STURGIS, S.D. – For the 14th year in a row, the Sturgis Mustang Rally has been an enthusiast destination event for Mustang fans from all around the United States. You may have heard of Sturgis, South Dakota, for its famous motorcycle rally, which takes place a few weeks before the annual Mustang Rally. But in the first weekend of September each year, Mustangs own the streets of Sturgis. From a Car Show and Poker Run, to Drifting and an Autocross, the Sturgis Mustang Rally is a top, one-stop Labor Day holiday getaway. It’s just that for most attendees, it’s quite a ride just getting there.
This year, Ford Performance made the 2,400-mile round trip from Dearborn to Sturgis in our Club Connect Ford Transit, which was a far different experience than a few shows ago when we made the drive like most every other enthusiast, in a Ford Mustang. We trekked through six states, and saw many interesting sights along the way. But we have to admit that when we finally arrived in South Dakota, we would have better-appreciated that state’s 80 mph speed limit had we been driving in a new Mustang. But the Transit was a necessary choice this time around, as we were hauling our display to set up our now-familiar Ford Performance Meet & Greet tent at the show.
Nevertheless, it was incredible to head through the Badlands and see the wide open plains, plus the natural rock formations that are unlike anything we find in the Midwest. During our stay in South Dakota, we also experienced some other wonders, such as Mount Rushmore and picturesque sights of Sturgis. The memorable drive and the scenic-backdrop photo ops are just a couple of reasons why the Sturgis Mustang Rally is as much a family friendly getaway than it is a must-see car show attraction.
For those looking to get the full experience of a Sturgis Mustang Rally. Things kicked off on Tuesday, September 1st, beginning with a Moonlight Cruise that opening night. Early arriving cruisers from just about everywhere were able to get an idea of their surroundings and experience the countryside views of South Dakota before the big show crowds got to town. Once you get settled in, the real fun begins on Wednesday with an autocross presented by BFGoodrich at the Thunderdome, located just outside of downtown Sturgis. It’s here where the Rally spends most of its time with all the vendors, mini-events and displays as well as live music. If you seek adrenaline-pumping burnouts and some friendly Mustang competition, then Thursday is one day you won’t want to miss. It’s on this day that the Rally holds its annual burnout contest, followed by a launch-box competition. Here Mustangs will launch from a start line and try to come to a full stop just 60 feet ahead; those with the fastest start/stop times will be declared the winners.
Friday afternoon is when we rolled into Sturgis after our two-day drive across the country. Upon navigating our way from a nearby hotel to the Thunderdome, we made it there just in time to check out one of the main events, Barrel Racing. Typically this type of event is done on horseback, but the Rally decided that doing so in a Mustang is close enough. One thing is for sure, it provides a great deal of entertainment for the attendees! Anyone from rookie drivers to experts who want to put their driving abilities to the test are allowed to participate. We witnessed a few cars come into contact with barrels -- which immediately disqualifies you, but to no great harm. We even saw a few try their hand at sliding a car around the barrels, drifting style.
Speaking of sliding and drifting, the event that followed the barrel races was one of our favorites -- the drift exhibition. While the big names such as Justin Pawlak, Chelsea Denofa, and Vaughn Gittin Jr., were all tied up competing in their first and second rounds of Formula Drift, a local drift team from Rapid City, South Dakota, put on a spectacular show for the Rally crowd. Running on the same course next to the Thunderdome as the barrel races, the team used the barrels as clipping points while out in front of the cheering spectators. There was also a larger back parking lot which was closed off that the drivers could use for higher-speed runs. Of the four cars that were used in the drift exhibition, two were Fox Body mustangs, and two were SN-95 mustangs. The red Fox Body seen in our photos was equipped with a 5.0-liter Coyote engine topped with a ROUSH Performance supercharger, giving the light Fox chassis plenty of oomph to power through drifts. Once the sun fully set and the darkness fell over the course, the drift cars headed back to the pits where drivers met with spectators to offer an up-close look at the cars.
The next morning was the start of the annual Show and Shine Cruise, hosted on the world famous Main Street in Sturgis. Ford Performance arrived bright and early to setup our giveaway tent. This year, the lucky attendees lined up for FREE full-color Shelby GT350 posters, Shelby snake stickers, and our collectible Ford Performance wristbands. Looking just to the right of our display you could see several of the “SMR Edition” Mustangs. If you’re unfamiliar with these cars, the Rally has been giving away a Ford Mustang each year since the show’s inception in 2006. Many of the past winners, such as the 2017 ROUSH Stage 3 seen in our photos, make the trip back to the Rally each year to claim their special parking spot at the front of the show.
When the line for Ford Performance Mustang posters began to slow down, we made our way outside of our tent and decided to take a stroll around the show field to see what this big event was all about. Down the main strip you could see Mustangs of all models and trims for about as far as the eye could see. On top of that, each side-street that ran perpendicular to the main drag held parking for individual vehicle classes, such as the row of Shelby’s seen here, gathered to create their own “Snake Pit.” Other groups we noticed included the ROUSH Road Crew and an assortment of early 2000’s SVT Mustang Cobras.
After we noticed the vehicles in the show starting to pack up and head out, we did the same. Then later, we headed out to one of the last events of the Rally, Drag Racing at Sturgis Dragway, just a short drive away from the Show and Shine location. The basic setup here is Bracket racing and the rules follow all those of the NHRA. So if you have a 2.3L SVO Fox Body or fully modified Shelby Supersnake, all are welcome and stand a chance of taking home first place. Attendance here was strong, since most of the crowd spent a good portion of their day at the earlier events as well and wound up here to top off their time. One car in particular that stood out at the Drag Races was an early-1970’s Mustang that ran a mid-5-second pass on Sturgis’ 1/8th-mile track, which happened to be one of the fastest cars of the night.
Once Sunday morning rolled around, it was time for us to begin our journey back home, but for some Sturgis showgoers, the event was not yet complete. Starting bright and early, the Autocross picked back up at the Thunderdome with the Ladies class, and second round for the Men. This would continue through the day until a winner of each was declared right around dinnertime. Once Autocross wrapped up, you could then head inside the Thunderdome for the official end of the Rally which each year is marked by a Banquet Dinner, Awards Ceremony from the Saturday show, and vehicle auction. This year the Sturgis Mustang Rally Car was a red 2020 Mustang California Special from Scott Peterson Motors, which is the local Ford Dealer in these parts. Be sure to start planning your road trip now for the 15th Annual Sturgis Mustang Rally, which takes place the first weekend of September in 2021!
FORD PERFORMANCE PHOTOS / COURTESY MARCUS CERVANTES