Quail Motorcycle Gathering Overcomes Rain—and a Drop in Corporate Sponsorship

a motorcycle on a stand
Quail Moto Gathering Beats Rain and CorporationsMark Vaughn

The rain was one thing, you can handle a little rain. Or a lot of rain. At the annual Quail Motorcycle Gathering in Carmel, California, it rained the entire time, two inches of the stuff over the course of the show’s six or so hours. The Quail Motos had never been rained on before in all their 14 years. So maybe it was time. And organizer Gordon McCall, director of motorsports for the Peninsula Signature Events, took it in stride.

“It’s proof that just about every motorcyclist owns an EZ-Up,” McCall quipped.

Indeed, the number of pop-up shelters covering motorcycle displays was impressive. Word was the local Target had sold its last one at about 9:00 p.m. Friday night.


And the hardy—or those who had already paid for tickets—showed up regardless. But out of 300 motorcycles scheduled to appear, maybe only 180 made it, McCall estimated.

Most surprising was some of the moto legends who allowed the weather to shift their plans. Four-time 500cc world champ Eddie Lawson reportedly got an hour outside of his Lake Havasu garage and, seeing the weather report, turned his moto-bearing trailer around and went back home. Three-time world champ Wayne Rainey, a longtime supporter of the show, was there, but opted to keep his race bike in the trailer.

“I said, ‘You ran Hockenheim in the rain at 200. Come on, man!’” said McCall.

a person on a motorcycle
Best of Show went to Vic World’s 1968 Honda CB750 Factory Prototype.The Quail

But the show must go on.

“Moto America runs races in the rain, so we can run a show in the rain,” said McCall.

They had those free plastic ponchos for anyone who wanted one, and they were selling umbrellas in the T-shirt tent for a reasonable price.

But it wasn’t the rain that irked McCall the most, it was the same thing that irked the Progressive Motorcycle Show organizers when that wonderful tour had to fold a couple years ago, or the L.A., Detroit, Tokyo, Paris and all the other auto show organizers when their events crashed and burned along with the pandemic: iI was the lack of sponsorships from motorcycle and auto manufacturers.

“It’s interesting, the manufacturers that aren’t willing to support the industry that supports them,” McCall said. “I have a problem with things like that.”

Hey, get in line.

a couple of men standing next to a motorcycle in a grass field
Well-prepared motorcycle fans were undeterred by the weather.The Quail

He mentioned one manufacturer in particular, then later tracked me down on the field and asked me not to mention them by name. But it’s just as well, the problem is bigger than one moto- or auto manufacturer. Changing budgets and the rise of highly targeted internet marketing mean motorcycle and car manufacturers aren’t supporting traditional shows like this, or Tokyo, Detroit, L.A., Geneva, etc. etc.

a person in a red jacket
Gordon McCall, 19 feet tall.Mark Vaughn

Yamaha was there, God bless ‘em. Yamaha has been at every Quail since the first one in 2010. Indian had a booth. Morgan West, a dealer in Santa Monica, brought a Super 3.

“I look at (corporate communications manager) Bob Starr with Yamaha, Bob’s in here every year, and it’s next to no money for a company to be here to support this, and he gets it, he gets this is the lifeline of their business. They’re not selling motorcycles today, but it’s connecting with the community.”

The main sponsor for this year’s Quail Motorcycle Gathering was not a corporation but a particularly charitable motorcycle and motorsport enthusiast named Leslie Stretch, the recently retired CEO of data acquisition company Medallia. Stretch supplied the three gorgeous Ducati race bikes parked under a big tent by the main stage. People appreciated those bikes, and Stretch’s support, whether they knew about it or not.

Once the gates opened to the general public, the place was (mostly) packed. Those who braved the rain saw celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the Suzuki Hayabusa, the 30th anniversary of the mighty Ducati 916, the 100th anniversary of the American Motorcyclist Association, and even Vespa scooters. That covered a broad range of bikes.

And in between those were classes for just about everything else: the “British” class (overrun with magnificent Vincent Black Shadows!), American, Italian, Japanese (a group many concours have yet to acknowledge), “Other European,” Competition Off Road, Competition On Road, Custom/Modified and—yeehaw!—“Choppers.” If something on that list doesn’t arouse your interest, perhaps you should buy a Volvo.

AMA and Motorsports Hall of Fame motocross rider Ricky Johnson was honored during the event for his contributions to the sport and the two-wheeled community, taking the stage with Wayne Rainey and McCall for a fireside chat. And there was general hardiness in the face of rainy adversity.

Yet McCall still fumed, in his polite and erudite way, against the lack of corporate sponsorship and participation.

“How about instead of looking at it as, ‘How can you monetize this and add new-unit sales,’ how about connecting with your past and the people that made your past possible? I don’t see a downside in that, I really don't.”

You will find kinship with car and moto show organizers the world over, Gordon.