It’s been going on for 23 years, and each year it draws more participants, and more money is raised for the South Dakota Make-A-Wish Foundation. In its first year in 1995, Hot Harley Nights in Sioux Falls raised $3,200 for Make-A-Wish, with about 250 participants.
The event has gotten so big that it busted outside the Sioux Falls city limits. For the sixth straight year, Brandon was a part of this year’s Hot Harley Nights, which took place July 13-14. Volunteers in Brandon helped host a casino-run stop at McHardy Park that has become a highlight of Hot Harley Nights.
Brandon volunteers were expecting up to 1,200 riders to pass through the park, but that number seemed to be far surpassed. Bikes streamed down Splitrock Boulevard from Interstate 90, winding their way to the south end of town and into the park.
“I don’t know what the final number was, but it sure felt like there were a lot of people all of the time,” said volunteer Dana Clark of Clark Insurance in Brandon. “We had a blast. Everybody was having a really good time, and we talked to a lot of people who were very appreciative of the event. It was a great thing to be a part of.”
The event, which is the largest fundraiser for Make-A-Wish in South Dakota, raised $167,000 last year for the foundation. In the past 23 years, Hot Harley Nights has raised a total of $2.9 million — all of which stays in South Dakota.
“It’s a great chance for that community to come together for a common cause to support Make-A-Wish South Dakota, and to help create those life-changing wishes for kids with critical illnesses,” said Sue Salter, president and CEO of Make-A-Wish South Dakota. “We’ve heard a lot of positive feedback from the casino run this year in Brandon. The feedback was incredible, and we’re so appreciative.”
Businesses up and down Splitrock Boulevard were packed all day as the casino run went from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Deb Tarnow, manager at the BP gas station in Brandon, said their place of business is usually busy anyway during the summer on the weekend, but the July 14 Hot Harley Nights, combined with the Valley Springs Booster Days, was one of their biggest days.
Salter said all indications are that Hot Harley Nights was as big as it’s ever been with more people participating, staying longer and spending more money in the casino run communities.
The entire event is run by a hardy bunch of 500 volunteers, and they get their direction from one person. Char Roth is J&L Harley Davidson’s chief financial officer, and she’s helped run it since the beginning.
“It’s kind of like planning a wedding each year, except it gets bigger each year,” Roth said. “It’s always very well received in Brandon.”
Hot Harley Nights made six casino stops this year. Although Brandon is the furthest away, there’s an obvious Lynx connection to the event, putting Brandon in the spotlight.
Lonnie and Jim Entenman, founders of J&L Harley-Davidson, lived in Brandon for years, and current owners Jimmy and Joe Entenman graduated from Brandon Valley High School.