STURGIS —For most of the year, this west Oktibbeha County community fits the description of a “sleepy little town.”
But on Saturday, Sturgis saw the first signs that the town’s signature event was quickly coming to life.
American flags and welcome banners were already in place on utility poles along Highway 12 through the town. Another large welcome banner hangs across Highway 12 right as motorists enter downtown Sturgis.
But it was at Diane Jackson Memorial Park where the tale of the 2010 Sturgis South Motorcycle Rally was beginning to unfold as several dozen RVs and tents were staked out as the early arrivals for the rally began appearing.
Donny Hanson, president of the Sturgis Rally Board, already had his camper strategically placed at the park’s entrance and stayed busy Saturday directing early Rally arrivals to spots where they could set up campers and tents. As of 4 p.m., some 100 campers had already been set up, Hanson said.
Some vendors for the Rally — which formally opens late Thursday afternoon, a day earlier than previous years — were already beginning to set up around the town, including one carnival ride.
“Usually, we don’t expect to see vendors start setting up until Sunday of Rally week, but we’ve already got some starting to get ready,” said Hanson early Saturday afternoon.
By mid-week, much of Sturgis will resemble a carnival midway, with vendors selling every type of food imaginable, clothing, Rally souvenirs and motorcycle accessories set up almost wall-to-wall across the town.
In fact, one of the new additions to this year will be a carnival with multiple rides and games, and it’s a feature — coupled with changes in how the passes for the Rally concerts are sold and the addition of an extra day — Hanson hopes will help boost attendance and revenue for the Rally, which donates proceeds to charity.
This year, the Rally is partnering with the Dixie Thunder Run and the Mississippi Military Emergency Relief Fund to receive proceeds.
“We just want to encourage people to come and support the Rally by purchasing a weekend pass or a nightly pass and enjoy the Rally. We are a non-profit organization trying to help others,” Hanson said.
The decision to add the extra day “was made because of the need for income to produce this rally,” Hanson said.
“The past few years we have tried to give the people an extra day and the attendance has been good for this day, but the added expense to the Rally to do this extra day has been to expensive to not be charging admission. We decided to charge admission to the Thursday night concert, therefore leading to the nightly entertainment passes,” Hanson said.
“We have added the student ID discount in hopes of getting the college students to come to Sturgis and see what is going on and to possibly purchase an all-event pass for the entire week end. We are not trying to make a killing off of the event but rather make enough money to pay the bills and
have money for the Town of Sturgis and for the charities that we support each year, and to grow the Rally.”
Organizers had also realized that the Rally had “sort of gotten to a plateau and leveled off,” Hanson said.
“Some of it has to do with the economy, but the big thing is that we can not keep offering the big-name entertainment unless we get more income from registration and ticket sales. The only way to increase ticket sales is to offer better entertainment,” Hanson said.
“We have seen in the past 5 or 6 years that as the entertainment got better, then the ticket sales increased. We are always looking for some sponsors to help curb some of our costs of this production. We do not have any of the big name corporate sponsors that a lot of other events have. We would like to have them.”
Even with what Hanson described as stagnant attendance, the Rally has continued to draw thousands of bikers to Sturgis, not to mention thousands of other visitors who just like to enjoy seeing the motorcycles and taking in the attractions the Rally offers, Hanson said.
The event is one that families can enjoy, and Rally organizers want to keep it that way, Hanson said.
“The one common compliment that we get and have gotten for the past 13 years is that ‘we can bring our entire family to this rally and not have to worry about trouble or having our children exposed to things that go on at other rallies.’ We do not allow the nudity at any time. We do not allow the drunken out of hand people to roam the streets,” Hanson said.
“We have the security measures in place that if some one does try to get out of line, that person is immediately escorted to a place that he can be handled. Some people complain about the amount of security officers we have at the rally but it is there for a reason. That reason is to protect the families and individuals that are there. We want the families to come and enjoy the true spirit and comradery of the motorcycle world. The ‘Bad Biker’ persona that has been around for so long is not the norm any more.”
The first sanctioned Sturgis South Motorcycle Rally was held Sept. 20 and 21, 1997, and attracted 500 bikers and a total attendance of 800 people.
In recent years, the Rally has seen attendance of more than 35,000 people.
The Rally has attracted visitors from countless states, including Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Kentucky, Florida and California.
Many friendships have been forged among Rally-goers, Hanson said.
“For me personally, getting to meet a lot of interesting people from all over the country, is neat. I have even ran into a lot of people that I knew from some past experiences in my life that I had forgot. The pleasure of working with some of the best entertainers in the entertainment world. I have made a lot of good friends through the past 10 years that are in the entertainment world, and we all still communicate an a regular basis,” Hanson said.
“I get calls all year long from these people wanting to know how the Rally is going and who is going to be there for the year coming up. Most all of them want to come back and perform at the Rally time after time because of our friendship and the fun they have... Very few of the entertainers are just plain business after they get to Sturgis and see the down home hospitality that we give here.”
Editor’s note: More stories about the Sturgis South Motorcycle Rally will be published daily leading up to and during the event. In Monday’s edition, information about the entertainment offerings for this year’s Rally will be published.