When Steel Is King: Bikes shine like gold for Fort Smith businesses

When Steel Is King: Bikes shine like gold for Fort Smith businesses

Visitors to Fort Smith’s Garrison Avenue might hear the distant sound of rumbling engines as May 4 draws closer, heralding the approach of tens of thousands of motorcycles — and their excited riders — to celebrate the fourth annual Steel Horse Rally.

Karen Snow, secretary of the organization that runs the two-day event, says in four short years the rally has found great success.

“It has grown exponentially beyond our wildest dreams,” says Snow. “Last year, attendance included 50,000 bikes and 70,000 people, and the local impact estimated by the Fort Smith A&P was over 13 million [dollars]. It’s really growing fast.”

Some local businesses say they’re already feeling the benefit of those tourism dollars.

“It’s a constant flow [of business], in and out all day,” says Amanda Bartlett, assistant general manager at Bricktown Brewery on Garrison Avenue. Bartlett says her restaurant has been pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of the crowds.

“The first year, we had a group of 20 to 35 bikers who came in for lunch and hung out. The next year, they came in and ate for three days in a row, then said, ‘We’ll see you in 2018’ when they left. We’re making lasting connections and, hopefully, they’ll continue to come back year after year.”

Bill Neumeier is the owner of Garrison Avenue’s Papa’s Pub and Pizzeria, as well as the nearby Neumeier’s Rib Room.

“During last year’s rally, we did an exceptional increase in business, and we’re expecting even [more] this year,” he says. “Last year was definitely one of our biggest weekends of the year. We’ll have live music in our beer garden this year.”

Snow says there are big changes to the rally this year as the organization continues to grow and expand. The biggest is the introduction of the Steel Horse Shootout: live motorcycle races that will be held the evening of May 4 just over the state line at the Tri-State Speedway in Pocola, Okla.

“It’s pro and amateur racing, so anybody can participate,” says Snow. “There are several different classes, so just about anything people ride, they can compete. There’s even a class for kids to compete in and a class for some of the old-timers. The response so far has been tremendous: People from around a dozen states have contacted us, and there are several pros who are drawn to the event.”

Mike Freeland is service manager at Old Fort Harley Davidson. He’s been working at the dealership for 42 years and riding motorcycles since 1971, when he was 13. He’s known for crafting chairs, tables and lamps out of bike parts, so, says Snow, he was the perfect person to create the new trophy for the new Dealer’s Challenge race.

“It’s made out of a clutch cover and an old air cleaner scoop,” says Freeland. “And then it’s got a derby cover on top of that they’re engraving. It sounds pretty simple, but I think it turned out really well.”

Freeland says the bike rally has certainly been good for business.

“People were skeptical at first, but the first one turned out so great — bigger than anyone expected,” he says. “It’s only gotten bigger every year. I know it’s getting bigger because we have a lot more business coming into the dealership. It starts Wednesday or Thursday and then it will be busy all the way up through Saturday evenings. I know all the businesses in the downtown area get covered up, and the hotels and restaurant on Rogers Avenue are getting a big increase with it, too.”

Snow says some of the proceeds from the rally will benefit local charities. This year, those charities include The Arc for the River Valley, the Buddy Smith Home, the Children’s Service League and the Fort Smith Museum of History. The museum’s exhibit, “Motorcycle Memories,” will coincide with the rally and will include a motorcycle show on May 5.

“It’s amazing to see people of all ages come out — entire families, multiple generations, coming to this event,” says Snow. “There’s something for everyone to enjoy — a great time for a great cause!”



Steel Horse Rally

WHEN — May 4 and 5

WHERE — On and around Garrison Avenue in Fort Smith

COST — Admission to the rally is free; donations at music performances are appreciated

INFO — thesteelhorserally.com



Categories: 'Tis the Season, Features