DAYTONA BEACH, FLA., MAR. 17—It’s hard to imagine that Karl “Big Daddy Rat” Smith knew that the first Rat’s Hole show in March 1973 would become the largest custom bike show in the world. That first show, held at the A&P parking lot in Daytona Beach, drew 135 bikes—choppers, trikes and other customs of that era.
The big green fuzzy rat costume seen at any of the Rat’s Hole shows is reminiscent of the suit Big Daddy Rat wore to draw people into his T-shirt stores decades ago. And that’s not the only tradition the Rat’s Hole has kept since that first show in ’73. The Rat’s Hole Custom Bike Show is still family-owned and operated, with Karl’s son Ted Smith, Ted’s wife Pam and their kids taking the reins after Big Daddy Rat’s untimely death just days before the 30th annual Rat’s Hole show.
Another tradition is the top-tier customs the Smith family attracts, making Rat’s Hole the premier bike show of Daytona Bike Week. The show has been filmed for a number of television programs such as American Chopper and several Biker Build-Off shows, and winning bikes have been featured in countless publications. Arguably, more custom bike builders have gotten their start from winning, or even competing in, the Rat’s Hole shows than any other bike show in the world. This is only one legacy left by Karl Smith, who did much more than give bikers a venue to display their two- and three-wheeled creations. Big Daddy Rat’s fight against implementing standard 6″ high curbs on Main Street resulted in the current 2″ curbs that make it easy for bikers to park along the pavement.
When Ted and Pam Smith decided to celebrate the Rat’s Hole 40th anniversary this year, they went all out. They set up the Rat’s Hole bar at Harley Crossing in Ormond Beach, directly across Route 1 from Destination Daytona. The festivities kicked off Wednesday with Ted and Pam leading the 8th annual Boss Hoss-sponsored V8 motorcycle parade down Main Street, ending with a party at the Rat’s Hole bar. Thursday was the family’s 40th anniversary bash with free entertainment, and builders entered into the Rat’s Hole show were given access to the VIP tent where they enjoyed a buffet and liquid refreshments. The Rat’s Hole bar sold huge commemorative mugs filled with beer—with refills being offered at half price.
Saturday’s Rat’s Hole show was held at Daytona Lagoon where over 180 bikes competed for fame and fortune—and the chance to bring home a Rat’s Hole trophy (eight-deep for some classes this year in commemoration of this special anniversary). The bike show included 23 classes, with four builders competing in the Café Racer Bike Showdown.
Radical Randy, emcee of the show, kept things moving along throughout the day, with his offbeat sense of humor and fast-paced patter.
A tattoo show was held mid-afternoon, with plaques awarded by popular vote in four classes—men’s black and gray, women’s black and gray, men’s color, women’s color, and finally best men’s and best women’s.
Promptly at 4 p.m., Rat’s Hole Director of Judges Tony Massaro, Chief Judge Jack DeAgazio and more than a dozen other show judges were brought to the stage. The judges, some of whom are top-notch bike builders themselves, come from all over the world for the show, and the staff’s loyalty and commitment would be enviable for any show producer. For instance, the director of judges has been involved with Rat’s Hole for 17 years. And Radical Randy has performed his emcee duties for 20 years.
In a rather touching interlude, Ted and Pam’s daughter Cynthia came up to the stage to present her dad with a piece of artwork originally created by Super Rat Henry Gerson, Big Daddy Rat’s first airbrush artist, in the late ’60s. And then the awards ceremony kicked off with the winner of the Café Racer Showdown announced—Scott Laitinen and Ben Beck of Sic Chops in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, with their Rat Café. The rest of the awards were handed out at lightning speed, culminating with the America’s World Champion trophy won by Stephen Galvin of Wikked Steel in St. Petersburg, Florida. Galvin’s one-of-a-kind four-wheeled creation is powered by an Ilmor 152″ mill (this is the same outfit that makes the Viper Motorcycle motors) and a Baker 6-speed transmission. The bike has one wheel in the front and sports three side-by-side chain-driven wheels in the rear. “Unique” doesn’t quite describe this custom creation.
After this 40th anniversary week, the Smith family doesn’t get to rest on their laurels. In the years since that first show was held in Daytona Beach, the Rat’s Hole Custom Bike Shows have been extended to other locations in the U.S., as well as Canada and Europe. Plans over the next several months include shows at Leesburg Bikefest, Michigan Motorcycle Mecca, Thunder in the Valley and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, where Rat’s Hole sets up shop at the Buffalo Chip. Check out www.ratshole.com for more information, or to register for upcoming shows. 4