Motorcycle franchise owner Clarence “Pappy” Hoel gathered around 200 motorcycle enthusiasts for a weekend of riding and racing.The first “Black Hills Classic” was held that year and what would become the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was born.
In the early years, Sturgis was all about the races. The rally claimed to have the fastest dirt track in the world, attracting spectators from all over the state. Other highlights of the event included a ride through the Black Hills with the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club, a street carnival, and the naming of the neatest dressed lady and gentleman. Camping and free meals made by Pappy’s wife, Pearl, were offered in the backyard behind Pappy’s motorcycle shop.
By 1940, there were 5,000 spectators showing up to watch 150 racers run the Sturgis half mile. During World War II, the rally was not held due to gas rationing in support of the war effort. As the rally attendance continued to grow, events and days were added.
In 1961, the Jackpine Gypsies introduced motocross races and the famous motorcycle hill climb, where motorcyclists would drive up an almost vertical hill, attempting to make it to the top first without crashing.
The Sturgis Rally had evolved from a 2-day event to a 5-day celebration by the mid-1960s. The City of Sturgis began closing down Main Street for motorcycle parking during this time. Since there were relatively few hotel rooms available to accommodate the growing number of attendees, most camped in the city park or the surrounding national parks.
1982 was “the year the rally almost ended.” A riot broke out when city park officials raised camping rates from $2 to $4 and required campers to register and abide by the “no visitors” policy. Gates were torn down, outhouses were torched and rocks were thrown at city employees- prompting the residents of Sturgis to petition to shut the rally down for good. The issue was brought to a city-wide election and voters narrowly decided to keep the rally by a margin of 846 to 758.
Even without the riot, the number of attendees looking for camping was becoming too much for the city park to handle. Local businessmen began turning surrounding cow pastures into campgrounds and charging fees to rent space during the rally.
Rally attendance dramatically increased in the late 80s. Estimated attendance in 1988 was 73,000, with vendors now a key part of the Sturgis experience.
The 2000s and Today
The Sturgis Rally had its largest turnout to date in 2000, with over 600,000 cruising in for the 60th Anniversary.
Now in its 75th year, Sturgis is America’s largest and longest-running bike rally. This August, motorcycle enthusiasts will travel from all over the country to enjoy 7 days of biker heaven including races, rides through the Black Hills, stunt exhibitions, bike shows and concerts by some of the biggest names in music.
Check out the video below to take a ride through the Sturgis Rally today:
** Video Content – Not Safe For Work! **