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Thunder Beach Autumn Rally (10th annual)

By Walt Lumpkin

Panhandlers know how to party

North Forida’s premiere free event

Panama City Beach, Fla., Sept. 30–Oct. 3—Ten consecutive parties is a milestone that not many events have the opportunity to celebrate, especially if the last several years of that event takes place during the most trying economic times most of us have seen in our lifetimes. The Thunder Beach Promotions staff is one of the most professional and dedicated in the business and they strive to make your visits to their venues interesting while keeping their personal hard work invisible to the public.

On Wednesday the Shores of Panama once again hosted the Kick Start Party around their beautiful outdoor pool just off the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. Pat Travers provided the entertainment and rocked the house with a tight and energetic set. Following him, the first elimination of the Miss Thunder Beach contestants took place. Nine striking young ladies did their best to convince the judges they should be the ones to advance to the finals on Friday.

Thunder Beach has expanded to nine official venues over the last 10 years. Lake Town Wharf is the newest. It is not really up to speed just yet, but is located across Thomas Drive from Pineapple Willy’s and the Shores of Panama so I imagine by spring there will probably be more happening there.

Speaking of Pineapple Willy’s, they have really jumped aboard the Thunder Beach train. The Kick Start After Party shifted from The Shores to Willy’s (right next door) with beer specials and live music all weekend including Nashville recording artist Ben Olson and Joshua Adams & the 8 Balls. Nick Lee also returned again this year with his World Burnout Tour show to raise a little hell along the beachfront each night. Kudos to Pineapple Willy’s for keeping their parking lot reserved for bikes only.

Club LaVela is regarded as the largest nightclub in the U.S. During the rally, its parking lot is also the location for many of the big rigs that make the rounds of the big rallies—Kuryakyn, J & P Cycles and Metzeler among them. LaVela also provides great entertainment. Rick Derringer, the Southern Rock Allstars and the Eagles tribute band Alter Eagles performed free for bikers on the poolside stage Thursday through Saturday while emcee Scotty kept things rolling in the vendor area each day. Poster girl Robin Wilson was slated to sign autographs at the Lucas Oil display on Friday and Saturday. And on Saturday Club LaVela held their bikini and wet T-shirt contests, for those looking for something a little more risqué.

The beautiful weather this year was perfect for the large crowds at Frank Brown Park. Perennial favorites The Ives Family with Cody and Kyle thrilled the crowds with ramp jumps and dizzying stunts within the confines of the steel ball. Nick Lee’s WBT hauler was domiciled at the park, where he destroyed tires several times each day. As usual his unique-high horsepower toys were on display. The Hemi-powered barstool would be a great way to bar hop along the beach—have bar stool, will travel.

The Shoppes at Edgewater was revamped and featured some top-shelf entertainment. Molly Hatchet and Edgar Winter along with the Hendrix Experience and Clapton tribute band Crossroads took the stage for appreciative crowds—all free.

Rock’it Lanes hosted the tribute bands and Hold Cell from the outdoor stage on respective nights with no cover charge for the bikers. And the outdoor beer garden and $2 Bloody Marys are always a hit. They also held the first Ms. Thunder Beach contest with walk-up registration for ladies 35 and older. This is an element missing from the current Miss Thunder Beach contest. In the past some of the most interesting contestants were the more mature ones.

A Saturday tradition at Pier Park is the Best of the Beach Bike Show put on by USRider News with $10,000 in prizes and cash. This show is becoming the place to show off your special ride whether you bought it or built it, rode it or hauled it. The restaurants in the park were doing a brisk business and the street-side parking was a veritable bike show in its own right.

Out at the Bay Point Marriott Resort they were offering numerous activities including some great live music from the likes of King Cotton and the Sauce Boss Bill Wharton. Bill has one of the best blues performances you will ever see, all the while cooking up a steaming pot of gumbo for the audience to consume at the end of his show. (Note: the Sauce Boss had a heart attack shortly after Thunder Beach. You can reach him at FaceBook to express your regards.)

In addition to the music, Bay Point hosted a male and female Show Me Your Tats tattoo show in their convention center as well as the Sizzle Fashion Show and the In It To Win It random skills contest. Alan Smith’s Old Skool Antique Motorcycle Road Show was also located in the vendor area. His many makes and models bikes date from 1914 to 1957. Most of them are in their original condition and they actually run. Observers are encouraged to ask questions and even sit on the bikes for pictures. It was a rare opportunity to actually try a museum piece on for size.

The finals of the Miss Thunder Beach Contest are held on Friday evening at Bay Point after the earlier preliminaries at the Shores and Sharky’s. And once again all of theyoung ladies were very attractive. It could not have been easy being a judge. There were no losers; just winners, including the large crowd that was on hand to watch and judge for themselves.

The bad economy or just plain good will brought out some good deals from some of the restaurants and hotels. The hotels were offering discounts and special programs for bikers. The restaurants were offering good deals too, with some lunch specials starting at $5 and 16 ounce draft beer for as little as $1.50 each. The official Thunder Beach Rally program (available at numerous sponsor locations and hotels around town) lists the bargains that are up for grabs.

Friday night a biker-lawyer acquaintance told me about “the” morning party place on the beach. (He will remain anonymous to protect his clients.) Although I’ve been coming to Panama City Beach since I was too young to walk, I never knew Miss Newby’s was open 21 hours a day. Doors swing wide at 7 a.m. and don’t close until 4 a.m. the next day, leaving just enough time to tidy up the place. And now that I have discovered the early morning crowd at Miss Newby’s, I have decided to have “breakfast” there at least once each rally. But after two hours of early morning fellowship, great music on the jukebox and eclectic conversations, I soon discovered that my capacity for keeping up with the pros has greatly diminished. Fortunately Nick Lee wasn’t curbside offering demos on that high-powered barstool when I exited.

Touted as the “Most Biker Friendly Free Rally in the US,” the success of the 2010 Thunder Beach Autumn Rally gives credence to that claim proving it is not simply a boastful advertising gimmick. And the best part about Thunder Beach is you never have to wait an entire year for its return. The 12th annual Thunder Beach Spring Rally is scheduled for April 27–May 1, 2011. That should give you just enough time to get ready.

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