NEWTON, IOWA, JULY 25-28—The little town of Newton, Iowa, was alive with the sound of motorcycle engines, instead of the usual Indy and NASCAR powerplants. This was the first year for the Iowa Grand Motorcycle Rally and the town is ideal for hosting big events. With Iowa Speedway being Rally Central, the venue has room to grow this event into something even bigger. Newton is only 9.6 square miles in size and boasts less than 16,000 people, but you won’t find a better site with friendlier folk.
Jay Allen, creator of the world’s biggest biker bar, the Broken Spoke Saloon, was the driving force behind this rally. His involvement in the motorcycling community is well known and with him at the helm, you knew things were going to be good.
The rally kicked off on Wednesday and right out of the box was the Rusty Wallace Ride, benefiting the NASCAR and Speedway Foundations. The charity ride wound its way through the back roads and cornfields to the town of Moravia and the home of PB Chops and Rods. A barbecue lunch and a band were waiting for the riders to enjoy when they arrived. Back at the track, some events were taking place while vendors began selling their products. The main stage rocked into the night with Skynyrd tribute band Edge of Forever, Black Oak Arkansas and Head East closing down the stage. The rally was off to a good start with rides, food, vendors and music.
Thursday was the first full day of activities with music through the afternoon from Jasmine Cain, Ryan Ralondo, Ferrell Webber, 7 Bridges Road and Hairball, the last to perform before the lights were turned out. Several other events ran simultaneously, including a motorcycle rodeo, minibike races, and stunt riders that had shows each day of the rally. The scheduling of these acts daily helped manage attendees’ time. You can’t be everywhere at the same time!
One interesting presentation for a biker rally was a roller derby race. This popular ’70s sport is making a comeback and the two women’s teams put on a show complete with details and explanations of what you were seeing. Who knew there were actual rules? I thought you just went out there and bumped and banged your way around the track.
A Thursday afternoon ride was set up to pay tribute to John Lehman, the renowned trike builder. The group of riders rode to Pella, Iowa, for a quick stop and then around Lake Red Rock to Knoxville, through Monroe and back to the track for a total of 80 miles. Linda Lehman, John’s widow, rode along with Al Timm, owner of Timm’s Trikes in St. Charles, Minnesota, the largest Lehman Trike dealer. Flowers and a plaque in John’s memory were presented Friday night on the main stage.
When the ride returned, another check-in began for a ride to Newton’s town square. The town hosted a street party with live music, food and beer. They even parked the bikes down the center of the road just like the big rallies. The town was behind this endeavor and it showed. Back at the track, events were still taking place and music was playing on the main stage, with 7 Bridges Road and Hairball performing.
What good rally doesn’t have vendors? There were tents, trailers and booths set up under the bleachers of the grandstand. You could buy the usual biker attire of T-shirts, leather goods, bandanas and jewelry including pocket watches for the guys. A couple of tents housed vendors, such as Angel 2 Diva and Classy Trash, selling merchandise just for the ladies. Baker Drivetrain, S&S, Handy Lifts, National Motorcycle Museum, Big Barn Harley-Davidson and Iowa Speedway, all sponsors of the rally, were present, too. Big Barn Harley had a large display with several new and custom bikes to look over. They also brought their Jump Start Experience that allows you to ride a real motorcycle without actually moving or going anywhere via a roller drum under the rear wheel. This dealer selling tool gives a person a chance to feel what it would be like shifting through the gears of a Harley.
Others on hand included Ink Addiction slinging ink, Eric Herrmann selling his renowned artwork, and Mark Reid, world famous body painter, applying his craft to the willing ladies. And what bike rally doesn’t include a Wall of Death? Shows were free to rallygoers, and Patch McGillicutty from Augusta, Georgia, put on several shows that highlighted his skill riding the wall—which he has done for 18 years.
A special attraction on the grounds was a half-scale replica of the Vietnam War Memorial that stands in Washington, D.C. The traveling Wall That Heals is complete with a museum trailer where you could find the location (via computer printout) of any name on the wall. To complement
this exhibit were the Rolling Thunder XXV tribute bikes built by renowned builders. The five bikes represented the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and the Coast Guard. The story behind the Air Force bike is an interesting one, as it was built by Billy Lane of Choppers Inc. The custom ride was fabricated in the Avon Correctional Institute of Florida using random, everyday tools at the prison. The project, because of the theme, received special government approval.
A time-honored staple for any biker rally is the bike show. The Iowa Grand was no exception, as they held two—a standard multi-class on Friday and a vintage-only show on Saturday. The vintage show was sponsored and overseen by John Parham, curator of the National Motorcycle Museum and owner of J&P Cycles. Awards were given out for each show in the form of trophies and plaques. One excited winner from the first show, Penney Smith, entered her Sportster figuring she had a 50/50 shot at winning. She was right, as there were only two bikes in her class!
Harley-Davidson brought out its demo truck and positioned it in the infield of the track. Good idea to be there, but a bad spot to be in. Location! Location! Location! It moved to the bike parking lot on Saturday and they were busy all day, even in the rain. And yes, there was rain on the last day of the rally.
If you wanted to do something different, for $5 you could ride your bike around the Iowa Speedway racetrack. Your small fee bought you five laps around the oval. A pace car led the bikes around while a track truck followed. It’s not every day you get a chance to ride on a real racetrack.
Guest appearances were also a big hit. FX Networks’ hugely popular show Sons of Anarchy supplied two of the show’s main characters for a meet-and-great autograph session. Charlie “Jax” Hunnam showed up for four hours on Friday and Ryan “Opie” Hurst stopped by on Saturday during the same time frame. Wristbands were handed out and the first 150 were guaranteed to get in, while the rest took a chance. You were allowed three items for signing at $10 per autograph. It was packed and several didn’t make it in the door. These guys were pretty popular with the ladies, and Charlie was greeted by an overzealous blonde who got some face time with him. He pulled back when she tried to steal a kiss and she was quickly escorted from the signing table. Security was beefed up after that.
American Pickers, History Channel’s show about two Iowa pickers, sent in Danielle Colby Cushman, their shop manager, for an autograph session, too. She was so friendly and funny, taking time to talk to several of us taking pictures up front. She also helped out judging the Ink Addictions Tattoo Contest with Jay Allen later that afternoon, as she has a fair amount of ink herself.
Friday highlights included an early morning Veterans Ride led by master bike builder Dave Perewitz. The 120-mile trek led the group to Anamosa, Iowa, and the home of the National Motorcycle Museum. Wristband-wearing riders were treated to free food and admission to the building. Evening musical entertainment included country singer Joe Diffie and the band Rev Theory on Friday night, and Saturday night’s musical guests included Black Oak Arkansas and a special guest to end the rally, Eddie Money.
The Vietnam Memorial Wall had an opening ceremony on Thursday and a closing ceremony on Saturday. Both were talks and prayers for those lost in action defending our freedom. It was a time to stop and reflect for a few minutes, and this was a touching site to see at the rally. The official closing was a four-bike burnout that put the biker signature on this great tribute. The smoke was so thick you could hardly see the wall.
This rally was well thought out, activity-filled, and just plain fun. In a field of rallies and rides vying for our hard-earned dollars, the four-day admission cost was a reasonable $75, and that included tent camping while dry and electric sites were available for an additional cost. You could even buy day passes for $30 if that was to your liking. For all they had to offer, it was a bargain.
That said, some events listed didn’t happen; or when they did, they were not always on time. Information about changes, wristband requirements and daily happenings were hard to come by. But, after all, it was the first year and as they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day! Expect some changes to be made next year. That is how you make things better—you keep what worked and you fix what didn’t. In my opinion, the length of the rally should be shortened to start Thursday evening and end on Saturday. And according to the rally website, next year’s event will take place sometime in June, long before the Sturgis rally in August. This year with one week between the two events, people had to pick and choose, as most can’t do both. The scheduling may have played a factor with the lower attendance than anticipated, but I saw plenty of smiling faces from those who were there!