The clock continues to count down as kickoff draws near. The sound of motorcycles revving their engines roars in the distance, growing louder and louder. You can smell the gasoline fumes in the air, and the smell becomes more vivid as the motorcycles continue to make their way to the stadium.
A sense of excitement begins to grow. The hair on your arm stands up and you get a rush of adrenaline.
Finally, the five-minutes until kickoff mark hits. Smoke and the smell of gasoline — as well as adrenaline — are piped into the stadium. The deafening roar of 100 Harley Davidson motorcycles is consuming as they roll into Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
This will be the scene on Saturday as Kansas State football hosts Mississippi State for the 20th annual Harley Day. The pregame tradition will only add excitement to a Big 12-SEC matchup against the country’s 18th-ranked team that already carries intrigue.
It is a unique tradition that has become a staple of K-State football once each year, but how did such a tradition begin?
Well, it all started as most good ideas do — just two friends talking and dreaming.
In 1996, Lon Floyd was hired by then-K-State athletics director, Max Urick, to be the assistant athletics director. Floyd held his position for 19 years before retiring in 2015.
Floyd recalls Urick being an athletics director who wanted to provide the best game day atmosphere possible to K-State fans.
“Max loved to have a game day atmosphere around the game as well as the game itself,” Floyd said in a phone interview. “He wanted the fans to have the best fan experience in the Big 12. He thought that all the stuff around the game was important, as well as the game itself.”
Floyd continued, recalling the story of how the idea for Harley Day all began.
One night in back in 1998, Floyd and Urick were sitting on Urick’s back deck, where a road ran below.
“All of a sudden, a big ‘ole Harley rumbled by — we couldn’t even see it, we could just hear it,” Floyd said.
Urick looked at Floyd and grinned.
Urick said he thought a Harley would be a great way to fire the crowd up and told Floyd to look into it.
Every time I talk to Coach Snyder about it he just grins and shakes his head, and that’s enough for me to know that even he kind of likes it.
-Lon Floyd, former assistant Athletics director
The very next day, Floyd got to work. He called a man by the name of Jim Rose, and asked him if they could round up around 20 Harleys to circle inside the stadium before the game.
At the first Harley Day in 1998, 36 motorcycles showed up. As you can imagine, things looked very different 20 years ago.
The motorcycles themselves weren’t flashy, by any means.
“They weren’t shiny, they were really old fashioned Harleys,” Floyd said.
Floyd recalled that first Harley Day as a calm, humid day —so much so that the smoke from the motorcycles hung in the air, leaving a haze over the stadium until it was time for kickoff.
Harley Day has also changed in size, becoming more efficient to get in and out of the stadium in the allotted amount of time.
Floyd said that the last few years of his career that he organized Harley Day, they had around 130-140 participants. Now, the number has been cut down to 100.
Participants must apply and must be Ahearn Fund members to apply. The reason for cutting down the numbers to 100 is that the riders go onto the field five minutes prior to kickoff and must be on and off the field within that five minutes.
As for Floyd, he has never ridden in a Harley Day himself.
“I worried that I would be the one to lay [the motorcycle] down going around a corner in front of 50,000 people,” he said.
Riding motorcycles is the main attraction of Harley Day, but it is not the only thing that goes on.
Floyd said two women who ride every year use their talents to benefit the Ahearn Fund.
“We have one lady who knits a big throw for a bed and she incorporates K-State and Harley Day into it,” Floyd said. “Another gal that rides into it is a really good artist and has made some really good paintings with a Harley Day theme. We auction those off and raise $1,500 every year with those two items before the ride. That money goes into the Ahearn Fund as well.”
The Ahearn Fund is a fund primarily for athletics scholarships and facility improvements.
Floyd says he encourages people to not goof around so it doesn’t ruin the tradition or hurt someone. Out of every Harley Day through the years, Floyd can only recall one mishap.
In the fourth or fifth year of the tradition, a young man borrowed someone else’s motorcycle. When he left the stadium, and was going up a hill, he slipped the clutch, catching the motorcycle on fire.
Once, an opposing athletics director joked with Floyd that he would not allow Harley Day when his team came to play, because the noise of the motorcycles was so loud that the team had to halt its pregame talk.
For a pregame tradition that started on such a whim, it has become a mainstay for K-State football games. Floyd wasn’t so sure that fans would like it at first, but said that “the reaction we got from the crowd was so much that it just sort of became a tradition.”
Floyd also said he was worried how K-State football head coach Bill Snyder would feel about the Harleys, because Snyder did not really know about it.
“Every time I talk to Coach Snyder about it he just grins and shakes his head, and that’s enough for me to know that even he kind of likes it.”
After 20 years, the tradition has lived on and continues to fire up Wildcat fans.
“I still don’t know why it keeps on going,” Floyd said. “Every time they come around it just doesn’t lose its fervor. People seem to really like it.”