Dixie Iron Riders pull 287 bikers together to help tornado victims

Riding two-abreast, the riders still couldn’t see the beginning or even started the ending of their ride.

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

Riding two-abreast, the riders still couldn’t see the beginning or even started the ending of their ride.

Mike Kirby tried to gauge the length of the line of motorcycles following him through the tornado-ravaged Greenback and Brickmill communities Sunday, but the motorcycles just kept coming.

When the president of the Dixie Iron Riders couldn’t see the end of the caravan he was leading, his smile was as wide as the line was long.

The ride came together almost as quickly as the tornadoes invaded Blount and Loudon counties, with the Dixie Iron Riders pulling together the first charity ride they sponsored themselves in 10 days. And the motorcycle community responded. There were 287 motorcycles carrying 421 riders. At the end of the day, The American Red Cross had $9,364 to benefit the Disaster Relief Fund of the Blount County Chapter.

“I never saw the tail end of it,” Kirby said. “We couldn’t have even hoped for a better response.”

The Dixie Iron Riders are experts in organizing charity rides, with hundreds under their belts. Their weekends are normally filled in more than half of the months of the year. And one of the reasons a Dixie Iron-led ride is so successful is the meticulous attention and time the group puts into organizing each ride.

But this was the first ride the organization had pulled together itself, and it all happened in 10 days.

Kirby was touched and a bit awestruck at the response. Earlier in the week, he had said he hoped to top their largest ride to date, which was 124 motorcycles.

“The event just came together in the days after the tornado,” he said. “Bill Kilgore and I started making phone calls, and it started snowballing,” he said.

Kirby said agencies like United Way and Blount County Chapter of the American Red Cross and businesses like Kroger of Maryville got involved right away and helped pull everything together.

“We had most of the ride set in the first two days,” Kirby said.

Lynn Cox, one of the managers of the Kroger in Maryville, prepared hotdogs for the riders to thank them for their support.

“That’s what we do at Kroger,” he said. “Our business is a big part of the community, and it’s only right we give back to the community that has given so much to us.”

Michelle Hankes, president and CEO of the United Way of Blount County, praised those who turned out to support the Red Cross Disaster Fund and those families affected by the tornado. “These are our friends and neighbors, and this is what Blount County does,” she said.

Bill Kilgore, public information officer for the Dixie Iron Riders, thanked the Red Cross volunteers for their efforts in Greenback and Brickmill. “They stepped up and did the work.”

Kilgore also thanked those who helped plan the event, including Kirby, Hankes, Red Cross interim director Jess Hernandez, Jim Ford with Chroma Graphics, Tara Rasher, Rob McDonald and Lt. Randy Ailey with the Blount County Sheriff’s Office. “It shows how people will step up and help their neighbors,” Kilgore said.

State Court of Criminal Appeals Judge D. Kelly Thomas participated in the ride. “We’re pulling together as a community and helping those who are having a hard time,” he said.

Dr. Tim McConnell, a Maryville dentist and motorcycle rider, said he wanted to support those residents in Greenback and Brickmill. “It’s sad that we have this kind of devastation right in our back yard,” he said. “With 287 motorcycles, it shows you how strong the support is.”

The Rev. David Cooper, pastor of New Life Ministry Christian Center, praised those who turned out to ride and raise money for the Red Cross’ Disaster Relief Fund. “I’m truly amazed at how much this community can do when they pull together,” he said.

Jeff Mitchell of Maryville said that while the weather was perfect for a ride, “the cause is what got my attention.”

Hernandez thanked everyone for turning out for the ride before the motorcycles pulled out of the Shed at Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson.

“We’re going to continue to be with these families. The Red Cross is going to be there,” he said. “From the bottom of my heart, we appreciate you.”

The ride proceeded down West Lamar Alexander Parkway to U.S. 129/U.S. 411 South and stopped on the side of the highway to look at some of the damage from the tornado. From there, the motorcycles turned onto Highway 95 and traveled through Greenback back to West Lamar Alexander Parkway before they finished up at the Red Cross offices in Maryville.

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