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Part 2. History - Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

In 1938 the Sturgis Rally, originally known as the Black Hills Classic, was organized by the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club as a series of motorcycle races. Far from the half a million participants of today, the first races had 9 racers and only a handful of spectators. The Club regarded such attendance as a successful venture and sponsored an even larger event the following year. By 1940 the Black Hills Motor Classic was incorporated to promote the rally and organize the events. In 1942 gas rationing during WWII caused the rally to be canceled for the only time.

By the early 1960s the rally became a multi-day event, with the races, hill climbs, motocross, and bike shows. In 1964 the small town of Sturgis closed off Main Street during the three-day rally. There were relatively few hotel rooms available to participants, given the growing numbers of attendees for the rally. Most attendees camped in the city park and in the surrounding national and state parks.

In the 1970s the rally of today took shape. The rally became about the participants and the racing became entertainment, not the reason for being. It was in this decade that the rally became a 7-day event, the first venders (9 total) set up shop on and around Main Street, and the day rides around the Black Hills took the place of the races as the primary attraction.

In 1983 the city park was closed to camping as camp fires began to cause brush fires. Even without the fires, the sheer number of attendees looking for free camping space overwhelmed the small park. Local residents, while supportive to the rally (and the dollars it brought), objected to the booze inspired loud activities commonly found in the park. In its place, local businessmen began converting surrounding cow pastures into campgrounds. Fees were charged to rent space during the rally. RV hookups and waste disposal were later available and the campers began to share the stars with trailers and motorhomes in the new campgrounds.

By 1995 the organization of the rally was given to a professional events manager. The size and financial importance became too much for local part time employees to continue to produce. It is said than 95% of the towns revenues come from the rally during a two-week period. The rally is an annual event, and is always held during the first or second week in August.


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