SPIRIT LAKE, IOWA, AUG. 16-17–The 11th annual American Victory Rally celebrated the 15th anniversary of Polaris building Victory motorcycles in Spirit Lake, Iowa. It was an enjoyable weekend packed full of options for a fun-filled adventure in Iowa’s number-one vacation destination at Okoboji. As with most successful rallies, there was much more to do in two days than one person could possibly cover.
Polaris’ American Victory Rally included plant tours, demo rides, official event merchandise, vendor displays (including Rick Fairless of Strokers Dallas onsite and a selection of Arlen Ness Victorys), dynos, a scavenger hunt, bike wash, Victory police demonstrations, a boat ride aboard the “Queen II,” Victory games, “Ride for the Red” benefiting the American Red Cross, a bike show, Riders’ Social, riders tech talks, live bands (Josh Turner and O.A.R.) and fireworks. The activities were held at the Polaris Industries facility in Spirit Lake and Preservation Plaza in Arnolds Park, only four miles south of Polaris.
Arnolds Park, situated on the east shore of West Lake Okoboji, bills itself as the “city of five lakes” and is home to the actual Arnolds Park Amusement Park complex that has been a popular Iowa vacation spot since the 1880s. In addition to the amusement park, there is an Iowa State Visitor Center, the Iowa Great Lakes Maritime Museum, the Iowa Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame Museum, a marina, beach, concert stage, retail shops, restaurants and for this weekend—rally vendors set up for the rally. The Arnolds Park complex is laid out nicely over a couple dozen acres with about half of it being the grassy Preservation Plaza Park. As a size comparison, the Full Throttle Saloon (“World’s Largest Biker Bar”) in Sturgis covers almost 30 acres.
This year’s American Victory Rally weekend weather was ideal—mid-70s during the days, with blue skies, white puffy clouds and cool breezes, and dropping to the low 60s during the nights. Saturday morning you could begin your day with a Knights of Columbus all-you-can-eat $6 breakfast of pancakes, French toast, eggs, ham, bacon, sausage, juice and coffee. Great deal for a great cause.
Saturday morning, the American Red Cross Ride for the Red drew more than 100 riders. They were led on the three-hour ride by Victory enthusiast and spokesperson R. Lee “Gunny” Ermey, who happens to be from Emporia, Kansas, and is a retired Marine drill instructor and actor, probably best known for his role in Full Metal Jacket. More than $7,000 was raised for the American Red Cross this rally weekend. They stated that 92 percent of the donations collected for the Red Cross are distributed to those in need when the Red Cross responds to local disasters. Other local charities benefited from charity rides during the AVR weekend as well.
Plant tours attracted more than 2,000 visitors. The only downside was that the plant was not in operation on Saturday since most of their employees were volunteering to help out at the rally. The upside was that you got to see the new Indian production line with a few new Indian motorcycles in various stages of completion. Outside the plant you could watch the Victory Police Motorcycle Demonstrations that showed the metal-scraping turns the Victory Police bikes are capable of when turning in an 18-foot-diameter circle. Also, if you do happen to go over a little too far on a Victory (about a 35-degree angle from the pavement), they demonstrated that all you do is keep your feet on the floorboards and you will not scrape any skin or paint, and it’s a simple matter of righting the bike again with a little throttle. Impressive.
Meanwhile, back at Preservation Plaza the Victory Games were underway. They had a Keg Toss, Saddlebag Race, Bean Bag Toss and a Slow Ride Contest. The Slow Ride was a timed event, with each rider attempting to remain between the orange cones for the longest period of time. Keith Moore of Kansas City, on his 2008 Victory Vision, took nearly 12 seconds from start to finish and beat his nearest competitor by more than two seconds. Keith has won this competition at previous Victory rallies.
Polaris provided the opportunity for riders to cruise the Okoboji lakes on the historic “Queen II—Flagship of the Iowa Navy,” launched in 1986 to replace the original 1880s “Queen” of Lake Okoboji. There was a scavenger hunt that was essentially a 20-mile loop around West Lake Okoboji with stops at seven different locations, such as the Iowa Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame Museum, where different Victory parts were placed for riders to locate, such as a green Victory fender in the Rock ’n’ Roll Museum.
Creative bike builder, radio and television personality Rick Fairless of Strokers Dallas was a highlight during the event, at least as far as I was concerned. It was fun to see him again. The colorful Fairless is easy to spot in a crowd, and is also a familiar face in the pages of Thunder Press. Of course his brightly customized Victory that was on display could easily be spotted whenever there was a slight gap in the crowd of admirers encircling it.
The Saturday evening Riders’ Social was quite an affair. Riders were greeted with a necklace of Mardi Gras beads and instructed to grab a cupcake. Some of the cupcakes had star-shape stickers on the bottom that stated “PRIZE.” I actually picked a lucky cupcake and won a nice souvenir Navy-blue Okoboji blanket. You were also given a ticket for a free drink—alcoholic or nonalcoholic—and could purchase a pulled pork sandwich with sides and a dessert for only $5. “Gunny” addressed the crowd, extolling the virtues of small-town American hospitality and also mentioned that a new Victory motorcycle had caught his eye that he would like to add to his current stable of Victory motorcycles. And then there were more drawings for more prizes. At the end of the Riders’ Social program they told us to check under our chairs for some more prizes. Amazingly I found a $25 gift card from Casey’s General Store taped to the bottom of mine.
Country music singer Josh Turner was the headline entertainment for Saturday night’s concert sponsored by Polaris in Arnolds Park. There had been enthusiastic fans staking out front-of-the-stage spots since early afternoon for his scheduled 7:00 p.m. concert. It was an exciting show and more than 12,000 people showed up to enjoy the free concert. There were additional multitudes of people in boats on West Lake Okoboji enjoying the wonderful evening concert in the park. A fireworks display over the lake provided the appropriate grand finale.
In addition to the immense expanses of corn and soybean fields, Iowa has a few unusual roadside attractions along US 71. For example: just north of Carroll there are vast numbers of giant wind turbines rising from the corn fields, near the city of Storm Lake there is a large black and white landlocked lighthouse next to the highway, there are numerous “barn quilts” if you keep your eyes searching for them, at the village limits of Villisca there is a large white and black Hampshire hog standing next to the highway, and especially, not to be missed in Audubon, Iowa, is Albert the Bull, “the World’s Largest Bull.” Albert is a 45-ton, 30-foot tall, anatomically correct concrete replica of the perfect Hereford bull. And that’s a lot of bull—only in Iowa.