WINTERPORT, Maine — “God, I love the smell of burning rubber in the morning,” bellowed the announcer as two bikers on Harley-Davidsons, enveloped in a cloud of smoke, pealed off from the start line at the Winterport Dragway on Saturday.
About 600 leather-clad bikers from as far away as Maryland traveled to the 16th annual weekend rally of The Exiles, a Maine-based motorcycle group dedicated to the culture of the Harley-Davidson. Despite overcast and drizzly skies, spirits were high at the event, which featured drag racing, women’s mud wrestling, live music and the ritual nighttime burning of a “Jap bike,” according to Matt Gould, president of the Green Lake chapter of the club.
“We’ll run it wide open until it either seizes up or explodes, and then we’ll burn it,” Gould said with grim anticipation in his voice.
On Saturday morning, the sacrificial Yamaha 750 was positioned high above the drag strip on a Druidic wooden tower with a massive pile of scrap lumber and other fuel beneath it.
Gould, who met his wife, Annette, at the Winterport rally 10 years ago, said the event is a family affair. Several children of all ages were there with their parents, including Gould’s 3-year-old daughter, Violet.
Membership in The Exiles is limited to individuals who ride motorcycles with engines of 750 ccs or larger, said Tim Levesque of Bar Harbor, who was selling tickets at the gate. Harley-Davidsons are the norm, but not required, he said.
“But most of them ride Harleys, because they don’t like to take a ribbing,” Levesque said.
Billy “Animal” Gaudet of Bangor has been around The Exiles “since day one,” he said. Injuries from a motorcycle accident in 1987 left him wheelchair-bound, but the 60-year-old remains an active member of the group.
“They didn’t abandon me when I got hurt,” he said.
On Saturday, Animal was manning a two-way radio system and a laptop computer from inside his customized camper trailer, helping to ensure the event went off without a hitch.
And it did. Gould, his voice hoarse from shouting above the deafening roar of engines, said Sunday that the rally weekend was a rousing success, with partiers enjoying the destruction of the Yamaha, live music including local bands Gilpin Railroad Incident and Rant on Friday, and dancing late into Saturday night with Over-soul.
“I’m a little tired today,” Gould said Sunday.