In Part by Alyssa
Sturgis is notable as the location of one of the largest annual motorcycle events in the world: the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, lasts for 10 days beginning on the first Friday of August. It attracts large numbers of motorcycle enthusiasts from around the world. The very first Sturgis motorcycle rally was held on August 14, 1938. The event was organized by the town’s motorcycle club called the Jackpine Gypsies who bought and developed large tracks, hill climbs and field areas where the rally would be held.
“Pappy” Hoel – Founder of the Sturgis Rally!
It was Clarence Hoel or “Pappy” who was credited for founding the event when he bought a franchise of the Indian Motorcycle Company (a manufacturer of motorcycles in North Carolina) in Sturgis during 1936. After that, he organized the Jackpine Gypsies During the first few years, the Sturgis motorcycle rally focused on racing and stunts, testing the participant’s various riding skills, courage and stunt creativity. By the 1960s, the rally action expanded with hill climbs and motocross. Audiences saw more daredevil maneuvers like the half-mile track racing, ramp jumps, head-on automobile crashes and board wall crashes, the reasons for the tremendous popularity of the event today. The only time that the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was not held was in 1942, at the height of World War II. Today, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally continues to reap the support and attendance of both participants and motorcycle fans all over the United States and in some parts of the world. In 2015, a record 739,000 attended the rally’s 75th anniversary, including entire families who came with their RVs and rode the few last miles to Sturgis on their motorcycles.
The White Plate Flat Trackers Association – (Pappy Hoel & Al Burke, 1979) was organized to remember the early racers who successfully competed and earned points for top finishing within specific time periods. See it at, Junction Ave. & Harmon St., Sturgis SD For additional info, see: https://www.facebook.com/WPFTA/
Who are the Jackpine Gypsies
The Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club started in 1936, with an official American Motorcycle Association (AMA) charter in 1937. AMA began promoting the racing events, which started the now famous Rally in Sturgis on August 14, 1938. That weekend celebration in 1938 had a lineup of only nine racers and a small audience watching the races. The average age for a motorcycle club is three years, and after 78 years, the Black Hills club is still running strong. The club owns all the property on which most club activities take place. A lighted short track, motocross track, field meet area, hill climb area, clubhouse, office and state approved concession business are located on the grounds. The Jackpine Gypsies are a non-profit organization. They donate to area charities, including: the local food bank, Sturgis High School, Zonta Club of Sturgis, and Christian Motorcycle Association. The Jackpine Gypsies have over 150 members living all over the United States and abroad. The average age of club members is 40. The average age of spectators is 42, while the average age of the riders is 23.
The short track at the Jackpine Gypsies club grounds was first used in 1963. Since that debut race, many improvements have been made. The club holds races every other weekend and a full week of races during the rally. A motocross track was added on in the 1980’s and then in 1996 a new track was built. The sport of motocross is beginning to grow again, in fact, in 1998; the Gypsies held five motocross races, which attracted over 500 racers. During the Sturgis Rally, they hold 12 events, including: motocross racing, a 1/2-mile race, hill climbs, road tours and short track racing. There were over 6000 spectators and hundreds of racers during the week of the Rally. As you can see, the Sturgis Rally has grown quite a bit since the first rally in 1937!
Starting from humble beginnings, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has evolved in the last 82 years from just a handful of enthusiasts to thousands of bikers. Once known as the Black Hills Motor Classic, the Rally is now the largest annual event in South Dakota. The name “Sturgis” is recognized world-wide, synonymous with motorcycles, rock ‘n roll and wild parties. But just how did this small, Black Hills town become the motorcycle mecca it is today? The Journey Museum explores the history of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in a 23-minute-long documentary detailing the rise of the Sturgis Rally from 1938 to 2020 and beyond.
Listen to interviews with Black Hills figureheads from the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum, Sturgis Buffalo Chip, Jackpine Gypsies and more. These enthralling interviews give you all the details—how Pappy Hoel started it all, the legendary Buffalo Chip’s first years and how the Rally is inspiring a new generation of bikers.
Alyssa is a Chadron State College graduate with deep roots in the Black Hills and Badlands. As an English Major, she has a passion for writing, people, animals, stationary, and (of course) South Dakota. Her friends often describe her as loyal, funny, and someone who always keeps things interesting.