The Evolution of the Sturgis Rally in South Dakota

Sturgis Rally in South Dakota

The history of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally began in 1938. The original rally was a small event consisting of nine members and has since grown to the largest motorcycle rally in the world, with an annual attendance of more than 500,000 people from across the U.S. and countries all over the globe. But how did the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally start and evolve into what it is today?

Where It Started

Clarence “Pappy” Hoel bought a franchise location for Indian Motorcycles in Sturgis in 1936. His dealership was popular for riders who would visit the town to purchase a new motorcycle, but Pappy realized that no one was staying and getting to know other local motorcycle enthusiasts. In 1937, he formed the Jackpine Gypsies, a local motorcycle club for the Sturgis area.

The group held its first Black Hills Classic race day on August 14, 1938, which was later officially recognized as the inaugural Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. The day featured a single race of nine club members before a small local audience. Riders competed to win a $500 prize on a dirt track measuring half a mile. The very first winner of the Black Hills Classic was “Smiley Johnny” Spiegelhoff.

Evolution of the Largest Motorcycle Rally in the World

Word spread like wildfire about the race, and in the second year, the Black Hills Classic featured flat-track races and stunt performances and amassed a crowd of over 800 people.

For the third Sturgis Motorcycle Rally event in 1940, the festivities expanded to cover two days of races and stunts. The event drew motorcycle enthusiasts and their families from across the region, making up approximately 5,000 attendees to watch 150 competitors and performers.

Since then, the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has continued to grow, with only two years of closure during World War II in 1942 and 1943. After a slight downturn after the War, things ramped up again, leading to city officials blocking off Main Street to host the award ceremony in 1949.

By 1962, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was a five-day event that included races and stunts. The rally didn’t see its first vendor until 1974, leading to a growing vendor presence for businesses selling souvenirs, motorcycle gear, accessories, and more. In 1975, the rally expanded again into a week-long event.

The Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Today

The history of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally continues to grow. In 2017, there were too many events and vendors tied to the rally to enjoy everything in seven days, and it extended again into a 10-day event. This came after the largest attendance to date in 2015 for the rally’s 75th anniversary, with 747,032 visitors that year.

Even through the COVID-19 pandemic, attendance barely declined, with 2020 attendance totaling 460,000 visitors, 2021 attendance totaling 525,000 visitors, and 2022 attendance totaling 505,000 visitors.

Nearby towns and cities also participate in the festivities, with many offering events, lodging, and special discounts. In Sturgis, Buffalo Chip Campground features major concerts and contests, including performances from headliners like ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Limp Bizkit, Def Leppard, Styx, and more.

Other local facilities offer a wide variety of accommodations and events for riders staying for the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. If you’re planning to attend the rally this year, be sure to shop around for the best deals and amenities.

Contact Law Tigers for Motorcycle Law in Sturgis

The history of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is fascinating for motorcycle historians. If you need help with a motorcycle case in Sturgis or anywhere in the U.S., turn to our motorcycle attorneys at Law Tigers. Call today at 1-888-863-7216 for a free case evaluation.