I first saw them when I was heading up to the media center on the third floor. They were waiting to get on the elevator next to the spiral staircase that I was about to ascend.
Call it intuition or an opportunity to repeat a classic line of dialogue from one of the old “westerns” that I covet, but I said to them, “You boys aren’t from around here, are you?” Of course, I’m an Ohioan temporarily in Alabama, so I’m not exactly “from around here,” either. But I’ve been to Barber Motorsports Park enough times that I felt more at home than these four guys seemed to be feeling.
“We’re from Idaho,” the one in the jacket with the big “Indian” motorcycles logo on the back of it, said. One of the others added, “Well, most of us are from Idaho. He’s from Oregon” while pointing at the youngest member of the group.
It was clear that these four motorcyclists ride V-twin cruisers, and they’d ridden them a long way. “We came to see the Baggers,” the Indian-logoed rider said. My eyes widened as all four riders waited for my reaction. “Oh, man,” I said. “It’s impossible to unring that bell, no matter how hard we’ve tried.”
I was referring to our original announcement of a five-race Mission King Of The Baggers Championship concluding at Barber Motorsports Park, which quickly evolved into a three-race Championship due to scheduling conflicts and other factors.
I apologized to the four of them, found out that they had purchased V.I.P. tickets and would be in the suite on the second floor, just one floor below the media center, and I mentioned to them that I would come and see them later on, and I would also try to make their long journey even more worth their while. As I continued up the stairs, I said, “Enjoy the racing, and I’m glad you’re in the V.I.P. suite where you can stay dry.”
A little later, I spoke with our Senior Vice President Jeff Nasi about this band of brothers who rode from the Pacific Northwest to attend our final round of the season. Then, I went to see KRAVE partner and MotoAmerica CFO Richard Varner, and I told him about the riders, too. Both Nasi and Varner immediately reacted the same way that I did. “We need to do something special for these guys,” was the unspoken sentiment from all of us.
The next day, during the short lunch break, I left the media center and went down to the V.I.P. suite one floor below. I found one of the men sitting at a large table. He immediately recognized me, smiled widely, and invited me to sit down whereupon we started talking.
As it turns out, Ronny Richards is the name of the man in the Indian-logoed jacket, and he is the only Indian motorcycle owner in the group. He’s 72 and retired, is from Boise, Idaho, and rides a 2019 Indian Roadmaster. And, when he talks, with his beard and his “experienced hair,” he looks and sounds a lot like the late character actor Will Geer, who played Grandpa Zebulon Tyler Walton on the “The Waltons.”
Soon, Ronny and I were joined at the table by the other three members of his cruiser wolfpack. Brint Overholt, also 72, is a retired producer of military electronics films. He’s from Meridian, Idaho, and he rides a 2016 Harley-Davidson CVO Road Glide. His son-in-law Paul Hess, 51, is a police detective from Sherwood, Oregon, who rides a 2018 Harley-Davidson Road King Special.
The fourth member of the group is Austin “Aussie” Thompson, 71, from Emmett, Idaho, and he rides a 2010 Harley-Davidson Electra-Glide Ultra Limited. Aussie used to work in Hollywood in motion pictures, and he is very familiar not only with KRAVE partner and MotoAmerica President Wayne Rainey’s racing career, but he is also friends with Keith Mashburn, one of Rainey’s competitors from his early days racing flat track.
While talking with the four men, I discovered that Richard Varner and Jeff Nasi had already been around to see them, and Mike Buckley, Senior Vice President of Dunlop Motorcycle Tires Sales and Marketing, also spent some time getting to know them.
As I listened to Ronny, Brint, Paul, and Aussie speak glowingly about the great time they were having, how they’re looking forward to attending another round next year, and how much they still want to see a Mission King Of The Baggers race in person, it was obvious that Varner’s and Nasi’s “something special” had been bestowed upon these four riders.
Buckley had given each of the four men vouchers from Dunlop that entitle them to a free set of Dunlop front and rear tires for their bikes. It was the “icing on the cake” for what was an unforgettable weekend for them.
By the time they returned home, Ronny, Brint, and Aussie had ridden more than 5,000 miles to attend a MotoAmerica weekend. And, for Oregon-based Paul, his trip totaled more that 5,800 miles. Needless to say, those brand-new Dunlop tires were going to come in handy for the four men.
How far would you ride your motorcycle to attend a MotoAmerica race weekend?