Motorcycle Clubs and Groups

Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club

Written by  August 31, 2005

Editor's Note: Those of you who have been following our magazine for at least a year may have already read this article on the Jackpine Gypsies. We originally published it in our September 2004 issue, but since a good portion of this month's issue is centered around Sturgis, we thought it would be appropriate to run it again for those of you who may not be familiar with how Sturgis began. Enjoy!

If you’ve been around motorcycles for any length of time, you’ve probably heard of the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club, which was founded by John Clarence “Pappy” Hoel. Pappy is credited for starting the phenomena known today as the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

Pappy grew up in the 1930s working in the family ice business in Sturgis, South Dakota. With electric refrigerators becoming more and more popular, he knew the ice age would soon be ending. As a young man, Pappy enjoyed riding motorcycles, so in 1936 at age 32, he bought a franchise from the Indian Motorcycle Company.

In 1937, Hoel founded the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club, and that same year, the Jackpine Gypsies became an official American Motorcycle Association (AMA) charter. The club was originally known as the Jackpines because the seven original members loved to race among the 'jackpines' or Ponderosa pines that cover the Black Hills. One day, after returning from a day of riding, someone told them they looked like a bunch of gypsies, so they decided to change their name to the Jackpine Gypsies.

On August 14, 1938, Pappy and the Jackpine Gypsies organized the first Black Hills Motor Classic, which for their main event featured an AMA sanctioned half-mile dirt track race. Depending on whom you ask, between nine and twelve racers participated in the first race and the event drew approximately 200 men, women and children. Who would have ever dreamed it would grow into an annual event drawing several hundred thousand riders to their little town tucked away in the Black Hills.

Considering the average lifespan of a motorcycle club is only three years, after 68 years the club is still running strong. The Jackpine Gypsies own the property on which most of their activities take place. There is approximately 40 acres along Interstate 90 between Exit 30 and Exit 32, which is the busiest section of Interstate 90 during the Sturgis Rally. Their property is home to a lighted short track, motocross track, field meet area, hill climb area, clubhouse, office and a state approved concession business.

The short track was first used in 1963, and has seen many improvements over the years. The racetrack is now wider, has permanent seating, an improved lighting system and an official announcer. They also have a sign-up building and a clubhouse where their concession business is located. The club holds races every other weekend and hosts a full week of races during the rally.

A motocross track was added in the 1980s and in 1996 a new track was built. The sport of motocross has really grown over the years, and the races now attract more than 6,000 spectators and more than 500 racers during the average rally week. During the Sturgis Rally, 12 events are held, including: motocross racing, a half mile race, hill climbs, road tours and short track racing.

Pappy died in 1989 at the age of 84, and although he didn't live to see the mega-rallies of today, I’m sure he would be as surprised as anyone to see how much the Sturgis Rally has grown since its humble beginnings back in 1938.

The Jackpine Gypsies are a non-profit organization with over 150 members living across the United States and abroad. They support area charities including the local food bank, Sturgis High School, Zonta Club of Sturgis and the Christian Motorcycle Association. To find out more about the Jackpine Gypsies, visit their web site at www.jackpinegypsies.com.

Story by Mike Schweder