LACONIA — The 96th anniversary of Laconia Motorcycle Week brings together old and new traditions as the event approaches 100 years, and vintage racing is a major part of the mix.
The big news for race fans is the return of flat-track competition as part of the action at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. The Laconia Short Track Race is new for 2019, but it harkens back to the first official motorcycle races that kicked off the first Gypsy Tour at Weirs Beach in 1916. The Laconia rally has not seen flat-track races in a decade and a half, since the death of Pete Giammalvo, a promoter of the New England Dirt Track Series for many years.
Flat-track racing will take place on a new quarter-mile dirt track that the speedway has just installed. David McGrath, executive vice-president and general manager of New Hampshire Motor Speedway, has been looking to bring back the flat-track racing “to add an electrifying new chapter of two-wheeled racing,” according to the track’s website.
The new event will be put on by American Flat Track on Saturday, June 15, with both AFT Twins and AFT Singles classes competing in a full race program, including heat races, semis and a main event. The speedway expects between 65 and 75 racers, and some 5,000 attendees.
“Flat track is the direction for younger riders,” said Jennifer Anderson, deputy director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association. “Vintage is really cool again, and there’s been an uptick as the classic brands are getting more attention from them. It’s all new to them.”
The return of vintage events is not limited to flat-track. Last year’s rally brought back the Tower Hill races at Weirs Beach, and Association Director Charlie St. Clair said the event will be even better this year.
“The hillclimb has been extended to three hours from two,” he said, crediting the support from Mayor Ed Engler and the Laconia City Council.
“There’s a notion that the city wants to get rid of Motorcycle Week, but that’s not true, at least for the last couple of decades,” he continued. “Officials recognize that it’s a great economic driver for businesses and residents alike. Without the city’s support, we wouldn’t have the hillclimb and the things we’re doing.”
Those attending the hillclimb, St. Clair said, “really love that they’re right there, at the imaginary fence where the asphalt starts. It’s much like it was at Belknap (now Gunstock), and it brings back that feeling.”
Liquor regulations amended
The New Hampshire Liquor Commission’s enforcement bureau has adopted more “user-friendly” rules, according to St. Clair, who said some of the city’s pilot events have proven that businesses are making sure that there are no infractions of its rules.
There was the successful Biketoberfest last September, when the Liquor Commission allowed people purchasing drinks along one block of Lakeside Avenue to walk between the Tower Hill Tavern, Surfside Burger Bar, The Crazy Gringo and the Paradise Beach Club. Then, in mid-May, there was a “Wake the Lake” event featuring three days of live bands and DJs, performing on three stages, with outdoor bars.
Faro’s Laconia Roadhouse is allowed to have its entire property serve as a beer tent, with the support of the liquor enforcement chief, said St. Clair.
Last year, because it was serving alcohol, Gunstock Mountain Resort could not allow people to bring their own spirits onto the grounds, according to Liquor Commission rules. This year, the Liquor Commission has agreed to grant a permit for both BYOB and beer sales.
“They changed the rule because of Biketemberfest,” St. Clair said. “Cooperation is so common-sense.”
A recent addition to Motorcycle Week — one that has proven to be so popular that it’s now in its sixth year — is the Passport Program. This year, there will be 17 destinations, including Maine and northern New Hampshire.
Participants receive a “passport” (designed by a company that produces actual passports for the U.S. government) and travel to each of the participating destinations to get stamped. The program is free, and no purchase is necessary at any of the destinations — but it exposes riders to other locations and businesses they may want to make part of their next visit to the area. Many of the locations offer specials for motorcyclists making the tour.
“It broadens Motorcycle Week to the whole state,” said Anderson, who came up with the concept and handles all of the planning. “Honeydew Donuts in Farmington is a big success,” she added, explaining that they offer special pricing to Passport riders. “Lindy’s Diner in Keene gets a tremendous number of people, some from 800 miles away.”
Of course, one of the main attractions is the motorcycles themselves, and there will be demonstrations by many of the major manufacturers — Harley Davidson, Indian, Yamaha — at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The demos begin on Monday, June 10, and run through Saturday, June 15.
A simple stroll down Lakeside Avenue in The Weirs provides a feast of color and style as riders park their motorcycles while taking in the atmosphere of the place. License plates show how far they traveled, and bikers love to talk about their toys and their adventures.
Then there are the tours: Each day, there is an opportunity to take a long or short trip on a motorcycle with leaders who are familiar with the roads and the attractions.
The local Harley Owners Group leads several of the tours, including a “Newbie Ride” from Olde Province Commons in Meredith. The ride is designed to avoid high-traffic areas and high speeds, so people who have never ridden in a group before will feel comfortable and safe. The Winnipesaukee HOG chapter also leads a Ladies Ride and the famous Ride to the Sky, taking riders to the top of Mount Washington.
The kick-off event for Motorcycle Week is the Peter Makris Memorial Ride, starting and ending at the Naswa Resort. Now in its 13th year, the ride raises money for Easter Seals NH and the Laconia Fire Department’s Veterans Count program and the Community Emergency Response Team. The ride has topped the $400,000 mark over the years.
A full schedule of rides, along with other events, is included in the Rally News produced by the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association — although Anderson noted that they have had to produce a supplemental schedule to include a number of late additions. Information also is posted at laconiamcweek.com.