Gary Stroud returns to Harley-Davidson of Valparaiso after 25-year hiatus

Gary Stroud returns to Harley-Davidson of Valparaiso after 25-year hiatus

The need for speed and the freedom of a race track have been Gary Stroud’s passion. Stroud, a motorcycle enthusiast since the age of 14, has been an icon in the motorcycle community for nearly 35 years. Stroud recalled some early moments of tinkering during his childhood.

“My dad was a gunsmith growing up, and I would help him load shotgun shells for trapshooting,” Stroud said. “I wasn’t very good at any sports, but I was real good at shooting clays, so my dad would drag me everywhere to trapshoot.”

Stroud became interested in motorcycles once motocross gained popularity in the United States during the late ‘60s. Stroud began to realize his talent when it came to racing bikes. He bought his first bike in 1968 with the money he earned from helping his father with the gunsmithing business.

“Early on, I began to realize that I was good at racing,” Stroud said. “I was finishing in the top three in every race, and my folks supported and believed in me. We bought some property from a farmer in 1975 to make a track out of. It wasn’t good farmland due to it being hilly, but it made a heck of a track. The track was called Hawthorne Raceway, and we ran it from ‘75-’76.”

Stroud’s family ran the track for two years. During that two years Stroud was accepted into Local 395 as an ironworker. Stroud’s business acumen was accelerated when he was contacted by Harley-Davidson after responding to an ad in the Gary Post-Tribune.

“I got a letter saying I was accepted into Local 395’s apprenticeship program, and I had a representative from Harley talking to me about opening a shop,” Stroud said. “So I had two very big opportunities happen in my life at the same time.”

Stroud and his parents opened their own Harley-Davidson dealership in 1976. Stroud would work in the shop until the early hours of the morning after working 12-hour shifts as an ironworker. He left Local 395 to devote all of his time to the dealership.

“I was working constantly,” Stroud said. “I’d be ironworking for 12 hours or so, then I’d work at the Harley shop the rest of the time. After a while, I decided that my love and heart was at the shop, so I took an honorable leave from Local 395 and was full-time at the shop.”

Stroud began drag racing Harleys during the mid 1970’s when the stroker engines became popular in the U.S.

“During that time, Harleys didn’t have a bike you could competitively race,” Stroud said. “There were the Japanese bikes like Yamaha, Suzuki, and Kawasaki that had fast street bikes on the market. The frames on Harleys would weigh anywhere from 75 to 85 pounds. My dad and I bought a stock Low Rider and put an engine kit on it. We took it to U.S. 30 Drag Strip in Merrillville and I ran a low, 11-second quarter mile. Back then, if you had a ten second car or bike, you were the real deal.”

This event sparked the passion that would make Stroud a legend in the Northwest Indiana racing community. Stroud began building a custom race bike with a custom chromoly frame that weighed 30-40 pounds lighter than the stock frame that his original bike started with. Stroud had the need for speed, and he would do whatever it took to be the fastest bike on the track.

In 1995, Stroud sold the dealership that he and his parents started to Mike and Mark Forszt, so he could open a shop dedicated to building the fastest bikes in the Region. Gary Stroud Racing, Inc. was born. Stroud and a friend began building mainly engines for racing bikes.

“We focused mostly on engine work, but we did a little bit of everything when it came to building a race bike,” Stroud said.

Stroud raced all across the country. Racing his gasoline-powered Harley-Davidson up to speeds over 150 mph. The bikes zoom down the track in the blink of an eye. 

“You’re flyin’ down the track when you’re going that fast,” Stroud said. “It’s a very dangerous game when you’re going 165 mph. If the wind manages to pull your left hand off the throttle, you’re either flying off the bike or you’re hitting the wall and you’re dead. It’s an intense mental game when you hit the throttle.”

Stroud’s best season of racing came in 1997, where he set two world records and won the American Harley-Davidson Racing Association Pro Gas Division. Stroud ran a 7.89-second quarter mile, traveling at speeds up to 167 mph.

“We built the bike out of spare parts that we had in the shop, we painted it ‘69 Camero Hugger Orange, and that kicked off my drag racing career,” Stroud said.

Being a racer is not a risk-free occupation. Stroud recalled a close call he had last year in Orlando when Mother Nature almost caused Stroud grave injury.

“I was running about 165 mph, and the wind was able to sneak underneath the sleeve of my jacket and pulled my right hand off the handlebar,” Stroud said. “I did my best to reach down to flip the switch to open up my parachutes. Thank God I managed to flip the switch and got the bike under control. If I wasn’t able to, I definitely would’ve crashed into the wall, and when you’re going that fast, you aren’t gonna walk away intact.”

In November of 2020, Stroud decided to close down his shop that was located on Clifford Road in Valparaiso after 25 years. As Stroud approached the age of 65, he decided to end this chapter of his life.

“It’s definitely a bittersweet feeling,” Stroud said. “I loved that shop and all the people I got to work with along the way. 25 years is a good run, and I’m looking forward to what the future has in store for me.”

That future, funnily enough, is very familiar to Stroud. After 25 years away from Harley-Davidson of Valparaiso, Stroud will return to the shop he helped open all those years ago. Stroud will serve as a technician.

“It’s definitely come full-circle for me,” Stroud said. “I’m very happy and grateful that Mark let me come back after all these years. I’m very excited about the team of guys they have at Harley and I’m glad to add my knowledge to that group of amazing guys.”

Stroud’s twilight years will start where his story began - at the dealership he started with his family. Stroud’s last race was in spring of 2019, where he placed 1st, running 6.92 at 197 mph.

“At 65 years old, I am really looking forward to the next chapter,” Stroud said. “I’m happy to be welcomed back with open arms.”