Thousands drawn to Florence
The population of Florence swelled more than tenfold this weekend as motorcycle riders and race enthusiasts — not to mention friends and supporters — crowded into town for the Flint Hills Bent Rims’ 2023 Florence Grand Prix.
The 501 registered racers came from Kansas, Colorado, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas, Vermont, Arkansas, and other states to compete.
Bud Lee, who placed third in 1972 and now lives in Wichita, was one of this year’s official starters, firing a shotgun to signal the beginning of each heat.
One vintage motorcycle rider rode through the practice lap with a chicken hood over his helmet.
Another returned to his supporters and said, “I won the practice, boys.”
His friend pulled his T-shirt up to his neck and said, “I’ll be standing like this when you go by.”
The racer said, “I might stop a bit.”
Members of Christian Motorcyclists Association set up a tent next to city hall and gave out water, coffee, pamphlets, and assistance.
“We help in the pits and do bike blessings,” said member Tom Sweet of Winfield.
All the things the club does are free, Sweet said.
“The love of Jesus was free to us,” he said.
At the first shotgun blast, vintage riders mounted their motorcycles and roared south while onlookers cheered and snapped photos on their cell phones.
A father and his son rode down the spectator side of the street in a black vintage kiddy car with a red seat.
Youths rode minibikes down the street.
Michigan resident Douglas Sweet, in the county working for Sunflower Wind Farm, stood next to a fence to watch a race he’d hoped to be part of. He was one day past the deadline when he tried to sign up.
J.T. Dieckgrafe of South Bend, Indiana, watched racers whiz down 3rd St. and named the horsepower of each passing motorcycle.
He and his son, Ryan Dieckgrafe of Derby, sold commemorative patches they had made in Andover.
J.T. has been an avid motorcyclist since he bought his first cycle in 1969. He’s been familiar with the Grand Prix since “back in the day.”
He raced in the 2022 Grand Prix, but this year is recovering from hip replacement.
J.T., traveling with his poodle, Keeper, was on the first stop of a multi-state vacation that will include stops at Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Rocky Mountain national parks.
Mike and Justin Brady, both of Haysville, watched the vintage racers pass as they waited for modern races.
“We are not worried about where we finish,” Justin Brady said. “We’re just out for having fun.”
At a campground after the vintage race, Philip Feutz of Wisconsin hosed off sweat and dust under a garden hose and toweled off.
“I survived,” he said. “I finished.”
Will Jackson of Madison, Illinois, was part of the same group. What drew him hundreds of miles to the race was the fact that it is a grand prix, with racers going along brick streets and across country.
For Ben Bowers, a race organizer, the race was like a family reunion. His son, Rustin, 17, finished 11th in the modern pro category and first in the historical 200 class.
His daughter, Jada Bowers, placed third in the vintage powder puff race.
Ben placed eighth in the modern pro race and first in the vintage open race.
“I’m pretty sure I got the Iron Man,” Bowers said.
Two of Bowers’ cousins came from Arvada, Colorado, and Oskaloosa, Oklahoma.
Other family members came from all over to support the Bowers racers.
Vendor booths saw steady customers, and food booths did brisk business. Local eateries were packed as well.
Spectators crowded sidewalks, curbs, and benches and stood shoulder-to-shoulder along a fence to watch the race. They also sat in chairs along side streets as racers passed.
American flags hung from trees and were tucked into helmets.
Carol Callahan and Fletcher Ensley set up a booth in front of a house at 120 4th St. Callahan sold crafts, spicy Chex mix, craft items, jellies, pickles, lavender sachets, flavored mustards, coasters, decorated corks and pine cones, and an assortment of other items.
Fletcher did a booming business selling freshly squeezed lemonade.
The original Florence Grand Prix began in 1972 when the city celebrated its 100th anniversary. The race was revived in 2022 for the city’s 150th anniversary.
This year’s race was under the planning and direction of Flint Hills Bent Rims club.