Front: Stan, 2nd Row L-R: Jim & Rod, 3rd Row L-R: Troy, Jeff & Greg, 4th Row L-R: Don & Doug, Back: Len
No discussion of motorcycle drill teams would be complete without mention of the Shriners. For years, anyone who has watched these riders perform in exhibitions or competition or has seen them in parades has been amazed at their skill and precision.
I’d like to begin with a few words about Shriners, as an organization, then focus on the Ararat Motor Corps. Shriners belong to the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, an international organization with over 500,000 members. The Shrine was founded in New York City in 1872 by a group of 13 members of the Masonic Order. It was originally organized to provide fellowship and fun for its members, but as the organization grew, its members became dedicated to a very special philanthropy-a network of hospitals that provide free medical care to children suffering from burns or orthopedic ailments. The first of 22 Shriners Hospitals opened in 1922.
When she was two years old, my Grandniece Heather was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Throughout her childhood and adolescence, the Shriners paid for all of the required hospital care, medicine, and even her parents’ travel costs from north central Kansas to St. Louis. To inquire about free medical assistance for children, call 1-800-237-5055 or the Ararat Shrine Hospital Committee at 816-923-1319. For more information or to join Shrine of North America or Kansas City’s Ararat Shrine, view their web sites.
Within the organization there are numerous clubs for people with varying interests such as amateur radio, aviation, music, dancing, and of course, motorcycling. The Ararat Cycles Club has about 50 members who frequently participate in group rides and activities. A select few of these motorcyclists become members of the Ararat Motor Corps motorcycle drill team. Through Troy Orlando, who serves as Assistant Director of the Greater Kansas City H.O.G. Chapter, I made arrangements to attend the team’s practice session on Sunday, May 23. This was a great opportunity to meet these men and shoot a few photos. Since this was not a “real” performance, uniforms were left at home. The teamwork and camaraderie among this group was very impressive. They went through their routine four times with breaks to have refreshments, discuss what went well, what could be improved, and poke fun at one another. Through the numerous hours of practicing and riding together, this group is like a family.
To learn more, I had a conversation with Jim Murray, the Director.
CC: In addition to yourself, who are the members of the team?
Jim: Troy Orlando, Greg Kennedy, Stan Harrington (Drill Team Captain), Jeff Davis, Rod McGrath, and Doug Robins, our flag man, are the regulars. Woody Woodward and Don Hendrickson are alternates. Len Lynch is also here today. He is a former member of the team and past potentate of our Temple.
CC: Please describe the maneuvers in your routine.
Jim: Here’s the list: Log-split, group of four, group of two, figure eight, interlock, wheel-to-wheel match up, circle-in-circle, unwind, starburst, fall through, weave, small circle, high speed cross, and wedge.
CC: It seems very intricate. I see you are equipped with radios. How much communication is involved?
Jim: During parades, we chat a lot. During the drill, the Drill Team Captain calls out each maneuver. This year, Stan Harrington has assumed that duty, since I have an injury that possibly will keep me out of competition. In practice, especially early in the season, we talk quite a bit. By the time we are performing in competition, there isn’t much talk.
CC: How much turnover do you have from year to year and how are new members trained?
Jim: We average one or two new members each season. Our training method is to play follow the leader. Trainees follow an experienced team member, and we evaluate their ability to make turns and maneuver. We then begin walking them through the drill and making corrections.
CC: I imagine the risk of crashes is greatest early in the season.
Jim: The regulars get rusty during the off-season, and it takes new riders a while to get the feel of it. We used to joke that we couldn’t end practice until someone fell off. A common mistake that new riders make is to put a foot down to try and stop a fall. That’s how broken legs happen. I tell them to just get away from the motorcycle when it falls. I have broken ribs myself on the obstacle course. Things like that happen.
CC: I assume the high speed cross is the most dangerous maneuver.
Jim: Timing is critical there, and we definitely have to trust each other. But a crash can happen during any of the maneuvers, particularly during practice. We ride very close together, and the bikes even touch sometimes without spectators being aware of it.
CC: What happens during a routine if someone makes a mistake or gets lost?
Jim: Everyone knows where to go. If the mistake is small it can be corrected very quickly. If it’s a major bust, we would all run for cover and regroup.
CC: How are your expenses covered when you travel?
Jim: The group pays its own expenses. We do an annual poker run to raise funds for this purpose. This year’s event will be on June 5 and begins at Worth Harley-Davidson North at 10 a.m. I would also like to mention that Worth Harley-Davidson North helps us a lot and provides leather jackets for team members.
CC: Tell me a bit about the rewards of being a Shriner.
Jim: Let me tell you a brief story to give you a feel for that. Last year a two-year-old boy named Spencer was badly burned in a fire in Liberty. He was sent to the Shriners Burn Center in Galveston. Recently, members of the Ararat Shrine received an invitation to Spencer’s third birthday party with a note thanking us for helping him to make it to age three.
CC: From your web site I learned that the Motor Corps’ motto is “Our wheels turn to help crippled children walk.” I appreciate all you do, and I thank you for providing me with the opportunity to write about you.
Next, I turned my attention to Don Hendrickson who has just retired from competition after a 17-year career with the team.
CC: Please tell me a bit about the history of the Ararat Motor Corps.
Don: In 1947, this group became the first two-wheeled unit in all of Shrinedom. White Harley-Davidson motorcycles were selected, and this tradition has been maintained ever since. Until this year each bike had a saber on the front fender, but this was voted out.
CC: How often are bikes replaced?
Don: We get new ones every two years, because at one time, factory production was so limited that new ones were available only every other year. Now, production has increased to the point where we could probably get them every year if we chose. We use to ride them for five or six years, but they have to stand inspection for competition, and it was more difficult to take care of scratches and dings. Getting ready for inspection was like an all-day job. The new bikes are nothing like the old bikes that leaked oil and had mechanical problems. The quality has improved dramatically.
CC: I understand about the inspection. Jim informed me that the bikes must be identical in every detail. All items that personalize the bikes are removed and every detail is checked down to the alignment of slots on the screws that anchor the windshields. How often does the group practice?
Don: Practices are held every Sunday afternoon throughout the season with few exceptions.
CC: How successful has your unit been in competition?
Don: Last year was probably our best year. We won first place in both Central States and International Shriners competition. We went to Springfield for the International Motorcycle Drill Team competition which is not limited to Shrine units and won second place. That’s the highlight of what we’ve won in all the years I’ve been involved.
CC: Do you use the same routine from year to year?
Don: Pretty much the same. A lot of Shrine units have copied our drill in Central States and International competition.
CC: I was really impressed with what I saw during practice today.
Don: Yeah, I was asked to come out and coach a little bit. We have a couple of less experienced riders, and they are doing fine, no problems.
CC: During your time in the unit you must have seen a lot of riders come and go. Do you ever get one that worries you a bit?
Don: We’ve had a few over the years that just weren’t able to do what we have to do. We’ve had a few that really had problems at first but were bull-headed, hung in there and practiced and practiced and practiced and finally became good riders.
CC: Tell me what has been rewarding to you during your long involvement with the unit.
Don: A guy that has ridden a bike on the street for years and he comes along and gets into the unit and has never done anything like we do. You have to learn how to do really tight turns and precision maneuvers. It’s rewarding to teach these guys how to do this and to watch their progress
CC: Where do you do exhibitions outside of competitive events?
Don: We’ve performed at the Harley-Davidson factory open house here in Kansas City. We’ve done drill shows for the Missouri H.O.G. Rallies in two or three locations. We do occasional shows at charity events including Bikers for Babies, and we ride in parades.
In conclusion, I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with this group and have the utmost respect for all of them. I would encourage you to be generous the next time you see a man wearing a red fez accepting donations outside a local store. If you have an opportunity to see the team ride, it’s definitely worthwhile. They can be seen at the events shown in the parade calendar link on their web site with the exception of the June 6 and July 4 events. During the July 4 weekend, they will be in Denver defending their international championship.
Story & Photos by Stripe