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Stage 15 The Grand Finish

It's done. The most incredible event in motorcycling history has come to an end in the seaside city of Carlsbad, California. The group that set off from Atlantic City, New Jersey on Sept 10, 2016 arrived ragged and weary along the shores of the Pacific ocean, completing a glorious journey as the world cheered them along every single mile. Never before have 100 year old vehicles of any kind, let alone a gangly gaggle of motorcycles, crossed the span of our great nation under their own power so when 74 machines carried their riders to the checkered flag on Sunday afternoon, everyone knew this was the stuff of legend.

The final day's ride was a meager 101 mile jaunt but, just as every other day completed during the Race of the Century, it was not without drama. What started out as a warm and muggy morning during the green flag send off quickly became chilly as riders climbed over a 4,000-foot pass in the San Jacinto mountains before dropping into a dust storm on the valley floor. Beyond that, scenery along the two-lane country road was picturesque perfect. Swaying palm trees reminded us that we were, indeed, in sunny Southern California and the credo "California or Bust" had been realized even though 6 broken motorcycles were delivered to the finish line via flatbed.

Broken motorcycles weren't the only concern during the course of the run: broken riders were also part of the equation. Wounded rider #93 Scott Jacobs, who crashed on the second day of the race, and Jeff Lauritsen #22 who crashed on Saturday in Lake Havasu, were both in attendance, as was Hans Coertse who had been released from a Durango hospital the just day before. The bent and broken #22 motorcycle was pushed through the crowd to take its place next to its brethren as fans watched in somber respect. Jon Szalay's slightly charred #45 Thor rested just a few feet away, while Hans, having come all the way from South Africa to tour our back roads, completed every mile of the final day on his 1913 Matchless.

As difficult as the 16-day odyssey was, the rewards were even greater and the blood, sweat, tears, sleepless nights and stressful days suddenly seemed worth it all as the Cannonball clan gathered for dinner on Sunday evening. Past Cannonball rider Paul d'Orleans served as master of ceremonies and shared time at the microphone with an emotional Jason Sims, Director of Operations. Awards were presented to the riders who stood out, though Sims took the time to call the names of each rider, feeling that everyone in attendance deserved to be recognized for their successful passage. Out of the 90 souls who took the green flag in New Jersey, 16 held perfect scores for riding each of the 3,306 miles across 15 states, but it was Frank Westfall on his 1912 Henderson who won the bronze statue made by sculptor and past Cannonball rider, Jeff Decker.

Westfall has participated in each of the Cannonball runs and despite his close encounter with a diesel rig early on that left his bike battered and a bit of engine trouble that threatened to take him off the road, Frank still managed to ride every mile. His Henderson was the oldest of the 16 machines that held perfect scores. Besides his four transcontinental trips with the Motorcycle Cannonball, Westfall has also competed in the Great Race. No other man has traversed our country on a Henderson motorcycle more than Frank Westfall. "Hey, riding...it's what I like to do," he shrugged. "As we age, what do we look forward to? For me, it's riding."

Sims announced that Lonnie Isam, Jr, the Cannonball's founder, had been keeping track of the daily struggles of the Cannonball from home as he tended to his health. Lonnie was impressed with the efforts and arranged a special award he wanted to be presented to the one rider who most embodies the true spirit of the run. The Lonnie Isam, Jr Spirit of the Motorcycle Cannonball was presented to Class 1 rider Dean Bordigioni for his exceptional display of dedication and determination to get his 1914 HD belt drive single across the country. The award will be also be presented during all future Cannonball runs to the one participant who best exemplifies the gentleman's spirit of the Motorcycle Cannonball.

Also honored was Alex Trepanier, a 23-year-old who entered as a solo rider on a 1912 Indian single inherited from his father. Alex fought constant struggles but somehow kept his machine running well enough to complete 3,202 miles, most of it by peddling and pleading. His fellow warriors held a soft spot for young Alex as they offered parts and advice to help keep the undersized engine on the road.

Paul d'Orleans presented a Cannonballs award to the guy who demonstrated the most.. well...balls. Paul awarded a real cannonball to 1913 Shaw rider Brent Hansen who completed his 970 miles on a machine that has even less power than a Whizzer. If there were an award for going the slowest, the bike that was little more than a bicycle frame with a bitsy motor would certainly have won. Hansen spent the run riding on the shoulders of America's backroads and found comfort in the encouragement his fellow riders offered as they passed him up while he quietly peddled his machine along the scenic hills and dales.

If there was to be an award for the most fun participants, it most certainly would go to #52, Doc Hopkins and his sidekick sidecar gal, Dawn Hamilton who rode a 1915 HD with a beautiful wicker side car. The pair kept the world entertained with costumes, antics and constant social media videos as they gleeful completed every mile with a smile.

As attendants celebrated the accomplishments of the riders, the quiet backstory of the Motorcycle Cannonball was also acknowledged. Founder Lonnie Isam, Jr. was not in attendance as his failing heath prevented him from completing the ride, even though he'd worked for months to have his 1915 HD roadworthy. As rider #12, Lonnie shared 70 miles of New Jersey countryside with his friends before returning home to South Dakota to watch the race and tend to his health. As the Cannonball family shared accolades and awards, the man with great vision who founded the prestigious, difficult, incredible adventure that held the world's attention was noticeably absent, and missed. As a man of integrity, Lonnie is honest, dedicated, determined and designed the Cannonball to be a race of gentlemen and women with those same traits. His perception of what a true Motorcycle Cannonball rider is capable of is what we all strive to be. The 2016 Cannonball final banquet was the first time Lonnie wasn't present to congratulate the accomplishments of the weary warriors. The crowd honored him with a loud and heartfelt standing ovation meant to salute the man who has set fire to the imaginations of motorcyclists from around the world.

Stand tall, Cannonballers. You've fulfilled Lonnie's dream along wth your own goals, and achieved a great thing in the span of 16 days. You showed the world what you and your machines can do and you made history while doing so. Be proud.

Be sure to follow us on FaceBook at Motorcycle Cannonball Race of the Century.

 











 
 

 

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