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The AVR: American Victory Rally

By Michael Dapper

Victory Motorcycles 1998–2017 author Michael Dapper chronicles Victory Motorcycles’ favorite rally, the American Victory Rally (AVR). Predating company backing, first word of a Victory rally was uttered in 1999 in a Yahoo chat room amongst owners. It soon flourished into a highly-anticipated company-sponsored annual event that spanned over a decade. Ready more accounts of Victory Motorcycles engineering and development, rider-loyalty, and company initiatives in Victory Motorcycles 1998–2017 and on the Octane Press FUEL Blog.

          In Victory history, one acronym stands for “camaraderie, friendship, and coming together to celebrate our favorite motorcycles.” That’s AVR, which is how everyone referred to the American Victory Rally. The AVR was the company-sponsored get-together held annually for more than a decade in Spirit Lake, Iowa, home to the Victory final assembly factory where nearly every Victory was assembled.*
The AVR’s roots actually pre-date the company-backed events. In February 1999, while many owners were still awaiting delivery of their V92Cs, Victory owners started talking in their Yahoo chat group (precursor to the VMC) about meeting up in Spirit Lake later that year.
Per Victory legend Bill Toninato, riders from Michigan, Massachusetts, Texas, Kansas, Minnesota, and Iowa met in Spirit Lake in early July 1999. They stayed at the Shamrock Inn (now the Great Lakes Inn) near the factory and established the incredible camaraderie that Victory riders have enjoyed ever since.

It is believed that groups of Victory riders also met in Spirit Late in July of 2000 and 2001, and in 2002, Victory’s corporate marketing team hosted an official event for the first time.

The first gathering of Victory riders in Spirit Lake took place in early July 1999, when V92C riders from Michigan, Massachusetts, Texas, Kansas, Minnesota, and Iowa met up near the factory. On the Fourth of July, they celebrated the first anniversary of when bike No. 1 was built. Bill Toninato

          The Victory Homecoming was held May 4, 2002, at the factory, with most of the action taking place in the parking lot, where riders met their fellow riders and checked out the many bikes. The event started in Jackson, Minnesota, where riders gathered and rode en masse behind the Victory demo truck piloted by Scott Jarland to the factory. It was described thusly in the next issue of Victory Magazine:
"The spring sky was sunny and blue, yet there was the distinct sound of thunder on the morning of May 4 in Spirit Lake, Iowa. At noon, the thunder intensified, as if a storm front were rolling in from the farm fields just outside the resort town. When the source of the thunder arrived, there was no rain or hail, just the stirring sight of hundreds of Victory motorcycles rolling into town, led by the colorful Victory marketing transporter with its air horn blasting to kick off the first-annual Victory Homecoming Ride."

Bikes filled half of the factory parking lot during the first-ever company-sponsored event, the Victory Homecoming held May 4, 2002. Riders from across the country attended the one-day event. Michael Dapper

          Whew! The following year, the inaugural AVR was held, and it established the event’s traditional makeup: Vendors, demo rides, activities, concerts, and group meals were found at the Arnolds Park green space at the lakefront, and tours were offered at the factory.

At the first event called the American Victory Rally, the 2003 AVR, this custom-painted Vegas was parked near the factory, then used in demo rides originating from the shores of West Okoboji Lake (shown here). Victory riders were impressed by the paint scheme, and didn’t realize they were looking at what would become the original Arlen Ness Signature Series model. Michael Dapper

Wymer Motors was the Victory dealer in Spirit Lake in 2003, and was host to numerous AVR activities, including this group ride through the Iowa countryside. At this point, Victory models on the market included the V92C, V92SC, V92TC, and the Vegas. Michael Dapper

          With tremendous support from the factory staff, the event grew every year, with more vendors filling the lawn at Arnolds Park, more riders making the trek to their bikes’ birthplace, and more traditions being established. Victory had spokesman R. Lee Ermey—“The Gunny”—attend in 2012 and in 2013, the year your author feels was the best AVR ever. But it was also the final official AVR held in Spirit Lake.

Victory spokesman R. Lee Ermey–“The Gunny”–attended the AVR in 2012 and 2013. During an autograph session at the factory in 2013, he tried to scare some sense into Victory rider Jeff Martini. Michael Dapper

Rick Fairless of Strokers Dallas was among the vendors at the AVR in 2013. He sold apparel and custom accessories, and displayed several of his exotic Victory customs, including this Cross bike with the cartoon custom paint. Michael Dapper

           On April 14, 2014, the local newspaper, the Dickinson County News, reported: “The roar of bulldozers will take priority of the sound of visiting motorcycles for one year. Polaris Industries on Wednesday announced that it has called off the 2014 American Victory Rally due to an extensive expansion at the Spirit Lake location.”
Although the factory was undergoing a major expansion, the rally could still have been held. But corporate marketers didn’t share Victory riders’ connection to the factory town and didn’t want to return to Spirit Lake every year. A group of VMC members–many of whom already had lodging booked for August 2014–held an informal AVR, and Dave Bak of Bak Victory in Sioux City, probably the rally’s most loyal supporter over the years, was there to sell Victory apparel and offer oil changes as usual.

After a great AVR in Iowa in 2013, there was no official AVR in 2014, and the event was moved to Colorado in 2015. One day’s activities in 2015 were based at Bandimere Speedway, where Victory riders got to run on the drag strip. Michael Dapper

          In 2015, the AVR was held in Colorado as the corporate marketing team announced the event would be moved around the country. The event was incredible, and included a day at Bandimere Speedway, dinner that night at a mountain lodge, a ride to the top of Pikes Peak, and a VIP viewing spot for the legendary hill climb. But riders had short notice and few attended.
There was no AVR in 2016 and 2017, but a Spirit Lake-area tourism agency hosted the Boji Bike Rally. These rallies were open to riders of all brands, and included strong participation and support from Victory-Indian factory personnel. But Polaris announced in January 2017 that Victory was done, and the 2017 Boji rally had only Indian and Slingshot demo rides. The Victory business was done, and so was the AVR.
* Only two or three Victory Empulse TT electric bikes were assembled in Spirit Lake, and the remaining few were built at the Brammo factory in Oregon. The bike was originally a Brammo electric motorcycle until Polaris bought the motorcycle operation from Brammo.

Find more stories of Victory Motorcycles development, testing, history, and brand loyalty on the Octane Press FUEL Blog.
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