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Sparks America Bike Run

Written by  July 31, 2004

The Sparks America event is advertised as “One Bad Ass Bike Run.” Tony Ward, the man who makes this party happen, prefers to call it a bike run rather than a rally, saying that “rallies are for pussies.” Whatever you call it, it’s one hell of a lot of fun!

The Sparks America Campground is located just south of Sparks, Oklahoma; a town with just over 100 residents, about 60 miles northeast of Oklahoma City. I made the 350-mile ride from Lee’s Summit, Missouri, on Thursday, June 24. I had been looking forward to this weekend ever since meeting Tony at the Waynoka Snake Hunt in April, and I was not disappointed!

After checking in at the gate, I set out to select a campsite. This was not a difficult task, since the campground covers 160 acres of which a fair portion offers shaded camping. There are 100 sites available with hookups for RVs for those who prefer a few more amenities, and shuttle service throughout the campground is provided. After pitching my tent, I went exploring. It didn’t take long to confirm that this was a true biker party. Many of those in attendance had shed any inhibitions they might have had, along with a significant portion of their clothing. Ladies were earning “boobie beads” in mass quantities. A pond, conveniently located near the “playground” where most of the events take place, provided a perfect place to take a dip to escape the heat - swimsuits optional.

Speaking of events, the schedule for each day was filled with bike and non-bike games. Tony and his staff do a super job of making sure there are constant sources of entertainment and that the crowd is kept informed of what’s going on. There is a burnout pit for bikers who choose to add to the fun at their own expense. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived on Thursday, most of the games for that day had already been completed. I still enjoyed checking out the vendors, visiting with people, and listening to the music that was great all weekend. As is typical at biker parties, each evening’s festivities featured a beauty pageant that included neither an evening gown competition nor a congeniality award. The chant was “skin to win” and the audience was not disappointed.

I began Friday morning by strolling out to the gate and talking with Lisa, who was on duty there. She told me this was her first time to work at Sparks America and she was really enjoying seeing the variety of bikes and trikes, as well as chatting with the bikers. Someone had given her a ride on a trike the previous evening. On my way back to the central area, I stopped to admire a Pan-Shovel that sat at one of the campsites. The owner, John from Midwest City, informed me that the bike resulted from a five-year project that had been completed just a couple of weeks earlier. The ’51 motor with a ’66 top had sat in a closet for over three years while John gathered parts to put the bike together. He told me about his plans for a special paint job, and I look forward to seeing the results on some future Oklahoma trip.

While waiting for the day’s scheduled activities to commence, I noticed that many of the ladies had opted to wear colorful painted-on bikini tops. The skin artwork was done by Donnie Tate. Donnie and his wife, Audrey, own Mystic Creations Airbrush. The gals were paying $25 and up for bikini tops. Temporary tattoos and other body art were also available. Donnie told me that business was kind of sporadic, improving dramatically as the partygoers became more inebriated. I watched a young lady called Pixie get a fairy design airbrushed on her back.

When the games got started, I was pleased to see that they were well organized with lots of participants and a large, appreciative audience. I had the opportunity to talk with Calvin, a serious slow ride competitor from Locust Grove, Oklahoma. His intensity, which rivals that of any Olympic athlete, paid off with a victory. He called me recently to let me know that he now has wins at five straight events; quite an accomplishment. On that day, he also teamed with K. T. for a win in the doubles slow race. All of the day’s contests were very competitive and entertaining. The award plaques were cool, and there was one for each member of winning teams.

I was pleased to see that others from the Kansas City area were in attendance. Gail and Rosie from Gail’s Harley-Davidson arrived with a cameraman to shoot a segment for an upcoming video production to be shown on Kansas City cable television. Other publications covering Sparks America included The Ride and Easyriders. Friday night was pretty much a repeat of Thursday, and just as enjoyable. I turned in around midnight, but the music and festivities continued long after I called it a day.

On Saturday morning, I was able to flag down Tony and ride with him in a golf cart as he made his morning rounds. It was an interview on the go.

CC: How many people are expected for this event?
Tony: We may have as many as 10,000. Every state of the union will be represented. I’m also expecting people from several foreign countries including Canada, Egypt, Germany and Nigeria.

CC: Please fill me in on the history of this bike run.
Tony: It started out as a small charity poker run. By the year 2000, attendance had grown to about 1,500. Before long it may be ten times that number.

CC: How many vendors are here?
Tony: There are 78 vendors from as far away as Florida and Washington.

CC: How many people are on your staff?
Tony: 100 or so.

CC: How have people learned about Sparks America?
Tony: We advertise in various magazines and distribute thousands of fliers. We also have a web site at

CC: How does the October event compare to this one?
Tony: There won’t be as many people, but it will be just as much fun. We play all of the same games. We call it “The Best Damn Halloween Party in Oklahoma.” The dates are October 22 through October 24 and tickets will be available for pickup at the gate one week prior to the event. No tickets will be mailed out.

As Tony and I sat in the cart, one of the vendors came over to greet us. Suzy from Newcastle, Oklahoma, was selling Clear Kote bike care products. She told us how much fun she was having and how friendly everyone was. Another lady, Judy, came over and told me about the special attention given to anyone with disabilities or medical problems. Judy has a medical condition that sometimes causes seizures. She said that Tony, Kelly, or other staff members checked with her frequently to make sure everything was all right. I observed throughout the weekend that the staff went out of their way to assist anyone with a disability. That kind of individual attention is rare at big events such as this one.

There was other evidence that these are caring people. There was an on site blood drive that concluded on Saturday afternoon with over 100 units donated. All during the weekend there were 50/50 drawings with the proceeds going to the Maria Ward Foundation; a charity started by Tony and his wife Maggie in memory of their daughter, Maria, who tragically died on May 5, 2004, at the age of 23. Tony also informed me that Cindy Dillenger, Diana Barlow and his son, Jason were instrumental in putting the foundation together. The 50/50 tickets were often sold by pretty ladies who doffed their tops for the cause, an interesting and effective marketing ploy. Tony informed me later that $5,800 was donated to the foundation and $1,700 to Bikers Against Child Abuse.

During the day on Saturday, there was a bike show and still more games. One interesting contest was dubbed the “titty slide.” A long plastic slide was rolled out and hosed down to make it slick. Then a charity auction was held to determine who would have the honor of lubricating the contestants with oil. An older gentleman won that right by donating $250 to the Maria Ward Foundation and was presented with a bottle of oil, with which to spray down the gals. The announcer, Turbo, and the crowd worked to convince the competitors that clothing added friction, so sliding distance would be increased by stripping down. This made sense to most of the girls, and the theory was soon put to the test. I can now state the proven scientific fact that nude women slide farther than clothed ones.

Another event also involved sliding, but was a bit more dangerous. The tire drags required teams of two. While the rider tied a rope to the back of his bike, the passenger ran to the center of the field where a full beer and a tire had been placed. After guzzling the beer, the passenger ran back to the starting line, tied the tire to the rope, belly-flopped onto the tire, and held on for dear life while the rider pulled him at breakneck speed to the far end of the field. The first rider to arrive at the finish line with his passenger still in tow was the winner of the heat. It was a great sport, and all of the competitors came through unscathed, amazingly enough. The Picture Man was on hand to capture all of the action for his web site at .

During the weekend I met so many terrific people I couldn’t begin to mention them all here. However, there is one that I can’t leave out. Pretty Amber was having as much fun as anyone, in spite of being confined to a wheel chair as a result of an auto accident a few years ago. She wore a different airbrushed bikini top each day and was proud to have claimed the title of Miss Sparks America at the October, 2003 event. She’s an inspirational young lady, and I wish her well.

I spent some time in the evening listening to the music of Joe Santana & the Motley Jackson Band in the company of new friends J.B. and Tanya. During breaks in the music, the Iron Angels gave away free Jack Daniels shots from the stage; pouring directly down the throats of appreciative bikers. The scene somewhat resembled sharks in a feeding frenzy.

Knowing I would have to head home Sunday morning, I made the rounds and said my goodbyes before turning in. I hated to miss the Sunday events, but I needed to get back to the city. On the return trip, I had lunch at the world’s largest McDonalds, which straddles I-44 near Vinita, Oklahoma. The trip had been rain-free, but that changed by the time I got to Nevada, Missouri. I got wet, but my spirits were still high. The weekend was great fun, and I look forward to my next trip in that direction!

Story and photos by Stripe