Thousands of bikers celebrate Grand Nationals Weekend

By Beau Ebenezer

August 12, 2013 Updated Aug 12, 2013 at 11:58 AM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. -- More than 1,500 motorcyclists rumbled through downtown Peoria on Saturday to kick off the Budweiser Grand Nationals Weekend on the Peoria Riverfront.

"This ride today is the biggest that I have seen," said Germantown Hills rider, Ralph Farris. "Last year it was raining so that kept a few people away. Every year it looks like it is getting bigger and bigger because we're starting to get more people to ride."

"Everybody that has a bike loves to be in the parade," said Peoria rider, Joann Getz. "It's a fun thing, it's a good time and we have fun doing it."

The parade and festivities serve as a precursor to Sunday's 66th Annual Grand National Motorcycle Races held at PMC Park in Bartonville.

Riders on Saturday each contributed $15 to participate in the parade.

The parade was not only a fun time for riders, for many it was another way to use their hot rod to support a good cause.

A portion of their parade entry fee will benefit The Downed Riders Association, which helps cover medical expenses for pro-motorcycle racers.

"The biker racing doesn't quite have the insurances that NASCAR has, so we contribute to that," said event coordinator, Jay Goldberg.

For Washington rider Rex Heard the parade was just one of his contributions for the day.

"This is the biggest one," said Heard. "It's the biggest one of the year. I actually have a couple poker runs to go on today. There is one right after the other, but this is definitely the biggest one of the year for me."

The celebration on the riverfront lasts through Sunday.

The professional motorcycle practice heats begin at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday at PMC Race Park.

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