You can't talk about the history of Sturgis without a history of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has come a long way since its origins in the late 1930s. The first event was held in August of 1938 when nine racers fought for a title on a half mile dirt track. In the early days the rally was more than just a race. Some of the events featured over the weekend included such stunts as head on collisions with automobiles, board wall crashes and a ramp jumping. The purse for the first event totaled $500 and was put up by four local businessmen. The founder of the event was J.C. "Pappy" Hoel who owned a local motorcycle shop. The event was a hit and led to the formation of the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club and the event was officially named the Black Hills Motorcycle Classic, Inc.
During the early 1940s the rally became a spectator event attracting up to 5,000 people. By then the half mile races drew as many as 150 riders. World War II brought the rally to a halt as many of the men and women who frequented it were off fighting for democracy. By 1945 the Black Hills Motorcycle Classic was back on track and growing in size, length and number of events. In 1947 Motorcycle Magazine proclaimed the event a success as over 400 riders participated in an American Motorcycle Association-Jackpine Gypsy sponsored tour.
Motorcycle Classic grew in popularity throughout the next three decades. In the 1960s the crowds for the event climbed into the thousands. The Sturgis Chamber of Commerce hosted a barbecue and program in the city park. During this time period, the event included a queen contest, couples decided to get married here, and prizes were awarded in such categories as the person who traveled the longest distance, the oldest rider, and the best dressed man and woman. The Jackpine Gypsy Tour also began attracting a lot of interest. A 1965 motorcycle magazine account said close to 350 people spent the night in Custer as part of the two-day tour. And, "the two day event was touted as the biggest in history."
By the 1980s the annual event was attracting upwards of 25,000 to 30,000 people. In 1981 Pappy Hoel organized a group and built the White Plate Flat Trackers monument to honor the fastest riders during the annual races. The six sided monument remains standing today along Junction Avenue, near the town's hospital. In 1985 South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow signed a proclamation making it Pappy Hoel week to coincide with the Classic's 45th anniversary. The rally that year held a number of special events to pay homage to the founder of the event.
The event celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1990 by being the largest rally ever. Unofficial estimates put the crowd at over 350,000 in attendance. The week-long event was to mark a commercial explosion, and brought about some sweeping changes in the way the Black Hills Motor Classic was run. In 1991 Sturgis Rally and Races, Inc. was set up to promote and organize the rally. The organization was made up of businesses, the citizens and other groups interested in the event's future. In 1992 the group changed the name from Black Hills Motor Classic to Strugis Rally and Races after conducting an extensive phone survey. The community wanted the event to take a decided different look and ever since then the rally has been promoted as a family-oriented event. The 1990's also saw the creation of the National Motorcycle Museum and corporate America take an interest in the nine-day event. Last year nearly 1,000 vendors came to Sturgis to sell their goods.
Over the last half decade, the rally has grown into a Black Hills-wide event. Several towns in the area hold special events, but Sturgis remains the "Motorcycle Mecca" and remains a favorite ride because of the area's scenic beauty. Starting the new millennium, Champion Rally Productions was named as the official promoter, organizer and manager of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. The new company has pledged to make the rally a well rounded event and put a bigger share of the profits back into the community. Some veteran rally watchers are predicting the 2000 Motorcycle Rally, the 60th anniversary of the event, will be the biggest ever, and could top 600,000 in attendance, which would make it the biggest outdoor event in North America.
Sturgis, South Dakota Information.