Rich in history, event is major player in local tourism, economy

Hotel parking lots around Folsom are home to a variety of race transporters this week, from those small and moderate in size, to others that are elaborate 18-wheelers wrapped in flashy graphics and brand logos. It’s race weekend around town as the Michael’s Reno Powersports Hangtown Motocross Classic gets underway at Prairie City State Recreation Area (SVRA) that’s just south of Highway 50 near where Prairie City Road meets White Rock Road. It’s the 55th edition of this annual affair, which brings much more than the excitement of both pro and amateur motocross to the region. 

While locals began to hit the track Thursday afternoon and return Friday for the amateur segment of the event, Saturday’s event will bring some of the top motocross racers from around the world to the region. The event brings national and international attention to Folsom, which has long been bannered as the host city for the event when it comes to lodging and tourism surrounding it. The event greatly benefits the city of Rancho Cordova as well, with many pro teams filling area hotels and patronizing local restaurants and other business types as they call the region home in the days leading up and trailing what is the longest running outdoor motocross event in the United States.

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If you have a conversation with anyone from Choose Folsom and the Folsom Chamber of Commerce, they will speak highly of the event and the attention it brings to the community of Folsom. The event is among the top event based tourism revenue generators locally, ranking not so far behind the annual Folsom Pro Rodeo in the way of attendance and tourism draw, all of which contributes to the local economy. 

“The annual Hangtown Motocross event is a proud Folsom tradition. The competitors and fans add to our economic vitality as they eat and shop in our Folsom businesses and support our lodging partners. Hangtown’s well-known brand offers Folsom national visibility,” are the words you’ll hear over and over when you talk to Joe Gagliardi, CEO of Choose Folsom and The Folsom Chamber of Commerce as this annual event arrives each year. 

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On average, some 20,000 spectators have been known to pack the grandstands and line the tracksides at Prairie City each year and organizers are hoping that trend continues when the gates open for pro competition Saturday. Over the course of the event, ticket holders normally witness more than 1,000 riders take to the dirt from the amateur level to the pros over the three day sting. 

While many will pack area hotels this week, others will reside on site at the park located south of Highway 50. Prairie City that has become a small city of tents and recreational vehicles since earlier this week. The Hangtown course and spectator experience provides great vantage points to watch all of the action.

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The Hangtown Motocross is managed by the Dirt Diggers North Motorcycle Club and has organized the competition at Prairie City since 1979. The race was originally held near Placerville, then in the small town of Plymouth, which it outgrew very quickly. 

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The club spends more than $200,000 annually to stage the competition. The club recruits sponsorships for the event each year, a necessary component to keep the affair running, considering that insurance alone today is well over $20,000 for the event and is just one of the many costs the club takes on to put the event on.

One aspect that many may not be aware of is that the Hangtown Motocross event benefits local charities each here. Throughout the years, the club has assisted various charities, among those is the locally known non-profit Friends of Folsom. The local charity group provides volunteer support for the event year after year, including setting up the course in the weeks ahead of it, managing parking on race day and helping with hospitality and vendor needs throughout the course of the event.  

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Each year, it is the funds donated to the organization from this event that kick starts the charities annual turkey drive funds where they provide holiday meals to over 10,000 families in need.  Additional profits from each event then go back into enhancing the facility for future events in a self-sustaining business model where more people win than just the guy on the podium.

To the competitor, the Hangtown Motocross is one of the most coveted trophies on the Pro Motocross Championship Series tour. On Saturday, the pro riders strut their stuff with practice as early as 8 am followed by racing that starts shortly after noon, all leading up to the grand finale. To purchase tickets that are now on sale starting at $25 for youth on Saturday and $60 for adults. For full pricing and full race information about the Hangtown Motocross Classic, go to hangtownmx.com. 

How it all began; Hangtown’s rich local history

Founded in March 1968, the Dirt Diggers North Motorcycle Club embarked on a plan to present a motocross competition that would bring top riders to Northern California. As a result, the Hangtown Motocross Classic was born.

The story of Hangtown started in 1967, when a group of local motorcycle enthusiasts met at Marion Pyle’s bike shop, the Orangevale Motorcycle Center. They hoped to bring big-time motorcycle racing to the area, and that meeting set the stage for the creation of the Dirt Diggers North Motorcycle Club. From the beginning, founders Ed Clark, Carl Cranke, Dave Duarte, Don Fallon, Don Fischer, Bill Groom, Kurt McKimmy, Gene Nunes, Ray Nelson, Bill Onga, Joe Pyle and Roy Tillus wanted to stage their own race and a big one at that!

The first Dirt Diggers North Motorcycle Club race was held at Murray’s Ranch outside of Placerville in 1969. The race took its name from the Gold Rush days, when Placerville was known as “Hangtown.” With a turnout of about 150 sportsman riders and 30 pros, the event (with its $600 pro purse) set the stage for Hangtown’s future. The day ended with Larry Mulock, Gary Bailey and Dick Mann sharing the winner’s podium.

Dirt Diggers North Motorcycle Club has hosted some of the wildest and most successful motorcycle events since the world of motocross came into being. However, the old days at the Placerville sand pit are now long gone, as are the hangovers and all-night parties. Also gone are “Bad” Brad Lackey hopping on the bulldozer to help build the track, the Saturday night mechanics’ races with 250cc Bultaco motors stuffed into minibike frames and more of the good old days.

All this changed when the race outgrew the sleepy hillsides of Placerville, with its two-lane roads and the old-fashioned thinking of some residents who didn’t like the changes brought by the races (or their thousands of spectators). So in 1979, the club and the Sacramento County Department of Parks and Recreation put together a permanent facility at the Prairie City OHV Park in Rancho Cordova. Eventually, the State OHV Department took control of the park and, in conjunction with Dirt Diggers North Motorcycle Club, has provided permanent sprinklers, fencing, restrooms, running water, gazebos, a state-of-the-art announcing tower and other facilities.

Hangtown Motocross Classic Saturday Schedule 

12:30 – 1 p.m. Opening Ceremonies 

1 – 1:10 p.m. 250 Class Sight Lap 

1:15 – 1:50 p.m. 250 Class Moto #1 

1:50 – 2 p.m. Podium Interviews 2 

2:10 pm 450 Class Sight Lap 

2:15 – 2:50 p.m. 450 Class Moto #1 

2:50 – 3 p.m. Podium Interviews 

2:50 – 3:30 p.m. HALFTIME 

3:30 – 3:40 p.m. 250 Class Sight Lap 

3:45 – 4:20 p.m. 250 Class Moto #2 

4:20 – 4:30 p.m. 250 Winners Circle 

4:30 – 4:40 p.m. 450 Class Sight Lap 

4:45 – 5:20 p.m. 450 Class Moto #2 

5:20 – 5:30 p.m. 450 Winners Circle

Bill Sullivan
Author: Bill Sullivan

Bill Sullivan has over 25 years of professional journalism and content creation experience in which he has earned 37 professional awards. He is the co-founder/publisher of Folsom Times an All Town Media LLC product.