‘Absolutely amazing’: A Ride to Honor the Fallen, inaugural Pitmaster Challenge raise money for Saving Forgotten Warriors

Riders participating in A Ride to Honor the Fallen head to Smith Lake Park for the inaugural Pitmaster Challenge Saturday, June 22, 2019. Both events raised money for local nonprofit Saving Forgotten Warriors. (Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – More than 120 bikes with more than 200 riders participated in A Ride to Honor the Fallen Saturday morning according to Derrick Barton, president of the Jack Aces Riding Club, which organized the ride. Proceeds from the ride will benefit the local nonprofit Saving Forgotten Warriors.

The ride began at Hawg Engineering on U.S. Highway 278 West. As riders began checking in shortly before 9 a.m., they were treated to breakfast courtesy of Chick-Fil-A. Hawg Engineering owner Gary “Sarge” Sargeant was all smiles as the bikes continued to pour in for the morning ride.

“This is an incredible turnout. These guys have done a great job with this event,” he said.

Just prior to kickstands up, the large crowd of riders gathered for a prayer. Sarge opted to stay behind at his shop in case a truck was needed to assist a rider during the nearly 100-mile ride.

Chuck Shikle of the Jack Aces joked, “That’s more for the Harley riders. The Victory and Indian riders should be fine.”

The Cullman Police Department provided an escort for the ride, which wound all around the west side of Cullman County. Motorists patiently stopped and many waved as the group passed. Some even grabbed cell phones and recorded the event. Families stood in their yards and waved and marveled at the unexpected parade as it passed.

As the bikes made their way through towns like Curry and Arley in Walker County, they were not only met with enthusiasm but reminders of why the ride was taking place: to honor veterans. Posters with images of the men and women who served and gave their lives for their country adorned the light posts. Each poster a reminder of their sacrifices for our freedoms.

The ride concluded at Smith Lake Park to join the Saving Forgotten Warriors inaugural Pitmaster Challenge. An impressive crowd had already assembled for great barbeque, live music and other activities. The rumble of the bikes entering the park was an added treat to those who came out to enjoy the day.

The Pitmaster Challenge was already in full swing. Local band By All Means had just finished its set and kids were lined up for the mechanical bull. The heat of the day was not stopping folks from having a great time. Jason Willingham with special guest Jeremy Phillips kept the party going with a set of rock classics and today’s favorites.

Preston Green was there with his dad and stepmom, Stephen and Angela Green. He loved the mechanical bull and seeing all the bikes, especially the orange ones, he said.

Stephen and Angela Green are newcomers to Cullman, and Angela Green said, “We love all the things that Cullman has, all the little festivals. We didn’t have all of this where we lived in Jefferson County.”

The Greens had already tried all the barbecue and decided that Freddie Day Catering was their top choice.

Overall, the judges picked Freddie Day for Best Brisket and Sachmo’s Smokehouse BBQ for best ribs. The People’s Choice Award went to Robert Taylor from Integrity Auto Group.

As the final band, Shootin’ You Straight, was preparing to perform, the festival had to pause as severe thunderstorms rolled in. The rain and thunderstorms were relentless and unfortunately caused the day at Smith Lake to come to an end.

Despite the weather, the Pitmaster Challenge and A Ride to Honor the Fallen were proclaimed successes.

Saving Forgotten Warriors Founder Jeremy Hogan said, “Absolutely amazing. I am in awe. For it to be so successful in a two-month planning time period, to have that many riders was phenomenal. When they came pulling up to the park I was just blown away.”

Although the total is unknown at this time, Hogan said he knows the event raised at least $4,900. Hogan said he didn’t anticipate the first year of this event to be a huge money maker; he simply hoped to put on a fun event that was well received and build on it for next year.

“We hope to grow this even into a multi-day rally and welcome any ideas that people might have,” shared Hogan. “We have already been contacted by some national motorcycle organizations who hope to get involved next year. We are already planning for next year’s event where we will focus more on the fundraising aspects.”

Hogan thanked everyone for coming together in such a short amount of time to make the inaugural Pitmaster Challenge a success, saying, “The Jack Aces did a great job, and they do so many great things and events to help this community. (Organizers) Tiffany (Collins) and Danielle (Carnes) are the ones who really pulled this whole thing off. They took an idea and made it happen in less than two months. We couldn’t have done this without so many people who helped.”

Saving Forgotten Warriors is a nonprofit organization which advocates for the health, safety and well-being of veterans. For more information, visit www.savingforgottenwarriors.com.

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