Crowds Up, Accidents And Arrests Down At 81st Sturgis Rally

Although final numbers aren't in yet, the 81st annual Sturgis rally is expected to set a new record for attendance.

August 16, 20215 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

If you don’t blow a tire, belt or engine at the Dime Horseshoe Bar Burnouts in Sundance, you’re pretty much booed off the stage. 

That’s the criteria for a good burnout, according to Robert Walter, owner of the Dime Horseshoe Bar in Sundance, which again hosted the annual event on Aug. 11 in conjunction with the 81st annual Strugis Rally.

More often than not, he said, it’s the wheels that go.

“It’s almost always the tire that pops. There’s a long bang and the rubber goes flying,” he said, “and the crowd goes wild.”

The crowd picks the four winners for $2,500 in cash prizes, Walter said, estimating that a few thousand people turned out this year an event that bar has now hosted for the past 44 years. It’s definitely a crowd pleaser.

The event began more than four decades ago when a biker did a burnout going through the front door, leaving a cloud of smoke wafting into the bar. Former owner Alice Schloredt had chased the biker out with a broom. The guy came back later to apologize. Alice and her husband Jerry figured they’d turn into an annual event, since people seemed to like all that smoke. 

Walter, who bought the bar seven years ago, said it continues to be a popular event with Sturgis riders, with this year’s contest pulling in a bigger crowd than last year. 

The burnout in Sundance is one of several celebrations thrown by cities in northeastern Wyoming along the biker’s route to Sturgis in South Dakota.

The small community of Beulah also hosts a burnout while Hulett throws the two-day “Ham & Jam” hosted by the Rodeo Bar. 

This year’s “Ham & Jam” saw record numbers of attendees, according to Hulett Police Chief Bill Motley. 

“I would say we’ve seen the biggest crowds this year than we’ve had in the five years I’ve been here,” he said.

Where typically he was used to seeing anywhere from 100 to 200 bikes passing through to the rally each day, this year that number was more like 10,000 to 20,000, he said.

He added the one-week rally seems to be drawing motorcycle riders to the region for three to four weeks.

And where attendance was definitely down last year, this year Motley said bikes were parked off side streets extending to both edges of the town, similar to the crowds seen in past years.

Motley attributed the higher attendance to people enjoying their freedom after being cooped up for a year.

Motley, who heads up Sundance’s the one-man department, brought in additional support with a mounted policeman, which seems to have been a big hit with attendees who said it added to the western flavor of the small town of just around 400 with a distinctly Old West downtown motif. 

Despite the size of the crowd, there were very few citations, he added.

Overall, both accidents and citations were down this year, despite increased crowds at the rally itself. As of Thursday, the South Dakota Department of Transportation’s had counted 423,273 attendees, a 12.9% hike from this time last year.

Over in Crook County, however, Undersheriff Todd Leimser said from his standpoint the crowds of bikers were underwhelming. In fact, he said he thought numbers were down from even last year, continuing a decline he has observed over the past five years.

“I’ve been here for 20-plus years, and the traffic I’ve seen is way down and it continues to go down,” he said. “We’re not seeing nearly the increase we’ve typically seen in the past.”

Crook County law enforcement officers issued very few citations in association to the rally, Leimser said, with no accidents and a few arrests on minor charges, he said. 

There were four motorcycle fatalities in South Dakota linked to the rally compared to five last year, according to Sunday’s Rally Tally prepared by the state’s transportation department.

This year, there were 100 DUI arrests at Sturgis with 22 additional arrests made in the Rapid City area, compared to 145 last year. Felony drugs arrests were similarly down to 112 from 126 in 2020 with no vehicles seized for drug possession compared to seven last year, per rally figures on Sunday.

Accidents with injuries associated with the rally in South Dakota were up slightly to 60 this year compared to 56 in 2020. Of this year’s accidents, 26 occurred in Sturgis and an additional 34 occurred in the Rapid City area. 

The only thing that didn’t seem to change this year was the nature of the crowd, according to Sturgis attendee Douglas Gruen. 

The Campbell County resident has been attending the event since 1986 and said this year’s bands and the event itself were top notch.

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