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Offroad events throttled back as overlap with Pendleton Bike Week wanes

Short-track motorcycle race in Round-Up Arena canceled, Rieth hill climb moved
Antonio Sierra

East Oregonian

Published on February 19, 2018 8:17PM

Staff photo by E.J. Harris
A rider takes off up hill during the first day of the Nitro in the Blues hill climb on Friday in Rieth.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris A rider takes off up hill during the first day of the Nitro in the Blues hill climb on Friday in Rieth.

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This year’s Pendleton Bike Week will come with a little less rumble.

Ron Dillon, the Boise-based organizer and promoter of the Thunder in the Blues short-track motorcycle race, said the race won’t return to the Round-Up Grounds in 2018. Additionally, Nitro in the Blues, a motorcycle hill climb in Rieth, will be moved back a week to Aug. 3-5 so it no longer coincides with Bike Week.

In an interview Monday, Dillon said the moves came after lackluster attendance numbers for the two events in 2017. Pendleton Bike Week, meanwhile, saw a 25 percent increase in attendance in 2017, with about 20,000 estimated participants.

When Dillon started Nitro in the Blues at the second annual Pendleton Bike Week in 2016 and added Thunder in the Blues a year later, the idea was that a significant number of bikers in town for the motorcycle rally would migrate from the Pendleton Convention Center to the hill climb and short-track races.

But the overlap between events never materialized, according to Dillon.

Dillon said Nitro in the Blues’ attendance shrunk from 1,200 in 2016 to 1,000 in 2017. Thunder in the Blues ticket sales were similarly disappointing.

Among last year’s spectators, Dillon said only 50 bikers went to the hill climb and a few dozen to the motorcycle race.

He attributed the lack of interest from Pendleton Bike Week attendees to a shift in biker culture: today’s bikers are more likely to be white collar workers interested in drinking and listening to music when off their motorcycle rather than watching another motorcycle event.

Dillon said it wasn’t intended as a criticism of bikers, but he needed to make some changes to keep the events viable.

He axed Thunder in the Blues — the Round-Up doesn’t allow any events in the arena after Aug. 1 — and moved Nitro in the Blues back a week to give it more breathing room.

Blue collar workers are a more natural constituency for Nitro in the Blues, Dillon said, and locals from Umatilla County, Tri-Cities and Walla Walla could help meet his attendance goal of 5,000 for this year.

By moving the hill climb to August, Dillon said Nitro in the Blues fills a dead spot in the calendar between Pendleton Bike Week and Pendleton Whisky Music Fest in July and Round-Up in September.

There is evidence that a hill climb event can draw regional crowds.

Dillon said the Big Nasty Hill Climb in Payette, Idaho — a town just across the border from Ontario — has attracted as many as 13,000 people.

Possible new event

for 2019

While there might be one less off-season event at the Round-Up grounds in 2018, the Round-Up Association is already looking at bringing in a new event for 2019.

Although nothing is final, Round-Up parades director Randy Leonard said the association is in the process of recruiting the Pacific Overland Auction, a McMinnville horse-drawn vehicle and farm equipment auction that advertises itself as the biggest auction of its kind west of the Mississippi River.

The proceeds from sales of the carriages and wagons goes to the Anvil Academy, a Newberg trade school for at-risk youth that’s a “classroom disguised as a wagon factory” according to the academy’s website.

Leonard said the academy is looking to move the auction outside of the Yamhill County Fairgrounds and is dedicated to preserving Western heritage through the things it produces.

“It would be a perfect fit,” he said.

Leonard said the Round-Up should know about the academy’s decision by the next auction, which is scheduled from April 27-28.


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