Rides, Rallies and Events Recap

Oklahoma Bike Week at Sparks America

Written by  July 31, 2005

Oklahoma Bike Week at the Sparks America Campground is promoted as “One Bad Ass Bike Run.” It’s one case of truth in advertising. This year’s event took place from June 17 through 26. Admission was $100 for a ten-day pass, $50 for five days, and $15 for single day passes, and it was worth every penny. Bikers came from all over the country, and attendance increased to around 10,000.
I made the 350-mile ride from Lee’s Summit, Missouri, to Sparks America, located about 60 miles northeast of Oklahoma City, on Wednesday, June 22. Clear skies and a blazing sun mercifully gave way to broken clouds about half way through the journey. The stifling heat persisted throughout the week. Fortunately, Sparks America offers plenty of shaded area for camping, and there is a nice pond for swimming or skinny-dipping. I chose a secluded campsite near the perimeter of the campground. That evening when I headed over to listen to the concert, I neglected to take a flashlight. Much later, it occurred to me that numerous roads wind their way through the trees, and there is very little light to facilitate navigation. After following several paths (or possibly the same one several times) to dead-ends, I decided to head back toward the music and bright lights and start from scratch. My luck was better this time, and I somehow managed to locate my campsite.

The following morning I was able to corner Tony Ward, the main man at Sparks America, in his office. During Bike week, Tony doesn’t sit in one place for very long, so I was fortunate to get a few minutes of his time for an interview.

CC: I guess this event results in a dramatic increase in the population around here for a week.
Tony: Last June, the Treasurer of the Sac and Fox Nation visited me after our event. He laughed and told me that he had to send a car clear to Oklahoma City to get people who were coming in for a business meeting because there were no motel rooms available within 50 miles of Sparks. That was because we had over 8,000 people here for our event.

CC: What’s new at this year’s event?
Tony: We put in a compound for registration and added another mile and a half of road. We now have a 50 foot flagpole near the pond at the end of the “playground” area. We added a bell that was cast in 1891 and hung in a church northwest of Enid. The church was demolished in 1941, and the bell was put in storage. We now have it hanging by the stage. You’ll hear the bell when it rings. It’s loud! We improved the area behind the stage for the bands with $7,000 worth of electric and water hookups. Right now we have 14 motor homes tucked back there. When you bring in big-time acts you have to have somewhere to put them. We heated up the fences around that area to keep idiots from crawling over, harassing the performers, and stealing beer. I have hired a personnel manager who has really taken a load off me. We have campground liaisons. We added a sanitation dump. We have a large fresh water tank on a tractor that services R.V.’s that are sitting on “dry lots” away from the R.V. area.

CC: How many vendors are here?
Tony: I had 61 scheduled, and a few dropped out. They came from as far away as Florida and South Dakota, Arizona, and Washington.

CC: How many people are on your staff this year?
Tony: We have around 200. Some work only a few hours and some as many as 60 hours. Margaret has 21 on her bar staff.

CC: Please talk about the first weekend, since I missed it.
Tony: All of the same events happen on the first weekend as on the second. There is a bike show and all of the games. We opened with Black Oak on Saturday and again on Monday. Some people come from so far away that they don’t arrive until Monday and have to leave on Friday. They deserve to have the same quality of entertainment as the people who are here on one weekend or the other or throughout the week. We had more than 3,000 plus day-passes come through on Saturday. Some people go back home and return for the following weekend. We had some guys that went back to Bryan, Texas, 400 miles away on Monday, and they came back on Wednesday. They had a 10-day R.V. site and bought 10-day passes, but they had to get back home for a couple of days to take care of business matters. They’ve made numerous trips here. It’s not the destination, it’s the ride.

Tony really is a busy man. I heard him tell someone, “I got two hours of sleep last night, and that’s about an hour and a half more than usual.” I observed Tony carrying on two phone conversations at the same time, and he told me he sometimes has three or more going. Although work is delegated, Tony takes a hands-on approach and is involved in just about everything that goes on during the week. He and his wife, Maggie, are really caring people. They operate a charity known as the Maria Ward Foundation, named for their daughter who tragically died on May 5, 2004, at the age of 23. This year a Sportster was the grand prize in a raffle to raise money for the Foundation, and the lucky winner was Karla Hill.

After talking to Tony, I was headed back toward my campsite and noticed Cindy, the Area 3 and 4 Campground Coordinator. She became my second interview subject of the morning.

CC: What does a campground coordinator do, Cindy?
Cindy: I make sure everyone keeps their cars and trucks out of the bike area and watch for any signs of trouble. If needed, I can get on the radio and get security over here in a hurry. I give directions such as where the showers are and where to buy ice or beer. Sometimes I help people find their tents.

CC: Where were you last night when I needed you?
Cindy: I get off at 7 p.m.

CC: What time does your shift begin?
Cindy: I start at 7 a.m. every day. I patrol Areas 1 and 2 as well. I used to walk it, but they were nice this year and gave me a cart to use.
I enjoyed meeting Cindy, and I received the benefit of golf cart chauffeur service a time or two when my feet were getting really sore from all of the walking and standing.

Having been to a number of Oklahoma events over the years, I enjoy seeing people I know as well as making new friends. I always look forward to visiting with the Picture Man who travels far and wide to shoot photos for his website

. Donnie Tate was in his usual spot, airbrushing colorful works of art on people’s bodies. Painted-on bikinis were very popular in the hundred-degree heat. The folks from Get a Woody had their chain saw art on display. I met John and Tracey, the owners and editors of the Oklahoma edition of Thunder Roads Magazine and had a brief visit with B. S. Graham who won the prize for being the oldest biker who rode to the event. The 74-year-old Texan rode his Electra Glide 495 miles to Sparks.

One group that is present at nearly every bike rally is the Christian Motorcyclist Association. During one stop at the C.M.A. hospitality tent for a much-needed drink of water I spoke with Reverend Morrie Kool from Arkoma, Oklahoma.

CC: How would you describe C.M.A.?
Morrie: We are a group of people committed to Jesus Christ. We go to different rallies to be available. There are times when all we can do is make sure people have water and don’t get overheated. There are other times when serious needs come up, people who have real problems and have a need to talk to somebody. We counsel people and pray for them and with them. We’re just trying to help our brothers and sisters in any way we can. I got involved with this about five years ago. I’ve seen so many needs met, and so much healing has happened! I’ve been hooked on it ever since, and my wife now comes along. There are a lot of hurting people, and lots of times people come to an event like this to escape. Sometimes they open up and sometimes we can help them.

CC: How many C.M.A. people are here at Sparks America?
Morrie: We have about 20.

CC: Where do they come from?
Morrie: They are from all over. I’m from an Oklahoma town right next to Fort Smith, Arkansas. We work with the Tulsa and McAllister groups a lot. Teamwork is important to us. It’s all about reaching out to the people and letting them know that there’s a better way.

CC: Do you perform weddings too?
Morrie: Officially C.M.A. doesn’t. We prefer to be thought of as a Christian outreach group rather than as a church. However, I’m a minister, so I can perform weddings. Sometimes I have opportunities to baptize people at rallies. One of the neatest things I had happen was over at Lake Eufala where the girlfriend of the guy who organized the rally accepted Christ and he followed her example. Soon he asked us to do devotionals at the beginning of each day. During one service a girl walked up and asked to be baptized. We just went right out into the lake and I baptized her. Afterward, I asked if anyone else needed to be baptized, and an old biker came from the back of the crowd and said, “I do.” He received Christ right then and there. That’s what it’s all about. This life is only temporary.

CC: What’s your message to the bikers?
Morrie: We just want them to know that Jesus loves them and has a plan for their lives.

CC: You’ll have a service on Sunday morning.
Morrie: Yes, at 10 a.m. Some people won’t actually come to the service but will listen from their tents or wherever they are. One year, there was hardly anyone at the service, but it took me nearly three hours to get from the stage back here to the C.M.A. area because so many people wanted to talk to me about what had been said. People need to realize we’re not just here to make converts; we want to make friends. When they realize that we’re not just trying to chalk up numbers, they start opening up. I’ve had people watch me at events over several years and finally come up to me and say, “You’re real.”

After a break in the shade I headed over to the playground where the games were getting ready to start. I love bike games! To me, it’s not so much about winning (which I seldom do) as it is about spirited competition and meeting the other riders. Those who watch from the sidelines always have fun, but I’m confident that most of them would enjoy it even more if they got on their scoots and joined in. It’s a bit of a challenge for me to compete and still be in position to get some good photographs, but it’s worth the effort. I’m sure the Picture Man would agree. The games at Sparks America include a full slate of motorcycle events as well as some crazy games played on foot. Rebel oversees the bike competition for Tony and is assisted by Rose, Carol, and a number of other volunteers. Rebel makes sure the lanes and circles used for several events are clearly marked and sets up the apparatus used for the balloon toss, cherry bite, and weenie bite. For timed events, he operates the stopwatch with accuracy down to a few hundredths of a second. I know this, because I lost the barrel race by that margin. Since I frequently travel to rallies alone, I often have to recruit a partner from the audience for couples competition. This time I was really lucky and was able to persuade Rose to split her time between assisting Rebel and riding with me. She was a terrific partner, and we were fortunate enough to win a couple of plaques. J. W. Wallace exemplified the true spirit of competition, riding in most of the events on his very cool chopper. Anyone who has ever tried riding a chopper in a slow race, barrel race, or keyhole race knows that they are a handful. I was even more impressed afterward when he showed me how stiff his clutch is. In addition to the games already mentioned, this bike rodeo included a keg roll, taters on pylons, tater hunt, and tire drags. There were men’s and women’s classes in most of the solo bike events. There were several contests for the trikes as well, and even the mini-bikes had the opportunity to compete. Bike rodeos were held each day with some events happening on selected days and others every day.

There were several “people games” including a dizzy race, panty race, and “titty slide.” Prizes were awarded for best tattoos, longest beards, and saddest “hard luck” story. A popular new attraction this year was “ice wrestling.” A large pool was filled, not with ice, but with tiny pellets that swelled and got cold and slick when soaked in water. Due to the extremely hot weather and by popular audience demand, the girls wore little or nothing during their wresting matches. I don’t recall that there was any kind of scoring system, and I don’t believe winners and loses were ever declared, but everyone had a good time!

On Saturday morning the “playground” was the venue for a bike show featuring everything from radical custom motorcycles to rat bikes. The registration and judging was done by a group representing the National Marfan Foundation charity. The motorcycle judged Best in Show was a beautiful 2005 Harley Fat Boy owned by Danny and Brandi Davidson from Bonham, Texas.

Between the Saturday afternoon and evening events I was invited to visit J.W.’s campsite to talk about his chopper and his club, the U.S. Veterans Motorcycle and Street Rod Association.. Members of the club’s Tulsa, Oklahoma and Van Buren, Arkansas Chapters were in attendance. Look for my interview with J.W. a future “Readers and Their Rides” article.

Great bands took to the Sparks America stage every evening. Such well-known groups as Black Oak Arkansas, Joe Santana and the Motley Jackson Band, and the Southern Rock Allstars performed as did numerous regional bands. It’s great to kick back and enjoy music in the company of people who share a zest for life and a passion for motorcycles. When the stage isn’t occupied by musicians, it’s often taken over by pretty ladies. Various competitions are held during which contestants are judged for sexiest bra, best body art, or how good they look their clothes off. The Iron Angels danced on stage as did exotic dancers Chevelle and Jessica who invited spectators to come to their booth afterward for a lap dance.

My departure time came all too soon on Sunday morning. On the way home, I decided to ride a portion of historic Route 66 instead of taking the interstate. I’ll be writing more about Route 66 in a future “Scenic Rides and Destinations” article.

Sparks America hosts a number of great events throughout the year and will welcome bikers again on October 21 through 23, 2005, for the “Best Damn Halloween Party in Oklahoma.” If it’s half as much fun as last year’s event, it will be worth the trip for me!

Story and Photos by Stripe