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Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame Inductions: Willie G. receives the Lifetime Achievement Award

By Wendell Perry

Deadwood, S.D., Aug. 9—Breakfast may have been the last thing on the minds of the record number of attendees entering the Lodge at Deadwood in high anticipation of seeing, hearing, greeting, and possibly meeting any or all the 2017 Sturgis Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame inductees and Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.

Supporters of the honorees formed in clusters of tables with some being easily spotted wearing brightly-colored support apparel. A large group of men in black hovered around eight tables located toward the front of the room, not something unusual at a motorcycle-centric event, but these guys were all Ugly.

And then all in the room seemingly were on their feet, as, at 8:50 a.m., the Willie G. and family entourage arrived and slowly made their way toward the right front quadrant of the room, greeting, hand shaking, giving and receiving hugs and back slaps, and progressing toward the Ugly tables where the intensity of the greetings escalated.

Willie G. Davidson is honored as the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient

 

The frenzy of adoration dissipated as, from the stage, John Paul DeJoria (class of 2004) welcomed attendees, thanked sponsors, introduced each of the class of 2017 inductees, and asked all past inductees in attendance to stand for recognition. At the introduction of William G. Davidson (class of 1993) and the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, everyone in the room came to their feet once again.

Following the quick dispatch of the breakfast buffet, the large audience was able to focus on the very enjoyable videos reviewing the contributions of the seven inductees, followed by each of their award presentations and personal comments. Slipping in a slight change-up, Emcee JP DeJoria paused after the last of the inductees left the stage, and instead of moving on to introduce the big man himself, Willie G., turned his gaze to the Ugly side of the room, stage left, and invited Bill Davidson to take the stage and to do the honors of introducing his legendary father.

With this opportunity, Bill congratulated all of the inductees and proceeded to make it clear with his comfortable demeanor and confident delivery that he has found his place within the Motor Company “running the museum,” as he put it, describing himself and sister, Karen, creative director of general merchandise for the company, as continuing the work started so many years ago with their great-grandfather, William A. Davidson.

Bill relayed that museums tell stories, and equated stories to ultimately be about people. He stated two facts: Harley-Davidson has been manufacturing motorcycles since 1903, and the brand has been in Sturgis since 1938. He noted that these facts speak of success, but the success is that of the people. Bill told the attentive audience that it all comes back to people like his family, like his Ugly brothers, like the customers, like their network of dealers and the employees.

He particularly noted the time of the buyout from AMF, as he remembered the effect on his dad and mom, calling Nancy “the backbone of the family,” as Willie was the leader. But, beyond being a leader, Bill went on to call Willie an artist and his dad, his mentor, his inspiration, his riding partner, his brother (eliciting a sedate cheer from the Ugly contingent), and finishing up with the fact of Willie G.’s participation with the original 13 Motor Company employees to take back the company in 1981.

The rousing applause and emotional outpouring drew Willie G. to the podium where it was a while before he could express what an honor and privilege acceptance of the Lifetime Achievement Award was for him. The enthusiasm of his Ugly brothers had to have contributed greatly to the delay.

Because Willie G. is not removed or isolated from the motorcycling experience, but has remained a part of the community during his life of service to it, it is easy to understand that his personal motorcycling experience includes membership in a motorcycle club and many riding friends as well as his family. Many of his Ugly brothers had ridden to Sturgis to be able to attend the Hall of Fame ceremonies that fine Black Hills Wednesday morning. The club meeting/party at the home of Ugly Tom and wife Terra in downtown Sturgis held the day before was the perfect opportunity for club brothers to reflect on what Willie G. has meant to them over the years.

Comments from Ugly brothers ranged as far and wide as some of their journeys to join the celebration. Much admiration was expressed across the board, and many could recount personal accounts of interaction with the iconic industry leader.

The general consensus was not surprising, many regarding Willie as an equal member, and “just one of the guys.” Many called him a good brother; a good man. Admiration for his natural ability as a rider was noted. One brother expressed that he sees Willie as being happy in his element, being around club members and being a brother.

Another brother stated that Willie G has always been a part of the fabric of the H-D experience. A member describing himself as “20 years Ugly” shared that he thinks of Willie G. as the godfather of the modern American-made motorcycle. Ultimately the Ugly opinion was summed up as, “Willie is down to earth and just as Ugly as the rest of us.”

When Willie G., at the podium, was able to proceed with his message of acceptance he commented on Bill having spoken of Nancy (class of 2010) and Karen and family, and asked for them all to stand up.

Willie’s familiar Midwestern delivery was slightly scratchy that morning, following a bout of enthusiastic cheering at the races the day before. Willie spoke of his grandfather, William A. Davidson, founder and VP of manufacturing of the Motor Company, saying that he worked to meet goals, and remembering him as being kind and gentle. Willie’s father, William H., was a rabid rider, and Willie remembers him riding every day. Willie’s first motorcycle was a ’48 model S 125 single.

He spoke of accomplishments of which he is particularly proud, including the XLCR Café Racer, saying that the time may not have been right for that design, but they are still highly collectible. And a 1981 Sturgis was on display in front of the stage. He related that the design was the result of his experiences in Sturgis and seeing what riders were doing to their personal bikes. He is proud of the graphics on the FLST Street Glide, and he is also proud that the iconic red, white and blue #1 emblem that he designed to commemorate Mert Lawill’s taking of the number one plate racing in 1969 is still alive and well in the marketing program.

Willie thanked the Hall of Fame group, saying that he always enjoys attending. Then he paused and looked out at the crowd, gesturing with a broad sweep of his right hand across the expanse of the room, saying that he “would like to say to all of you—ride free!” Then he declared, “Sturgis forever!” 

 

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