Sturgis Motorcycle Rally 2022: NASCAR’s Rusty Wallace Reflects on Serving as Grand Marshal

by Blake Ells

NASCAR legend Rusty Wallace served as the Grand Marshal at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally this weekend. It’s the 82nd annual event, and he’s having the time of his life. He first went to Sturgis 19 years ago, but he’s returned as one of the main attractions.

“I just really love it. I’m just so excited to be the grand marshal, it’s unreal,” Rusty Wallace said. “When I got the phone call and got the opportunity, I said, “Hell, yeah, I want to do it.”

Rusty Wallace is now 65. He first went to Sturgis in 2003 when former NASCAR president Mike Helton invited he, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Tony Stewart out to the event. He’s been part of it since. They flew in from Pocono.

“He (Mike Helton) said, ‘I just want to take you guys out and let you have a little fun outside of racing,’” Rusty Wallace said of his first Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. “We had a great time.”

Rusty Wallace had a hell of a career in NASCAR. He was the Rookie of the Year in 1984 and he won the points championship in 1989. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 2013.

A Big Weekend at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

The 82nd Sturgis Motorcycle Rally kicked off in South Dakota on Friday. It’s been a big weekend in the Black Hills. The event was found by J.C “Pappy” Hoel who was an Indian motorcycle dealer. More than a half million people attend the event each year, and it’s one of the biggest traditions in South Dakota.

“Pappy was the man who put the brotherhood in motorcycles,” Coe Meyer, a Sturgis motorcycle historian, said in an interview. “He’s the reason so many people come here today.”

The first Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was in 1938. “Pappy” held it to promote his dealership. It became something much more massive than anyone believed.

Now the event takes place over 10 days. It brings in more than $800 million each year. Attendance typically spikes around big anniversaries. The 75th anniversary was in 2016, and that one was big. It tends to fall off in the following years. They define attendance by “vehicle crossings at about a dozen roads around Sturgis” for those ten days.

It’s a huge money maker for a very rural part of South Dakota. In 2019, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally earned $628,116 for local charities. In 2020, it generated 21% of the city’s annual revenue. Things slowed during the pandemic, as they did everywhere. But 462,000 people still attended in 2020. It’s a remarkable number during a difficult time. With things returning to normal, it’s great to see Rusty Wallace returning to the event.