Made in the shade
Coming home to a heat wave
Kansas City, Missouri, July 31–August 5—The 30th Anniversary of the National Bikers Round Up was held in its hometown of Kansas City, Missouri, this summer, where it was 104 degrees in the shade, with very little breeze, unless you were up at the drag strip, where the action was even hotter and the cobalt blue sky the only limit.
In 1977, the rally began as a backyard get-together in Kansas City, where 48 riding buddies hooked up for a good time twice a year. The first party was held in the wintertime of early 1977. These brothers needed to have motorcycles in the mix, thus, the National Bikers Round Up was founded that summer. And since everyone wanted to host the party and invite their own friends and families, the yearly campout began to travel from state to state. A unique concept, as the state that gets the most votes has only one year to pull off a party that has an attendance today of over 45,000 people!
The rally returns to its roots every 10 years and Billy Walker, the current chairman of the NBR, wanted me to come and experience how they do it in Kansas City. I arrived on a Thursday, with all the festival functions and flavors in full swing. Billy works diligently with event old-timers and founders Dallas Thibodeaux, Cleveland Luster, Wilbert Neal, and Rozell “Breezy” Nunn Jr., forging the Midwest’s most multicultural, multimodel motorcycle mayhem ever.
This biker bash goes for a full five days and for many it’s as meaningful as any family vacation. And those other motorcycle events across the country this time of year pale in comparison. Entry costs are simply $10 for patch holders, $20 for the rest of us. This is for the entire five days and the best bargain on our biker planet, bar none. The gate charge include concerts, contests, drag racing, major motorcycle manufacturers, eclectic vendors, and food concession stands with barbecued ribs, chicken, fish and more.
The Harley-Davidson Motor Company celebrated its 10 year liaison with the NBR and still, with the sweltering temps, the people lined up daily to demo ride the new model lines. H-D plant tours at the Kansas City location were also available. Actor and supermodel Tyson Beckford stepped into the H-D event tent with good humor and very fine abdominal lines. H-D was looking for its next top model for the catalogue, but Tyson was upstaged by the legendary bike builder “Sugar Bear,” who was born here in Kansas City. Sugar Bear’s laid-back, easy-going demeanor kept him shaking hands and posing for pictures for hours beside his elongated jet black modern day Panhead, Ace of Spades, tastefully done in red and white pinstripe and his signature winged heart. His reputation precedes him and I, for one, wanted a greeting and an autograph. What I got were magical moments.
Racing at the Kansas City International Raceway started on Friday at high noon with Jim Brewer’s flame throwing Peace Maker pick-up truck blazing down the strip in a perpetual wheelie. Jim and Callie Brewer have been married for 55 years and this was their first time at a Round Up. And they thought they might be bored! With exhibition runs by Rickey Gadsen, one of the fastest brothers on the planet, countless local and national race teams vying for top honors, and the contagious sights, sounds and personalities of a weeklong biker celebration, it was heartwarming to hear Callie Brewer say they, like the rest of us, were truly blessed by this occasion.
Once the track gates open on Tuesday, they do not seem to close. Round-the-clock volunteers from the local participating clubs do a phenomenal job of parking, traffic, security, sanitation, and water, and the ever-popular ice truck was kept well stocked. No fights or accidents were reported, although a few people had a tad too much libation for track officials but even that was quickly handled, and no one died from heat stroke, thank goodness. The event seems to have outgrown this setting. It strained to accommodate the numerous tent and RV campers.
Qualifying begins on Saturday and the challenges continue late into the night, with classes in Pro Mod, Funny Bike, Top Gas, Super Comp and of course, grudge matches. Eliminations are on Saturday and the atmosphere is filled with the sound of screaming engines and the smell of exhaust.
Now if racing only holds your interest for seven seconds of full blast, then all you have to do is walk to the other side of the grounds for some of the best blues and a nonstop dance party to fall in love with. Music was pumped out without interruption by DJ Groove along with the musical talents of the Kansas City Blues Society. Musicians Millage Gilbert, Linda Shell and the Blues Thang, DC Bellamy went on before Bobby Rush on Friday. Kharizmah and Donnell Jones closed it down on Saturday night.
A long list of events took place every day and well into each night, One could find arm wrestling, trike basketball, 50/50s, karaoke, a dunk tank, raffles, wienie bite, chess, checkers, poker, slow race, barrel roll, ugly legs and sexy legs contests, best chrome dome, beer belly, tattoo and old skool dance contests and more.
That list doesn’t include all the other biker fun and games going on in over 1,000 campsites set up all over the track grounds. The Ball of Steel stunt show drew hundreds of the curious as those youngsters wove their little bikes in showy patterns and airy thrills. (Baud, you still owe me dinner!) Every year, my hostess Carla puts together a “Sister to Sister” tent, where the girls can get together, make a connection and share the sisterhood. There were seminars, Linda Martin’s jewelry, and wine tasting, all within the best air-conditioned tent of the entire festival set up.
By twilight on Saturday, the bike show had wrapped up with trophies going out to everyone who rolled in for it. Other awards given out include Oldest rider, both male and female; Largest Sport Bike Club in attendance; Largest MC Club in attendance; Largest Social Club in attendance; and Longest Distance Rider for both male and female. At that time, Harley unveiled its latest model, The Rocker, onstage, with the likes of a bare-chested Tyson Beckford, who had the girls going wild. Harley also does a great fashion show at this event, with the real biker men and women of this event serving as models. Their enthusiasm to look good as well as feel good shows, as they parade the latest MotorClothes collection across the stage.
Back over at the track, if you could get through the chaotic maze of golf carts, Harleys, Hayabusas, cars, old friends, new friends, vendors and fish fries, the Peace Maker was about to close the show as fireworks remind us all that we are in the land of the free, home of the brave. Night racing has a flare all its own, and the grandstands were packed with more folks once evil sun went down.
A church service was given by Pastor John P. Jones on Sunday morning as Ol’ Sol rolled out over the Missouri broadleafs and many people were still around to vote on just where the event would go next year. Three states had campaigned a hard weekend to win; Louisiana, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. When it was all said and counted, Pennsylvania won by 10 votes. That’s why, if you want it to come to your neighborhood, you must be there to vote for it. Remember, there will be close to 50,000 people showing up, so get cracking on those guest rooms!
Along with all this desperately hot, sweaty fun was the responsibility to community. God’s Wheels MC does a food drive every year, regardless of the Round Up’s party location. Collection started on Tuesday and ran through Sunday morning. The club left a local food bank much richer than before the Round Up, as usual. Donations this year were enough for more than 33,000 meals.
I must shout out to the Golden Eagles MC of Beaumont, Texas, for their incomparable hospitality and warmth while I was there. And the brisket sandwich was to die for. Sapp and his brothers turned it around for me and my ride, by showing me the true meaning of our brotherhood.
The clubs and people to thank include Billy Walker, Dallas T., Carla, Leon, Ray, Dwayne, Mama, Nate, and all you whose names I forgot to write down, you definitely know who you are. The clubs who worked through the heat wave included the United Brotherhood MC, Zodiac MC, Black Angels MC and Group 13 Bikers MC. Everyone made me feel very welcome.