Breaking Bias: SmokeOut encourages respect, education and acceptance of motorcycle culture

Published 12:10 am Sunday, September 11, 2022

SALISBURY — The SmokeOut motorcycle rally returned to a supportive community for a weekend of leather, art, support and connection.

The event has been taking place in Rockingham after it was voted out by previous Rowan County commissioners. With an opportunity to bring the rally back, Chris and Heather Callen returned the world of choppers and motorbikes to the Rowan County Fairgrounds with displays of  bikes and their riders’ creativity.

When attendees walk into the main building of the grounds, they are welcomed to a giant banner of SmokeOut’s Hall of Fame members from 2018 onward. Posters detailing the history of the event and its impact across the globe tell of the early days of motorcycle meetups from the Smokey Mountains to Arizona.  Remembrances note that Richie “Pan” Panerra and Mike Napolitano were struck and killed by a car while crossing the street at SmokeOut 2015.

Local motorcycle community members were in attendance and the Salisbury Harley Owners Group chapter raffled off baskets of T-shirts and other goods while recruiting more members to their organization. This year marked their first time at SmokeOut.

“You don’t need a Harley to ride with us,” said Director Bobby Curlee. “But you got to own one to be a member.”

The group prides itself as being a chapter “where lasting relationships are formed, where laughter is heard, where plans for dinner rides and fundraisers come to life and where memories are made.” Over 60 members are currently enrolled in the Salisbury HOG chapter.

Charlotte’s Concerned Bikers Association also represented motorcyclists with awareness of driving safety and inattentive blindspots. Husband and wife duo David “Twiggy” and Catherine “Mrz. Cat” Terwilliger spun a free raffle wheel to give visitors merchandise while sharing the purpose of the Look Twice NC campaign.

“We’re here to teach young drivers about how to share the road with all vehicles, not just motorcycles,” said Catherine Terwilliger.

Her husband serves as N.C. legislator director for the organization. With this association, House Bill 200 passed in 2011, requiring all high school students to receive at least one hour of motorcycle safety and awareness training in order to complete the 30-hour N.C. driver’s education class. Mrz. Cat teaches the program and tests her students on what is expected when it comes to motorcycle culture while decked out in assorted wigs and leather attire.

She shared her story of being a motor-mom of six children, trained opera singer, cancer patient, practitioner in law, multimillionaire and homeless individual in her lifetime. Despite what is typically judged on the outside, every biker has a unique story, she said.

“We have a certain amount of conscious bias that needs to break,” she said.

Look Twice NC so far has been taught in nine counties across the state, with over 500,000 students learning about road safety. The program covers motorcyclists and defensive driving, explaining why they do what they do and how they do it.

SmokeOut was prime time for the Terwilligers to promote Look Twice NC while educating rally goers about safety on the road. A free online seminar can be found on NC Motorcycle Safety & Awareness Facebook page Friday from 7 to 7:45 p.m. during a live presentation on motorcycle awareness.

The weekend’s events will conclude today, starting at 8 a.m. with a pancake breakfast in the morning followed by a church service and the blessing of the motorcycles.