LACONIA — Laconia Motorcycle Week is an economic boon, not just to the Lakes Region but to the entire state, officials said during the opening press conference on Thursday.Thousands of people will visit during the annual rally, now in its 96th year, and it’s because of the countless local partners that those visitors choose to return, year after year.
The Fritzie Baer Award is given each year to honor someone who “goes the extra mile for Laconia Motorcycle Week,” said Charlie St. Clair, executive director of Laconia Motorcycle Week Association. This year, the award was handed out to two people who exemplify that spirit of partnership, St. Clair said: Laconia Police Chief Matt Canfield and Mark Armaganian, chief of the state Liquor Commission’s Division of Enforcement.
While the relationship between law enforcement and the motorcycle rally has been antagonistic at points during the event’s decades, the current atmosphere is one of cooperation. For example, the Liquor Commission has allowed Faro Italian Grille to serve alcohol throughout the Laconia Roadhouse that it sets up in its parking lot, and Gunstock is now able to allow hillclimb spectators to bring their own alcohol, even as beer is sold in a V.I.P. tent.
“The men and women of liquor enforcement are very proud to be here,” Armaganian said. His department staff had already begun to work Motorcycle Week, he said, by connecting with licensees to help ensure that they know the rules.
“The success of this event is due to its safety,” Armaganian said. “We totally believe that we cannot arrest our way into compliance, we can only do it with partnership… we encourage you to partner up with us.”
Canfield, said St. Clair, is eager to lend a hand to the rally, whether it’s ensuring that there is proper police staffing or personally helping put up tents and run extension cords.
“Our local chief of police has been a hands-on guy,” St. Clair said.
Other partnerships that were lauded at the press conference were with New Hampshire Motor Speedway, which built a new track so that flat-track racing could return to the rally after a 15-year hiatus, and Gunstock Mountain Resort.
Greg Goddard, general manager of Gunstock, said when he first started working at the county-owned resort, employees were placed at the front gates to turn away motorcyclists.
“Thank the good Lord those days have gone,” Goddard said. Now, thanks to the recently-returned hillclimb events, Gunstock has become a highlight of Motorcycle Week.
The 2019 Gunstock Hill Climb will take place on June 12, and will feature amateurs as well as professionals who will compete for a $20,000 cash prize, Goddard said. He added that Gunstock is committed to hosting hill climb events through the 100th Laconia Motorcycle Week.
“Growing up in New Hampshire, you know Laconia Bike Week, you take it for granted," Gov. Chris Sununu said. "It’s like your birthday – you know it’s going to be there.” But, he said, people shouldn’t assume that the rally will occur without broad and significant effort.
“We encourage everyone to keep coming in, keep helping make it bigger, because it’s a home run,” Sununu said. “Don’t take it for granted, a lot of pieces have to come together… We stand on the shoulders of decades of success, let’s keep it going.”
Laconia Mayor Ed Engler, speaking at the press conference for what he said was the sixth and likely final time, since he has said he will not seek re-election, thanked the “many people who have kept Laconia Motorcycle Week alive and thriving over the years.” Those people included both government and civic leaders, but especially St. Clair and Motorcycle Week Association Director Jennifer Anderson.
“I can’t say enough of how appreciative I am,” of their dedication to the rally, Engler said. “Their efforts have been irreplaceable.”