WINNEMUCCA, NEV., MAY 23-25—The town of Winnemucca is something of a cultural crossroads in the middle of the desert, and there is a wealth of activity going on there between March and October including a Basque festival, car shows, rodeos, bluegrass festivals, drag racing, photography symposiums and pig wrestling, to name a few. (No, I didn’t make that last one up.) The official start to summer is Memorial Day weekend, which, for the past 13 years, has been reserved for Run-A-Mucca, a motorcycle event like no other highlighted by the annual burning of the bike.
The package cost for this three-day event remains at $35 and includes an event T-shirt, run pin, ticket to the barbecue, one $1,000 poker run hand, one $400 poker run hand, plus free entry into the bike show and tattoo contest. Couple that with a town full of music, gambling, drinking and great food, and what else could you ask for? You can stay in a motel, an RV, a tent or, as some do, stay up all night. In addition, you could buy a $20 raffle ticket for the 2014 Road King they were raffling off this year.
Rolling into town Friday afternoon I looked forward to a hot shower and a good meal. The Days Inn did not disappoint. I wandered on down to the Winnemucca Inn to pick up my run package and then headed to Event Central, the Winners Inn Casino. The run package included an event schedule, which made it incredibly easy to see who, what and where everything was happening during the weekend.
Southern rock band Savannah Blue was playing out by the vendors in back of the casino. There were at least 50 vendors spread around town and most of them were here. Comedian, juggler, one-man band, stilt walker and entertainer in general, Eric Haines, was on the street making people laugh. The MOB Freestyle Motocross Stunt Show was also thrilling crowds flying high above the streets of Winnemucca on 250cc dirt bikes. On tap this year was Devon Hoyer and Ben Veyna from Las Vegas, and Erik Farr from Colorado. Devon told the crowd that stunts like these are regular events now. Years ago during competition some motocross riders started doing tricks on their bikes after the races were over before it became a sport all by itself. Backflips on a large motorcycle were once considered impossible to do until Caleb Wyatt did it in 2002. Now it’s a part of every stunt show.
Another group of street performers was the Braggart Family Side Circus. Jay and Hans Braggart are the sons of a fire-eating dwarf who performs in a circus, so it’s in their blood. Helped out by sexy Ginger B. Goode, they juggle and throw knives at each other, and also do a bit of fire eating. Jay threw knives at Ginger while she moved back and forth in front of a board. He hit the board every time, narrowly missing Ginger each time. Ginger was great with a whip too, cutting off the bulb of a flower while Jay held the stem in his mouth. Ginger could also swing a 10-pound bowling ball from her ear lobes. She’s a woman of many talents.
The poker run started at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, and since I already had my poker sheet I just followed the stops on the sheet. Most of the stops were in town, but one of them was 40 miles northeast of Winnemucca at Fireman’s Park in Paradise Valley, which was also the site of the event barbecue. The winner of the poker run and $1,000 was Larry Goekler of Lucerne, California, with four aces.
After the run I decided to head out with a group to the Thunder Mountain Indian Monument, a five-acre parcel east of Winnemucca along Interstate 80 packed with folk art and architectural oddities created by Chief Rolling Mountain Thunder (Frank Van Zant) over a 30-year period. You’ve probably seen it from the freeway; the largest object being a two-story stone house surrounded by what looks like large bones. It’s actually chain and rebar wrapped in concrete, but it looks strange nonetheless. There’s also a 50’s car growing out of a stone wall. Stop in some time and take a look, and you’ll come away with the same question we did: Why?
The Tattoo Contest fired up at Winners Casino at 4:30 p.m. Herb Ross, food and beverage manager at Winners, acted as emcee again this year. A cute blonde named Desiree won for Best Black & Gray. Although she won for an arm tattoo, the tattoos of an eye in several triangles on her upper leg drew more attention from Herb and the crowd. Best Tribal went to Todd, Best Fresh to Sean, and Best Color and Best of Show went to Jim Jensen. After dinner Beer DrinkerZ and Hell RaiserZ, a ZZ Top tribute band, rocked the crowd into the night.
Winnemucca is a very patriotic town. They are extremely proud of their veterans. Case in point, every year on Memorial Day weekend the town selects one of their own as “Soldier of the Year.” This year it was 1st Sgt. Curt Prokasky. Curt had made a career in the military serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and when he came home he joined the National Guard. A number of people spoke including Mayor Di An Putman, Chief of Police Eric Safer, Sheriff Ed Kilgore and General Todd Plimpton, who served with Curt in the Middle East. The Soldier of the Year normally receives a firearm of some kind, usually of the recipient’s choice. General Plimpton said, “It is my honor to be here tonight,” and then presented Curt with a brand-new shotgun. Curt is a man of few words. After saying thank you for the honor, he turned to the crowd and said, “Thank you to all the vets. Winnemucca strong, Winnemucca proud!”
At 9:00 p.m., just after dark, it was time to light the fire under a well-worn Honda motorcycle. Gasoline was applied, flares were tossed and within a few minutes the bike and the wooden pallets underneath were fully engulfed and the flames shot 40 feet into the air. Once the fire was lit Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers created some musical fire of their own. It took the better part of 45 minutes to burn out. The heat was so intense the crowd had to stand 20 feet back and those were the brave ones; 1,200 people watched in awe.
Being a guy and a little inappropriate sometimes, I hurried off to the Mineshaft Bar for the All Girl Kissing Contest they hold every year. The winners take home $200 apiece for their efforts. After the judges were picked three girls jumped up onstage and went for it. As you might guess, kissing is just the start of this romantic display. All three were on the floor after breaking a chair they were sitting on, tops came off and serious kissing started to include all exposed body parts. After they were through, two more girls jumped up and danced a similar dance. It was all over when the last two girls, Jess and Katie, took their turn. The judges and the crowd quickly determined them to be the winners, as they showed true passion for the art of kissing.
Sunday morning we all met at the Winners Casino for the Cruise to Veteran’s Park and the Memorial Day Service. About 250 bikes headed out under police escort for the park just outside Winnemucca on Highway 95. Once there a number of people spoke, honoring all veterans, both alive and gone. Mayor Di An Putman said, “It’s a community that supports veterans, not just one person.” Looking out at the crowd she said, “You chose to come up here today. What a place to honor our soldiers.”
Flags were lowered to half mast, the 1841 Mountain Howitzer brought up for the ceremony was fired and “Taps” was played on a bugle. The flags remained at half mast for the rest of the day to honor veterans.
Sunday afternoon’s poker run was worth $400, and Rick and Kathy Frost took that home with them. The bike show and bike games were up next at the Model T Casino. New this year was the Hot Dog Eating Contest and the Salsa Making Contest. It was a $10 buy-in for the hot dogs and each contestant got 25 dogs to eat in a five-minute time limit. Paul Partain of Winnemucca won the contest after eating seven hot dogs. Two contestants entered the Salsa Making Contest and had a 20-minute time limit. David Lefevre of Winnemucca won the contest with his green salsa, making two kinds: one mild and one hot. Uneaten dogs went for a quarter apiece.
Harry Hartzog of Winnemucca won the Burnout Contest with his 2007 Dyna Street Bob hands down, as he was the only one to pop a tire. In doing so
he had to replace not only the rear tire, but also all the wiring in the rear fender. He didn’t think the $750 prize money was going to cover it. In the bike games, Mike Peterson rode Walk the Plank to the win, Warren Lyon rolled to victory in the Barrel Race, and Mike and Kristy Phelan took both the Wienie Bite and Eggin’ It On contests.
In the bike show Roland Marshall nabbed first place for the Rat class, Nancy Harris took first for Sport Bike, Lenny Walker won first in the Builder’s class, Linda Stern for Classic, Mike Phelan for Trike, Steve Call for Touring and Best of Show, and Bob White for Cruiser and People’s Choice.
At 8:30 p.m. it was time to find out who won the new Road King. If the winner was present, they were to receive a $1,000 cash bonus. That was half of the taxes on the bike. The barrel was rolled and the ticket belonging to Dave Whittington of North Dakota was drawn. He wasn’t present so they called his cell phone, which he didn’t answer either. He must have gotten a real surprise when he checked his messages Monday.