Sturgis Rally: Inspiration in the Black Hills of South Dakota

Written By

16 Aug 2010

Editor’s Note: This blog entry was written by Mike Panasci, Vice President, Mustang Motorcycle Products, Inc.

I’ve been working in the motorcycle industry and riding bikes for more than 42 years now and, truth be told, last week was the first time I ever set foot in Sturgis, South Dakota.

My boss — Mustang Motorcycle Seats President Al Simmons — pretty much insisted I fly with him to Sturgis, along with Gary Kendrick, our vice president of production. Al did the flying, expertly handling the controls of his own eight-seat Pilatus PC-12 turbo prop.

Another directive from my boss was that the three of us had to spend an afternoon riding in the famous Black Hills of South Dakota. After a leisurely tour of the well-traveled loop of Deadwood, Custer Park and the Needles, we approached our ultimate destination — Mount Rushmore.

No photograph I’ve ever seen of the place prepared me for the impact of actually standing beneath this monumental, man-made creation, surrounded by fellow bikers who also stood in awe before these inspirational carved granite figures.

Breaking the reverie, my cell phone indicated I had a voice message. It was the staff back at the Mustang booth with an urgent message for Al to call J&P Cycles as soon as possible. As most riders know, J&P is the premier motorcycle aftermarket retailer, started in the cornfields of Iowa more than three decades ago by owners John and Jill Parham.

As you may or may not know, John Parham publicly announced this spring that he was diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis back in 2007. There’s no cure for this disease — the only hope for extended survival is a lung transplant.

When Al called J&P, he was told that a suitable donor had been matched to John, and that John and his wife were flying from Iowa to the Cleveland Clinic for the surgery. Meanwhile, the Parham’s son, Zach, who is vice president of operations for J&P, was stuck in Sturgis overseeing the company store. Obviously, it was important that Zach see his father before an operation of this magnitude and time was of the essence.

Could Al fly Zach to Cleveland in time to see his father?

Good question. And it raised other questions. Al’s plane was in a hangar at the airport in Sturgis. Were there airport personnel available to pull the plane from the hanger and fuel it? Could a flight plan be filed in time? What was the name of the FBO (fixed base operator) in Cleveland? Would they be open if Al landed in the middle of the night?

We headed down the mountain in order to get better phone reception, and Al made the necessary calls to airport officials in both locations. When he was finished, he stood up in the small diner where we were seated, looked at me and announced, “Mike, I have to do this.”

My heart went out to Zach as I remembered how I felt the day my father went in for lung surgery nearly 45 years ago. I replied, “I know you do.”

Now, it was just a matter of getting it done in time. We knew we had a good hour’s ride to get back to Sturgis, so we jumped on our bikes and barreled back to the rally. Al picked up Zach and the two of them sped off to the airport, took off for Cleveland and landed in time for Zach to see his father before the surgery. Receiving Al’s early morning call from Cleveland brought me great relief.

What brought me more relief was to find that John’s surgery went beautifully and that he’s up and about — without the need for the oxygen paraphernalia that has hampered his movements for the past five months.

Looking back on my inaugural trip to Sturgis, I thought that first view of Mount Rushmore was the high point.  But I now realize that the other events of that day were much more inspiring as I witnessed the bonds of family and friendship.

7 Responses to “Sturgis Rally: Inspiration in the Black Hills of South Dakota”

  1. Tom August 17, 2010 at 8:33 pm #

    That’s awesome.

  2. Jeff August 17, 2010 at 9:39 pm #

    that is a great story guys hope you will have a chance in the future to pu blish more stuff like this.

  3. Emory Olzinski August 17, 2010 at 10:01 pm #

    Just another reason why I admire my step father. Best wishes to John and his family!

  4. Steve August 18, 2010 at 12:32 am #

    Mike, this is a great story and just confirms what we believed all along… that Al is good guy that is selfless when it comes to helping others. It is an honor to know Al and the Mustang team. Tell Al that we need to plan on repeating that trip that John missed last March when John is stronger and can join us.

  5. Jellyman August 18, 2010 at 12:54 am #

    The VERY FIRST thing I have done with each Harley I’ve owned is replace the saddle with a MUSTANG! When I bought my ’06 FXDCI I ordered the 2 up before I left the dealer. The most comfortable saddles made, PERIOD!

  6. Tom McGann August 19, 2010 at 3:09 pm #

    Nice recap of a good deed that personifies the values and sincere caring that place yourself and Al among the best people on the planet. Missed you at Sturgis, glad you made it.


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