A Hot Time in Knoxville at the Ol’ Honda Hoot 2006

by Bill Stermer

photography by the author and courtesy American Honda

How many years does it take before a rally is considered to be established? With Daytona and Sturgis already surpassing 60 years, and the Isle of Man TT celebrating its centennial next year, these are the granddaddies of motorcycle events. At the other end of the spectrum are much younger events like the Honda Hoot that are likely to be celebrated for many years to come. Well, for a couple more years at least….

Since the early 1990s, Honda has hosted an annual summer party called the Hoot. After several years in Asheville, North Carolina, the Honda Hoot was moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, five years ago. Held over five days last June, this 13th annual Hoot could have been called the Honda Hot, as I’ve been to several and it always seems to swelter in the sultry south this time of year. But hey, it was a heck of a party and that’s what matters.

Once we helped get the rally going, it was time to frolic. Hoot activities included Bike Night at the World’s Fair Park, sponsored by Rider and Cruising Rider magazines. Knoxville hosted the World’s Fair in 1982, and the amusement park was open as rallygoers showed off their bikes, played carnival games and listened to the bluegrass bands and other entertainment. The evening fireworks were huge; one of our editors compared them favorably with those excellent displays in New York City. Proceeds from the event went to benefit the American Cancer Society.

Don’t let the name fool you; the Honda Hoot welcomes all riders, brands and types of bikes. That’s why over at Cumberland Gap one could see not only cruisers, but also sportbikes, Gold Wings, dual-sports and even naked bikes like the four-cylinder 919 that Honda had loaned us for the event (see sidebar on page 72). Another favorite is Deal’s Gap, where the notorious “Dragon” offers 318 curves in 11 miles. It’s a favorite of the locals and tourists alike.

One of my personal highlights was Thursday night in the old, remodeled, luxurious Tennessee Theater. You remember Bruce Brown’s film On Any Sunday, right? It was released in 1971 and, at the time, brought thousands of new riders to motorcycling through its presentation of all aspects of two-wheeled racing, including motocross, roadracing, enduro, flat-track and more. This night Joe Rocket sponsored a showing of the film, which featured Steve McQueen, Malcolm Smith and their contemporaries. I first saw the film 35 years ago with only a few years of riding experience under my belt, and now this night settled into the balcony for a nostalgic good time.

The connection was that Malcolm Smith, the aw-shucks young enduro rider who went on to win eight gold medals in the International Six Days Trials (ISDT) competition, was the grand marshal of this year’s Hoot. There he was on the screen, along with all those scenes from 35 years ago, riding with the grace of ballet on 1970s equipment. After the showing, Smith signed copies of the DVD for his fans.

One afternoon I rode over to Maggie Valley to the Wheels Through Time, the Museum of Vintage Transportation (see sidebar on page 74). On the way back to Knoxville I could smell the dampness in the air, and when silver streaks began looming across the valley I pulled over and was dancing on one leg, struggling into my raingear, when the rains hit. At least it tamed the heat for awhile.

Hot, humid weather marked much of the rally week, so I checked into the air-conditioned indoor vendor area where folks could look at, touch and buy all kinds of motorcycle items. I relieved Editor Tuttle at the Rider Group booth, where our guy Jack was selling magazine subscriptions. It was especially fun meeting with the riders, readers and soon-to-be readers of Rider magazine, talking bikes and swapping tales.

Saturday morning Honda hosted a Ride for Kids event, which was attended by about 200 people and raised a huge $58,642 for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. Attendee Sean Vojtasko of Cummings, Georgia, won himself a new Honda Rebel 250.

After the Closing Ceremonies (a big thanks to Honda’s Charlie Keller, who organized the rally for Honda), I walked over to the Saturday Night Town Street Party for dinner. One of the bands was playing onstage on the street, and had drawn an enthusiastic crowd. Soon dinner was served, the food was good, the beer cold and the friends welcome.

Sorry you missed it? Granted, the weather can be hot in Knoxville in the summer and rain is frequent, but Honda has the event running smoothly. If you don’t want to miss it again, note that the 2007 Hoot will be held June 20-23, and Honda has a new contract with the city for at least two additional years. Hope to see you there.

[From the November 2006 issue of Rider]


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