Events News

Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Still Set for Aug. 7-16

Businesses pledge to move forward, even if town will not

More than 50 businesses in the Sturgis, S.D., area pledged to host the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally on Aug. 7-16, even if the city council opts out of supporting the event.

The City Council and city manager apparently were mulling over canceling the event because of the coronavirus pandemic. But business interests decided the city can’t cancel the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, because the city doesn’t organize it.

“You can’t cancel what you don’t own,” said Randy Peterson, owner of, the website dedicated to promoting the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. “You can choose to participate or choose not to participate, but the Sturgis Rally will still go on, regardless of what the City of Sturgis chooses.

“The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was started by a private business owner and private motorcycle club. That motorcycle club isn’t even inside Sturgis City limits. According to U.S. Court of Appeals, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has been promoted by ‘hundreds of entities’ since.”

If the City of Sturgis votes against taking part in this year’s 80th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, “it means the city will not issue vendor permits within city limits, rent out space, make Main Street motorcycles-only or provide other municipal services,” Peterson said.

He also said businesses have instituted guidelines and safeguards to help combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus. He encouraged riders to attend the rally and ride the area’s great roads.

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The story of the rally’s creation begins in 1938, when the Black Hills area of southwestern South Dakota was on the verge of becoming a major tourist destination. With work on Mount Rushmore nearing completion, the Chamber of Commerce in Sturgis, less than 50 miles from this national memorial, was looking for a way to bring in its share of the crowds.

A fledgling AMA club called the Jackpine Gypsies that began with seven members in January of 1937 had an idea. The club, which has since been inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame, asked the chamber to put up money to stage a motorcycle race. City leaders agreed, and the second weekend of August 1938 was set as the date for the first AMA race meet in Sturgis.

But Clarence “Pappy” Hoel, a Sturgis Indian dealer and president of the Jackpine Gypsies, who is now also an AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame inductee, had bigger things in mind. So, for 1939, the group added a tour to Mount Rushmore and other events to the race weekend, billing it all as the Black Hills Motor Classic.

That year, some 50 motorcycles went on the tour, while the number involved in the entire week reached 800. That was just the start.

The rally quickly began a growth curve that might have continued uninterrupted if not for World War II. The AMA called a halt to all organized motorcycling activities during the war, meaning that the Black Hills Motor Classic was canceled in 1943 and 1944. Once the war ended, publicity from magazines and word-of-mouth recommendations from riders quickly got Sturgis back up to speed.