Originally Published In The July 2014 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
If you live where the weather is perpetually fine you can’t relate to the misery of having your bike locked down for endless months during winter. Midwest riders feel this pain acutely every year and they did even more so this past winter. So when the Donnie Smith Show finally came to St. Paul, Minnesota in late March, it was spring break time in a big way for bikers in these parts. And you could tell, too. The halls at the Xcel Energy Center buzzed with a palpable vibe that telegraphed the message riders have been waiting for: It’s getting time to bust out the cobwebs and check tires and batteries. It’s getting time to ride again. The show didn’t disappoint either. As much as it happens every year, it’s a testament to builder Donnie Smith and show promoter Neil Ryan that there’s very little routine to the Donnie Smith show, even after several decades. Starting out as one of J&P’s Parts Extravaganzas 27 years ago, this event has grown substantially yet remains fresh thanks to Neil and Donnie’s tending. That takes savvy planning and a fundamental knowledge of your audience.
While maintaining elements that keep the show feeling familiar, such as the bike show of course and one of the best indoor swap meets we’ve seen, Neil and Donnie have consistently added features to mix it up. This year’s showstopper was a classic car and hot rod show, filling 50,000 square feet in the adjacent Roy Wilkins Auditorium. Initial concerns that the car show would pull visitors away from the main hall were quickly dismissed as lines formed outside just to get in the building and crowds surged in all areas. Neil credits his team for the show’s success and that’s what you’d expect, but a team without a visionary leader falls flat. So we’ll give the nod to Neil’s efforts, too. This bike show always brings out a slew of authentic choppers and a choice selection of period correct Knucks and Pans. And since it’s also a custom show, there are one-off builds, a variety of makes and models, and baggers to have a separate show. Big name vendors like S&S, Baker, House or Kolor and Dennis Kirk provided solid Midwest representation and since the show happens near Donnie’s birthday a party atmosphere ruled.
The Donnie Smith Chopper Class Challenge (DSCCC), a separate competition within the main show that features high school and tech school teams, was on hand for the 12th year. Once again, Iron Trader News (from the editors of IronWorks) sponsored the student teams in recognition of the program’s effort to draw and keep young riders and wrenches active in motorcycling. Originally conceived when Teach Baas garnered industry support to develop chopper class at nearby Kennedy High School then brought the class’s project bike to Donnie’s show, the competition has since included schools from New York, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and even Canada. This year saw veteran teams from Mitchell Tech in Mitchell, SD, and Eden Junior/Senior High from Eden, NY in attendance.
Eden’s team, led by instructor Steve Jones, wedged a diesel engine into a classic looking bobber, taking honors for Design and winning the Overall trophy. Mitchell Tech turned out a slick, red racer with refined styling cues and a pared down stance, taking trophies for Presentation and Technical Merit. Speaking of trophies, this year’s Chopper Class awards were handcrafted by Fab Kevin Verkest and his right hand, Matt Willyard, and they were awesome. Though the Kennedy students didn’t compete in the DSCCC, they did bring several bikes for the open show classes and headed to the stage when award time came along. Same for the students from Sturgis Brown High School who attended the show for just the second time, competing in the open classes. The bike built by this team is actually the charity auction bike for the Buffalo Chip’s Legends Ride in Sturgis, as it was last year, and industry leaders Keith Terry, Nick and Randy Cramer, and Black Hills H-D are strong supporters of the program. The graffiti-themed Street Glide took first in the High School Class. If you haven’t been to the Donnie Smith Show, you’re missing out. For grassroots biking at its best, a primo swap meet, an antidote to a bad case of no-bike blues, and a healthy dose of Minnesota Nice, it’s the place to be for gearheads—now more than ever— every year in late March. What new element will Neil and Donnie add next year? Show up and find out.