For 72 hours in July at the AMA’s Vintage Motorcycle Days event, central Ohio is the center of the vintage motorcycling universe
Words by Dave Hull
Photos by Christa Hull and Jen Muecke/AMA
You’re always tempted to use the ‘Three-Ring Circus’ analogy when talking about the AMA’s annual Vintage Motorcycle Days event at Mid-Ohio, because there’s so much cool stuff to do and see there each July. But what VMD really is is a 12- or 13-ring moto circus, with some crazy nighttime shenanigans thrown in once the sun sets and the moonshine-addled crazies come out to play.
For many thousands of enthusiasts each year, the VMD is Vintage Motorcycle Mecca – a four-day, classic-flavored extravaganza that really has no equal in the country. Yeah, you’ve got the upscale Barber Vintage Fest in the fall, which has many of the same elements as VMD, but it’s … different. Mid-Ohio has a very definite Midwest/KOA-campground feel to it, and that’s a fine, down-home thing, indeed.
There’s just so much to do on Mid-Ohio’s 330 acres. For the 29th annual VMD this year (the 25th at Mid-Ohio) you had a massive manufacturer display for American Honda, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of the legendary CB750 (1969), the 60th anniversary of its establishment in the U.S. (1959) and the 40th anniversary of its 6-cylinder CBX (1979). You had tons of racing, too, including motocross, cross-country, trials, dirt track and road racing. You had the country’s largest swap meet, which you can literally get lost in if you don’t exercise proper discipline. And then there’s the bike displays, concours, minibike races (sanctioned and non), seminars with smart folks, up-close-and-personal chats and autographs with AMA Hall of Famers like Bubba Shobert and Scott Summers, camping galore, live music and cool old motorcycles of every stripe – including a lot of American-built iron – everywhere you look.
VMD is not only a total-submersion weekend, it’s is the primary fundraiser for the Motorcycle Hall of Fame and Museum at AMA headquarters in Pickerington, just down I-71 from Lexington and Mid-Ohio. Regardless of the type or brand of motorcycle you’re into, the HOF is a very special place.
The swap meet is a pretty special, too, a 100-acre assemblage so fascinatingly magnetic and chock full of bikes and parts and memorabilia and stuff that many never leave its confines until it’s time to go home on Sunday afternoon. Pretty much whatever you’re looking for you’ll find in this city within a city.
The AMA hired a bunch of pretty good bands this year, all of which seemed to mesh well with the audience on hand. They included a Rockabilly band called Hot Rod Deluxe; a folk band called Ramey; and country rockers The Spike Drivers. All three played their hearts out even during the pouring rain and thunderstorms that arrived on Saturday afternoon.
Although the number of racers on vintage American machines has dwindled at VMD over the years, with 74-year-old Doc Batsleer (#35) the only VMD vintage road racer on true American steel (in the form of one of his pre-war Indians), American iron was well represented at The Old Bike Barn motorcycle show. Some very sweet Panheads and Shovels stood proudly before the judges and spectators, while in the Then Came Bronson Collectors Club tent were a handful of very cool Sportsters, all of them decked out to perfectly resemble the bikes used in the 1969-1970 television show.
American steeds were abundant at the extremely-American American Motordrome attraction, which is a story in itself. The daredevil riders who star in this death-defying show ride Harleys and Indians exclusively. Not brand-spanking-new Indians and Harleys, mind you, but honest-to-goodness 1920s-era machines, the same machines that have been commonplace inside Wall of Death structures since the ’20s when they were, well, brand-spanking-new.
If you’ve only seen The Wall of Death in films like Roustabout or on television documentaries, you haven’t experienced it in the manner in which you should. You have got to enter the wall and see, hear and feel it up close and personal. The rumble of the structure while the daredevils race around the barrel, at times coming close enough for you to touch them, and the look on the riders’ faces as the G-forces press on their cheeks, is something you just gotta see.
In fact, that pretty much sums up the entire Vintage Motorcycle Days event… It’s a thing you just gotta see. It happens again in July of 2020. Don’t miss it.