PANAMA CITY BEACH, FLA., OCT. 10-14–Right up front I have to say that the Thunder Beach Fall Rally is one of the greatest motorcycle events that I have attended in a long time. During those five days along the Redneck Rivera there are more events scheduled than you could possibly attend. I also quickly discovered that it was hard to even decide which concerts to attend, since each one featured incredible talent. The added plus for this reporter is that, from where I live in South Carolina, the normal travel time is less than eight hours to get to the festivities in Panama City Beach. A day’s ride to get me to an event that reminds me of my early days of riding in Daytona, with the prices of the food, beer and motel rooms remaining more than reasonable, even in today’s economy—this rally is a win-win.
Seven days’ difference
Thunder Beach Fall Rally also has an older, big brother sibling, the Thunder Beach Spring Rally, which always ends on the first Sunday in May. (This was the 12th Fall Rally and the Spring event will be celebrating its 15th birthday on May 1–5, 2013.) As set in stone as that particular date is, the timing for the Fall Rally has been juggled and tossed about over the last few years. The promoters have always desired to hold the Autumn Rally during the second weekend in October, one week prior to massive Biketoberfest in nearby Daytona Beach. This shift of one week in the rally calendar would hopefully lure additional big-name vendors (on their journey to Biketoberfest) to the Panama City Beach’s sandy shores and further promote the Fall Rally. This year, due to a bizarre change of events scheduling, they got their requested date and the fall rally ran October 10–14.
One of the most frustrating points of attending an event for the first time is simply not knowing where you need to be, or the location of a particular happening. I had an idea where the Shores of Panama was located, but when I rode by I didn’t see any signage indicating a party. Maybe I was looking too hard, but the next day I found out that all the action was held on their parking deck. So although I was there in time, I ended up missing all the Wednesday night gatherings including the Thunder Beach Official Kick-Start Party featuring the Buck Wild Band and the first round of preliminaries of the Miss Thunder Beach Pageant. I even missed the Official Thunder Beach Kick-Start After-Party that started at 10:00 p.m. on the rooftop. I guess I need a better GPS.
But come Thursday morning I was determined to redeem myself and headed to Frank Brown Park where the main vendor village was set up on Back Beach Road, also known as Panama City Beach Road. Frank Brown is a favorite of the vendors, especially the big rigs who appreciate the large space and grassy area. As such, there was no lack of motorcycle accessory purveyors hawking every manner of two-wheel equipment. But then there were also vendors everywhere: Front Road, Middle Road and Back Beach Road and even the street in between that connect these three main traffic arteries.
Later that morning we headed to the Wicked Wheel Bar and Grill just up the road from the park to catch the Ives Brothers 50-foot Wall of Death Stunt Show. And that afternoon we returned to Frank Brown in time to catch them put on a great performance during their high-flying Jump Show.
Friday we spent the morning going from one vendor area to another, including the Sandpiper Beacon Beach Resort, Sharky’s Beach Club, Club LaVela and Pineapple Willy’s. At the Shoppes at Edgewater we found more vendors and the music of Sticky Tea. After lunch we headed over to Miss Newby’s to check out the Old School Bike Show. And while I appreciate all motorcycles from the past, the one that really grabbed my attention was a 1957 Ironhead Sportster owned by Jim Lewis of Abbeville, Alabama. After checking out the vendors and having a beer or two, we got back on the road.
Harley-Davidson of Panama City Beach had scheduled the new shop’s groundbreaking ceremony that day at 2:00 p.m. This is the fourth dealership in a family of Florida Harley shops that include Tampa, New Port Richey and Brandon. One of the major principles is Gary Bang Jr., son of noted motorcycle entrepreneur and Sturgis Hall of Fame inductee, Gary Bang Sr. Among those attending the event were Mayor Bayle Oberst and the Chamber of Commerce members. Following the ceremony, Joe Biggs, owner of Thunder Beach Inc., stated, “We’ve been holding this event 12 years without a real-deal Harley-Davidson dealership in this town. This day is a thrill for me and I’m excited this dealership is going to be available for the next Spring Rally.” Mayor Oberst commented, “We welcome the H-D dealership and we look forward to coming back for the ribbon-cutting day.”
Saturday morning nearly 500 motorcycles converged at the intersection of R. Jackson Boulevard and Middle Beach Road for the Sgt. Kevin Kight Memorial Bike Parade. Kevin Kight was a local police officer that lost his life during a traffic stop on Front Beach Road in March 2005. The money and canned goods that were collected are distributed through the Cops and Kids Program in the Bay County area. Lasting for more than an hour, the parade wheeled down Front Beach Road and returned to the old Publix parking lot by way of the Back Beach Road.
By the end of the parade it was time to head over to Pier Park for the Steelhorse Law “Best of the Beach” Custom Bike Show. During all five days of the rally, riders jammed their bikes into every available space along each side of the street, lining both sides of Pier Park Drive and taking on the appearance of Main Street in Daytona. The money raised by the Best of the Beach was slated go to the Toys for Kids Foundation. At the show it looked like the bike capturing the most attention was a trike with American and Marine Corps flags mounted on back—or maybe it was the tough-looking English Bulldog sitting in the trike’s saddle that caused the stir.
Saturday evening we headed to the Boardwalk Beach Resort to hear the legendary JB Walker and the Cheap Whiskey Band. Most of Cheap Whiskey
has been together since graduating high school. They are based out of Mapleton, Georgia, and are considered one of the top biker bands in the Southeast, always putting on a great show no matter where they perform.
Sunday morning I was just like everyone else at Panama City Beach—wanting to get the hell out of Dodge before the rain moved in that afternoon or Monday morning. There were still things to do, but I was all partied out and had to get the old lady home for her to get to work Monday morning so I wouldn’t miss any paychecks. Sorry, I meant so she wouldn’t miss any work. I do recommend that if you are attending for the first time, check out the rally’s website first (www.thunderbeachproductions.com), devise a schedule and plan your adventure in advance. The new dealership is hoping to be open by April 15, in time for the Thunder Beach Spring Rally. Hopefully the political clout of this new business will demonstrate to the City Council the importance of motorcycle tourism and the significance of the rally so they can secure the second weekend in October permanently.