ORMOND BEACH, FLA., MAR 14–As I rounded the corner from Yonge Street onto Calle Grande Plaza, one of the Willie’s Tropical Tattoo crew was directing traffic. The two down-and-dirty choppers in front of me were waved into the lot in front of the shop, but when the staffer saw me, he pointed to the road beyond. I just nodded and kept riding up the street to look for a parking spot. This was Willie’s Ole School Chopper Show, and my 2012 Switchback, complete with hard bags and windshield, had no place in the competition. That was fine with me, because I was there only to check out the cool bikes, hang out with friends, and have a rockin’ good time.
Although the show officially starts at noon, folks start pulling into the lot earlier in the morning. The festivities were well underway by the time I arrived and bikes were packed handlebar to fender in the front lot, the backyard and pretty much everywhere a few inches of space could be found. Bikes continued to stream in all afternoon, and I don’t know how they do it, but spots were found for all who wanted to enter the competition. With this crowd, it’s not so much about winning, although that’s certainly a feather in the cap of a chopperphile. It’s more about being part of the scene, among those who enjoy the chopper lifestyle in its purest sense.
Squeezing my way through the sea of bikes and bikers, I saw a young woman, Jillian Rossi, intent on doing some intricate pinstriping on the gas tank of her nicely painted Ironhead bobber. The talented Jillian is also the official pinstriper of Smoke Out 14. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of the same bikes there. The Horse BackStreet Choppers, producer of the Smoke Out, was also a major sponsor of Willie’s Chopper Show. The other two main sponsors were Spectro Oils and Twisted Tea (hard to miss because of the lovely young Twisted Tea ladies circulating among the crowd).
In front of the tattoo shop the bike show trophies were lined up waiting for the winners to be announced. Behind the trophy table Roadside Marty, emcee of the event, held court as a smiling Willie Jones, owner of the shop and host of the show, looked over the huge crowd. Roadside is unlike any other emcee you’ve ever heard, and keeps the crowd entertained with his quick wit and scathing sarcasm. Here’s one gem: “If you come up to the table and ask me what time the awards are, how we judge or anything like that, just give me your name, point out your bike and I’ll make sure you never, ever win.” However, Roadside also knows how to turn on the charm when a scantily-clad female strolls by. After all, this is an adults-only event. Leave the kiddies at home. And the pets.
Finally making my way to the backyard, I was treated by the sights and sounds of choppers and the kickass Big House Pete, one of the bands playing the event. The other band on the slate was Big Rick and the Troublemakers, but to be perfectly honest, I’m not even sure I heard them because there was so much activity at Willie’s. Sensory overload for sure. There was barbecue in the back, a few vendors (mostly motorcycle and leather shops), the ubiquitous Bean’re promoting his new book and an Old Smoky Tennessee Moonshine booth set up as a bar. Stars of the Moonshiners TV show Don Wood, Bootleg Bill, Josh and his constant canine companion Cutie Pie were the celebrity bartenders behind the bar, as was Nikki Linn, founder of the ARNI Foundation. All proceeds from the show were donated to ARNI (Animal Rescue Need and Intervention), a Daytona Beach nonprofit, no-kill shelter for cats and dogs. The Foundation, specializing in cruelty and abuse cases, has saved thousands of animals’ lives. They can use help year-round, so if you’re moved to lend support, go to arnianimalrescue.org.
In what seemed like the wink of an eye, it was time to announce the awards. But first, there were giveaways to hand out. Courtesy of Boomer’s Bike Shop, everyone who registered got a free custom shop rag featuring The Horse, Tropical Tattoo and Boomers Bike Shop logos. Additional giveaways included hand-tooled leather wallets from Anvil Customs, a hand-tooled leather Horse/Tropical Tattoo kidney belt crafted by Bare Bones Leather, seat pans, springs and oil line kits from Chop Docs, caliper and rotor kits from Biker’s Choice and other prizes.
Like a well-oiled machine, Roadside called the winners to roll their bikes up to the “stage” to receive their awards, one right after the other. There were over 20 classes, including some special categories selected by Willie’s crew and other dignitaries. Dave Perewitz chose Ray Lane’s stunning orange flake ’50 Panhead rigid, which also earned the Best Pan award. Rogue’s Choice was Judd York’s ’81 root beer bobber. Jillian selected Ryan Keegan’s black ’77 bobber. Sharf’s Choice—and Best Knuckle—was given to Randy Bellomo for his ’46 red Knuck rigid. Best Metric went to Joe Zaza for his chrome Yamaha XS650, and Best Twin Cam was awarded to Tom Keller for his 2000 Dyna. Willie’s Choices went to Gary Luke for his ’07 Evo rigid and Barry Hart for his ’66 Shovel rigid. Creative Custom was taken by John Landstrom for his ’48 Nimbus—a fascinating machine for sure. Best Evo was awarded to Clinton Wallace for his ’96 rigid, and Best Shovelhead went to Rick Hill for his ’76. Darren’s Choice was given to Cody Gillmore for his ’81 Shovel rigid, while Best Trailer Trash went to Babin’s ’52 Panhead rat. Jimmy Gross took Best British for his ’70 BSA, Melissa Earnest won Best Sportster for her ’82 rigid, Steve Hatch earned Best Rat for his rusty ’65 Sportster rigid and Wendall Turner was awarded Best Flathead for his ’45 UL74. Best Paint went to Nate Jacobs for his black and blue ’76 Shovel, and Boston Mike’s Choice was given to Josh Wheeler for his ’74 Ironhead. Pat Moroney earned Moonshiners’ Choice for his ’59 Pan-Knuckle and finally, Roadside’s Choice went to Will Ramsey for his ’81 Shovel.
With the awards over, riders started to trickle out of the lot. A number of folks stayed behind, reluctant to leave the event that, for many, is the highlight of Daytona Bike Week. This was the 11th year for the show, always held on the Thursday of Bike Week, as well as Biketoberfest. According to those in the know, it was the biggest show so far, the best organized and the most smoothly run. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no better place to spend a Thursday afternoon.