One hot Rock
Rockingham, N.C., June 15–16—The warm, humid night air resonated with the deep southern high-energy sound of Rebel Son. Politically incorrect lyrics laden with expletives brought huge cheers from a tough-looking crowd in front of the main stage, many sitting on motorcycles. The surreal scene was compounded by a steady stream of motorcycles and mini bikes snaking their way through the masses—a bizarre sort of working chaos. This is the Smoke Out!
The gathering is a modern twist of the rad, dope ’70s so many bloggers and hipsters yearn for and older riders tells stories about, though some likely didn’t start riding until it became the “in thing.” This scene, although not for everyone (although anyone over the age of 21 is welcome), attracts a purer strain of rider. Sunburned tattooed skin, the constant rumble of motorcycles and hum of minibikes are the background music of the rally—there is no escaping it.
The Smoke Out draws people not content to be mere spectators; they come to play! At a lot of rallies it seems like attendees are merely tolerated as walking ATM machines to draw vendors, raise prices and ensure the lining of pockets. Here the organizers seem hell bent on providing a memorable experience for the hard-earned dollars shelled out for the two-day pass. Anyone with the stones can step up for the anvil toss, hot pepper-eating contest, wet T-shirt, body painting, mini-bike races, bike-related games, and drag racing your own bike against whoever pulls up in the lane next to you. Talk about a rush!
The roots of the SO were all about riders actually riding, and to whatever extent possible, wrenching on their own bikes. Some who rode many, many miles to Rockingham Speedway a.k.a. The Rock, often on old Pans, Knucks, and Shovels, understandably took a pass on the shenanigans and were content to kick back with a beverage and simply watch the weekend unfold, possibly reminiscing past decades. For this contingent of iron-ass riders, the bleachers along the drag strip provided a great stoop for watching the drags. After a failed attempt, Sam White blasted his pro nitrous Harley down the track, shaking asphalt the whole way. This being Rockingham, the metal bleachers pulled in the sun’s hot rays like Lucifer soaking up lost souls.
After the races, it was time to head over to the picnic area across from the main stage and have a seat on a bed of pine needles to check out a corny freak show, surprisingly pretty painted ladies, and the Blue Pickups Band playing some great cover songs to give the afternoon heat a more halcyon summer feel. The grounds can easily be walked in 20 minutes allowing the few dozen vendors to be easily accessible to folks. Everything from leather goods, patches, Amsoil oil, old parts, lifestyle jewelry, frames, Simmons helmets… right up to the healing hands of Hahn chiropractic can be found in a short walk.
Jamboozie Customs deserved a look for their oil pans made from Panhead rocker boxes, adjustment knobs for your carb, and glass shifter knobs, to name a few. Their tent was surrounded by badass bikes sporting Jamboozie products. Often, it’s the little things that set a bike apart. Another tent was manned by the passionate guys from Hawk Brothers Cycle. This is a group of mechanics, iron workers, and a general contractor that work nights and weekends building and creating bikes—because they love it.
Tim Gelay from Mutha Country Choppers is a tireless promoter of the mini life, as in dressing up in crazy outfits and racing mini bikes. This year he added drag racing mini bikes that really scream with tons of attitude! The Long Riders organized by a cat named Uncle Ben get together each year and meet in different parts of the country to spend a week of riding and camping leading to the SO. New riders are welcomed. The point is, there is so much going on all the time.
A huge tent was set up about 50 yards from the main stage where the ride-in garage-built bike show took place. Reps from several motorcycle publications were tasked with choosing a bike to be given a cool metal plaque.
2018 marks the 19th Smoke Out. This year the event lost support from a major cycle magazine, and speculation about whether riders and vendors would show up filled social media and various rumor mills. Some acts cancelled and a few longtime vendors were noticeably absent. New vendors filled their place and lesser-known companies stepped up from the shadows to reveal cool, innovative products that will probably be copied by the big boys down the road. As for the riders, hell yeah, they showed up. After all, it’s their event. Younger, newer riders brought a different vibe with a contagious energy that gave a powerful nod to days gone by and a mischievous grin to the future of wild-eyed bikers.
There is no way to fully cover the Smoke Out. You can check out the full list of events on their Facebook page, watch the videos and laugh at the shenanigans. To truly experience the Smoke Out you need to show up and hear it, smell it, feel it, taste it and most of all, live it.