Dixie Thunder Run to debut in Natchez

Published 12:02 am Sunday, August 30, 2015

NATCHEZ —Labor Day weekend, Natchez will experience the full force of the Dixie Thunder Run.

The event will mark the first time the annual motorcycle rally to support wounded veterans will come to Natchez.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant is expected to get in on the celebration.

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“He always rides in our Thunder Runs,” said Tony Shackleford, the run’s founder.

The event had its origins in Iraq, Shackleford said, when a group of Mississippi National Guard soldiers met in Southern Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005.

Shackleford, a 1st Sargent in the 2/114 Field Artillery of the 155th Armor Brigade, discussed holding a ride to help out the brigade’s injured with David “Zippo” Bland while deployed.

“We held our first ride in ‘06 when we got home, took the four guys who had been injured over there, handed our proceeds over to them,” Shackleford said.

The ride, Shackleford said, raised approximately $8,000. Once it was over, everyone wanted to do it again, Shackleford said.

“10 years later, here we are,” Shackleford said.

The event has grown since the first ride where, Shackleford said, approximately 100 riders participated. If the weather is good, Shackleford said, Natchez will see much more than that.

“We could have anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500,” Shackleford said, referring to the 2015 riders. “Maybe 2,000. Just depends.”

And, over the course of those 10 years, the event has raised approximately $250,000 to help soldiers.

Usually, Shackleford said, the Thunder Run is held in Meridian.

“Our riders wanted something different for our 10th anniversary,” Shackleford said.

So, Shackleford said, they started looking at hosting the run in another city. Philadelphia and Natchez were considered but, in the end, Shackleford said they picked Natchez because of its historic qualities and how accommodating it was.

Shackleford said Rene’ Adams, Natchez Specialties Meeting and Event Planning owner, was a big help in coordinating the event.

Adams said the event could be big for Natchez, given all the people who are coming from Louisiana and Mississippi.

“We know that there are people participating from Shreveport, Alexandria and Baton Rouge,” Adams said.

Other riders, Shackleford said, are coming from Tupelo, Jackson, Hattiesburg and Meridian.

And it’s getting pretty crowded as a result.

“The Grand was booked two weeks ago,” Shackleford said.

The Grand Hotel Natchez is the hosting hotel for the event, but other hotels are involved too, and not just because they’re booked. The first big event is at The Vue, commemorating a special day for the 155th.

“Friday is marking the 10th anniversary of the Thunder Run, and it’s also our 10th anniversary being home from Iraq,” Shackleford said.

Shackleford said it’s not a biker’s event only though. The weekend also includes street parties from 7 p.m. to midnight Friday on Main Street.

On Saturday, revelers can enjoy a party on the bluff with performers such as Eric Nanny & the Bushwacker Band.

“We’ve got music and entertainment lined up to start greeting these people starting at 12 o’clock,” Adams said.

Other live bands will keep the party going into the night, with a third street party at 7 p.m. Saturday on Main Street.

Shackleford said a Dixie Thunder Run tent would be available for revelers, allowing them to buy T-shirts, on which Bland, who died last October, is represented.

Raffle tickets for a Yamaha Viking 4-wheeler will also be available, Shackleford said, to help raise money for soldiers.

“The proceeds from this event goes to Operation First Response,” Shackleford said.

The event ends at 9 a.m. on Sunday with a memorial service on the bluff.