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Motorcyclists have many stories to tell at annual festival

MANATEE -- For some bikers, their life story can be read in their gleaming machines.

Korean War veteran Richard Blake is one of those.

The 83-year-old has been riding motorcycles more than 65 years.

An Ellenton resident, he is one of hundreds of local riders taking part in the 14th annual Thunder by the Bay Motorcycle Festival this weekend.

Saturday, Blake brought his 2007 trike to Manatee River Harley Davidson, 624 67th St. Circle E., Bradenton, for Dealer Day.

“I raced motorcycles before the Korean War. I raced until I got married,” Blake said.

He spent most of 1952 in Korea as part of Dog Company, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. In fact, there is a plaque on the side of his engine that contains that biographical detail, as well as the words Pfc. R. Blake.

He was a machine gunner at the Punch Bowl, where some of the bitterest fighting of the war took place.

His Harley has pineapple grenades for foot rests, machine gun cartridges for decoration along the bike’s flank, and a painting on the fuel tank of the air-cooled machine gun he fired during the war.

“This is my life. This is what I put my money into,” said Blake, who was born in Harlem, N.Y., and worked most of his life as a Cadillac auto mechanic.

He was also a volunteer firefighter for 42 years.

Terry Westervelt, director of the Manatee Florida HOG organization (Harley Owners Group), said that every member of the club has a story to tell.

Westervelt has ridden motorcycles for more than a half century.

Now 74, he retired 12 years ago from Conley RV, and rides a three-wheel motorcycle.

The three wheeler is easier for older riders to handle.

“As an older rider, you know who your best friend is?” he asks.

Then he answers with a smile: “Your doctor.”

Scott Kessler, general manager of Manatee River Harley Davidson, said the company discontinued making sidecars in 2010 and introduced the three-wheelers.

“They are very popular,” Kessler said.

Westervelt points out that there were six of them in the parking lot at that very moment.

Another of those who attended Dealer Day was Jerry Reek, 77, who has been riding since he was 15 and has five motorcycles.

One of the bikes he wishes he still had is a 1950 Harley he owned while serving with the Marine Corps in San Diego during the Korean War era.

Reek had a Chevy dealership up north and sold Dodges for 21 years after moving to Bradenton.

His love of bikes has taken him to Daytona and Sturgis.

In 2007, he and a small group of riders rode to Alaska, a 10,000 mile trip, he calculates.

“Being out and around, meeting new people, making friends, and enjoying the weather,” he said is what biking is all about.

The bike fest provides a good time for bikers and spectators, and also raises money for Suncoast Charities for Children.

Thunder by the Bay continues 11 a.m.-6 p.m. today in downtown Sarasota on Main Street.

Bands will be per- forming live on the Jagermeister Stage, and there will be a 15 class bike show.

Also today, a “Cruise for Cash” Scenic Beach Ride is slated. Registration is 9-11 a.m. at O’Leary’s Tiki Bar and Grill, 5 Bayfront Drive, Sarasota.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 941-745-7021. Tweet @jajones1


What: 14th annual Thunder by the Bay Motorcycle Festival with live bands and bike show

When: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. today

Where: Main Street, downtown Sarasota