By Dave Ongie
As far as Johnson City mayor David Tomita is concerned, there are a couple of sounds that are distinctly American – the roar of a HEMI engine, and the growl of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
“When you hear that sound, you know what you’re listening to,” Tomita said. “You don’t have to see it.”
Tomita was on hand at a media event inside the Farmer’s Market Pavilion in Downtown Johnson City last Tuesday to announce the Harley Owners Group (HOG) – a club with over a million members worldwide – had selected Johnson City to host a rally in September of 2019 that is expected to draw well over 2,000 Harley-Davidson riders from around the world to our region. The event is expected to have an economic impact of nearly $3 million for Johnson City and the surrounding area.
Needless to say, numbers like that instantly made the roar of a Harley music to Tomita’s ears.
“We’ll love to listen to that symphony playing next September,” he said.
Moments after Tomita stepped away from the podium, another uniquely American sound brought the festivities to a halt as a freight train came barreling down the tracks that run next to the Farmer’s Market. Johnson City was born around a major railroad hub, and the City owes much of its prosperity to the trains that have rumbled through the city for nearly 150 years.
But lately the roar of motorcycles has become a more familiar sound as tourists who favor two-wheeled transportation have flocked to our area to ride the ribbons of asphalt that extend from Johnson City into the scenic mountains that loom on the horizon. The Southern Dozen – a list of 13 motorcycle rides originating from Johnson City – has caught the attention of serious riders, and the selection of Johnson City to host one of HOG’s rallies next year is evidence of the city’s growing stature among motorcycle enthusiasts.
Pete Schwab, the Southeast Regional Manager for Harley-Davidson, said community support and involvement weighed into HOGs decision to come to Johnson City.
“We’ve been working on this rally for almost four months already,” he said. “There are only four to six of these rallies held annually, and Johnson City was picked as one of those locations. I couldn’t be more excited for 2019.”
Schwab also cited the amazing support of Smith Brothers Harley-Davidson as a key factor in HOG’s decision to come to Johnson City. Smith Brothers has been in business for over 30 years and helped establish a local HOG chapter that has been in existence since 1988.
“I think all the folks that are going to show up for our event are going to be blown away by what we have to offer,” said Jason Smith, owner of Smith Brothers. “I believe this is going to show what our chapter and Harley-Davidson are all about.”
With riders pouring in from several different countries and from every corner of the United States, Billy Baxter of the local HOG chapter shares Smith’s optimism about next year’s event.
“We live in one of most beautiful places in the world to ride, and we want to share that with others,” Baxter said. “We’re looking forward to sharing a lot of things we take for granted with people who have no idea how wonderful this area is.”