News Item: As word of Thunder spreads, motorcyclists arrive earlier
(Category: Biker News)
Posted by MJF
Wednesday 21 June 2006 - 11:02:19

The Tribune-Democrat

Welcome to Thunder in the Valley 2006 – unofficially, that is.

While the annual motorcycle rally, entering its ninth year, doesn’t open in full force until Thursday, a smattering of events are scheduled for today. Both the Thunder Headquarters, at the Greater
Johnstown/Cambria County Convention and Visitors Bureau on Main Street, and the welcome tent, at Point Stadium, will open today.

In addition, a small contingent of the nearly 200,000 visitors expected during the next four days already have arrived. Some started rolling into town as early as Sunday.

Among the early arrivals is Frank Tacik, a Johnstown native who has lived in Frederick, Md., for 30 years and has seen more than his fair share of motorcycle rallies. The 70-year-old marvels at how his hometown’s rally has grown and is not shy about mentioning it in the same breath with the country’s largest rallies.

“I have friends coming here later in the week from Maryland and Syracuse (N.Y.),” Tacik said Tuesday. “We’ve been to Daytona and Laconia (N.H.) together a few times.

“I told them, ‘You have to come to Thunder. We’re catching up to the rest of the rallies.’ They think I’m nuts, but I told them they have to come and see for themselves.”

Thunder in the Valley started with just about 5,000 attendees less than a decade ago.

Not long ago, the growth dictated that organizers stretch the event from three days to four. But even as it inches to an unofficial fifth day, Lisa Dailey, executive director of the convention and visitors bureau, said acquiring all the space needed for an additional day is not plausible.

“Our challenge is that we don’t have sole control over the space we utilize,” Dailey said. “We have been very fortunate to have various businesses and corporations provide us their parking lots. We inconvenience their employees from set-up day through the end of the rally.

“At this time, we don’t plan to expand our vendor days. We feel that we’re very blessed and just happy to have what is made to available for us during this time frame.”

That doesn’t mean Thunder in the Valley can’t grow into a longer event. Dailey said it is growing organically into a nearly weeklong event.

The rally is also gaining more recognition nationally. Tacik said he recently has read glowing articles about Thunder in the Valley in a number of publications.

“The word is spreading,” Tacik said. “Johnstown has been getting good articles in major biker magazines. Even the Harley shop in Frederick had an article in its monthly newsletter about Thunder in the Valley.”

Dailey said the key to making a weeklong event is independent organizations pitching in and sponsoring events for bikers that take place earlier in the week. One of the leaders in that regard is Zepka Harley-Davidson on Eisenhower Boulevard in Richland Township.

Zepka long has been a meeting place for early arriving bikers. Through the years, the business’ offerings have grown to include vendors and displays.

“I was just talking to a gentleman from Texas on our lot who’s already here for the rally,” said Rhonda Grasso, promotions and marketing director at Zepka’s.

“A lot of people are coming down from Laconia, too. They have had a rally for a long time. A lot of vendors and bikers usually just make that the annual trip: They go from Laconia to here because our time frames are so close.”

Grasso said the key to making Thunder in the Valley grow will be greater involvement from more local organizations and businesses. She noted that a group in Ebensburg has had success with its “Wheels & Wings” event that takes place during the rally. Silver Drive-In on Scalp Avenue in Richland, is joining the fray by showing biker movies beginning tonight.

“I get people calling the day after Thunder ends until it starts again asking what they can do,” Grasso said. “There is always something they can do. If it’s something family-oriented and something bikers like, that will draw them in.

“We want bikers to come in and have too much to do. That way they will want to come back because they know there is a lot they still haven’t done.”

Shawn Piatek can be reached at

This news item is from White Trash Networks
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