SUNDANCE, Wyo. | John Ferguson revved the engine of his 2005 Harley-Davidson in the middle of this small town on Wednesday afternoon. A crowd of more than 100 people stood around him, holding cans of Bud Light and leaning on motorcycles. The revving grew louder. Smoke curled out of the back of the Harley as flecks of rubber splattered across onlookers.
A small pop echoed down the platform where Ferguson sat. The crowd cheered.
With the help of a few men, Ferguson rolled his Harley down the platform. His back tire was flat and shredded, but he was smiling. He had just participated in the Wyoming Wednesday burnout, an event that’s drawn Sturgis rallygoers to Sundance for nearly 40 years.
Alice Schloredt said it started in the mid-'70s when she and her husband, Jerry, owned The Dime Horse Shoe bar. Two bikers walked in with a cloud of rubber smoke and Schloredt tried to whip them out with a broom. They all ended up on the floor, laughing. A year or two later, another bike burned out his tire in the middle of the street next to her bar. Then they kept coming.
“I wasn’t intending to do that at all,” Schloredt said.
To participate in Burnout Wednesday, a biker must sign a waiver saying he or she won’t sue and acknowledges the inherent danger of the activity. The biker then rides on the platform and locks down the brakes. The front tire is screwed into place and then the biker revs the engine until the back tire blows out.
Why do it? “It draws attention,” Scot Steward said.
Steward has been coming to the Sturgis rally since 1983 and has participated in a few burnouts elsewhere. This year, he was just a bystander.
“If you’re going to do a burnout and nobody sees it, what’s the sense in doing a burnout?” Steward said.
Six contestants participated in this year’s Burnout Wednesday, which Schloredt says is a small number. First-place winner Terry Knowles walked away with a $750 prize, but $250 of it will go toward replacing the back tire on his 2006 Harley Sportster.
“The rush,” Knowles said when asked why he participated. “I love it … I love speed.”
The Illinois native has been to the rally only once before and said this was his first Burnout Wednesday.
Ferguson, who is from Heron Lake, Minn., said he participated “to support small towns” like the one he’s from. “Now I’m going to go find somebody to clean this up,” he said, looking at his rubber-covered bike and deflated rear tire.
Schloredt no longer owns The Dime Horse Shoe, but she still watches the burnouts from a distance. She owned the bar for 25 years and she credits the success of Burnout Wednesdays to the fact that she never raised the prices.
“We just treat ‘em good,” she said.
Several men hosed down the platform after the winners were announced, forcing rivers of black water across the street. The scene is smelly, messy and crowded, but almost everyone is smiling.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Steward said with a chuckle, “and there’s a bar right next to it.