A Safe Ride is the Best Ride
Charity Rider Vic Misenheimer details his role as Motor Marshal and the importance of motorcycle safety
Over the course of his life and professional career, Vic Misenheimer has acquired a unique skill set – some unknown to many. From hunting and fishing to water rescue and repelling practices, to survival training, to ski patrol and law enforcement, the list goes on and on. Knowing he has the capabilities and guts to do all those things, it should come as no surprise that Vic is also highly experienced and trained in riding motorcycles and practicing motorcycle safety.
Growing up in Statesville, North Carolina, Vic was supposedly not allowed to ride motorcycles. “My mother said as long as she was still in her sane mind, that nobody living in her house would ever own a motorcycle,” said Vic. Yet, when Vic was 12 years old, his parents bought him his first dirt bike and he would ride with his two brothers. “When I turned 16, we got a street legal motorcycle,” said Vic. “The day I went and got my driver’s license, I immediately went back and got my motorcycle endorsement the same day.” Little did he know then, that his love for riding motorcycles would play a huge role in his professional career down the road.
In high school, Vic really found his drive to want to help people, which is what ultimately led him into pursuing a career in law enforcement. “I always thought I’d be a wildlife officer,” said Vic. However, when the wildlife commission asked Vic why he thought that, he said “because I like to fish and hunt.” For that reason, they immediately told Vic not to become a wildlife officer because he’d be working during all the prime fishing and hunting seasons. Instead, they directed him to look into becoming a highway patrolman. After the tip from the wildlife commission, Vic got to know a bunch a highway patrolmen in his local community and he says “the rest is history.”
Vic began his career with the North Carolina Highway Patrol in 1986 and retired in 2014 after serving more than 28 years. In 1994, Vic was working as a State Trooper in Boone, North Carolina. They were just starting to get their motorcycle unit back up and running again. Initially, they began a unit in 1929 but did away with it for a while. So Vic was one of the original 12 motorcycle troopers when the unit was reinstated.
A couple years later, as a motorcycle trooper, Vic helped escort the 1996 Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America back into Charlotte, North Carolina starting at the South Carolina state line. “I was aware of the Ride from the news and listening to them talk about it on the John Boy and Bill radio show,” said Vic. “It’s actually funny because Don Tilley (one the Ride’s founders) and my dad knew each other. My dad actually drove Don’s school bus at one time.” The next year, Don called Vic up and invited him to come on the Ride to help. Previously, the first two formal years of the Ride were led by four police officers from Daytona Beach, Florida. However, in 1997, those officers were occupied with some type of special event causing them not to be able to help on the Ride. So Vic accepted Don’s invitation to join and, to this day, Vic hasn’t missed a Ride since. “The Ride was overwhelming to begin with because I didn’t know anybody, and it took a bit to figure everything out,” said Vic. “But, as time has gone on, I feel it’s probably the most organized motorcycle ride that I’ve ever been a part of, seen or heard of.”
As one of the Charity Ride Motor Marshals, Vic is there to help keep the motor brigade together and address any needs that may come up on the Ride, such as traffic issues. They also work with local municipalities and state officers that assist the Ride as it travels across the country. “Basically, we help the local authorities with keeping the Riders together,” said Vic. “Since we understand traffic law enforcement from the escort side, we can explain a lot of things about the Ride’s dynamics to the local authorities while they’re assisting us from point A to point B.”
It’s important to have Motor Marshals on the Ride for the entirety of the trip, in addition to when there is assistance from local law enforcement, to make sure that everyone stays on course. Each Motor Marshal travels with a complete turn-by-turn route and they call out turns for the riders to take as they travel down the road. “Typically, the Ride is at least a mile-long in length of motorcycles and support vehicles,” said Vic. “So we’ll call out via radio whenever there is a turn coming up ahead.” When there is a turn or the Ride enters into new speed zones, Vic is at the front of the group, so he starts to gradually slow down the rest of the group behind him to prepare them for what’s coming. “I explain it as being like a freight train since it takes a while to get everyone up to speed and same slowing down. We try to keep everyone together running at a safe speed in order to prevent everyone from slamming on their brakes and creating unsafe conditions,” said Vic. “The riders can’t always see what’s up ahead traveling in such a large group so they either love me or hate me as I’m always ‘running too slow or too fast’ for their preference!”
“One time on the Ride, we made a decision to bypass a planned stop due to incoming severe weather,” said Vic. “The Motor Marshals were all in constant radio communication with Kyle and Morgan about the severe weather we were riding into.” Kyle ultimately made the decision, but it was a group effort in the decision-making process for the safety of the riders. “I know I’m just a small spoke in the wheel – the Ride is much bigger than any one of us – but that’s just one example that stands out to me as ways the motor marshals are effective on the Ride,” said Vic.
While it is serious on the road during the Ride, there’s a lot of fun in the moments off the bike too. “There are all kinds of funny memories that stand out,” said Vic. “I remember years on the Ride that it would be so hot that we would have water fights out in the parking lots.” And if you’ve ever met any of the Motor Marshals, then you know they play jokes on each other constantly. “With fellow Motor Marshal Reid Roper’s fear of clowns, it’s always fun to try and prank him with a clown mask or something,” said Vic. “Every year on the Ride, something will happen with clowns and Reid Roper. It never fails.”
Only close friends and family can get away with constant pranking like that – and that’s exactly what the Ride is: one big family. “I think everybody on the Ride – whether they’ve been one year or every single year – considers each rider to be family,” said Vic. “It’s just a special bond that everyone shares once they take part in this Ride. It’s an honor for me to be able to volunteer my time and use my experiences in law enforcement and as a motor officer to try to help the group safely move from stop to stop as we all collectively raise funds and awareness for the kids at Victory Junction. It’s hard to describe it, but I’m just really proud to be a part it.”
Q+A with Vic Misenheimer:
1. How would you describe the Ride to someone who’s never heard of it before?
“It runs like a well-oiled machine. Therefore, it can be challenging for a new Rider coming into it – no matter how long they’ve been riding or what kind of group-riding experience they may have – as they try to figure out the logistics of something so organized. I encourage everyone to come in with an open mind and come forth with any questions because there’s not a single Team Member who wouldn’t be willing to help a new rider adjust.”
2. Why is it important for the Ride to hold the “Safety First” course for new riders, regardless of their experience?
“I was self-taught as a child to ride dirt bikes and motorcycles. Any bad habits that I had developed, I kept them until I was formally trained in 1994 for the motorcycle unit as a trooper in Boone. I look back at certain times and I feel like I’m lucky to have just survived as long as I did on a motorcycle before learning proper safe-riding practices. For the Safety First program, we’re not second-guessing anyone’s ability who is coming on the Ride, but we’re just trying to make sure they understand the basic fundamentals of steering control and braking because those are crucial to anyone in a group ride.”
3. What is your favorite part of the Ride that you look forward to the most each year? “I don’t think there’s one thing I can pinpoint as my favorite. The whole Ride itself is incredible – from the camaraderie we have amongst the group to the amazing sights we see riding motorcycles. It’s also amazing anytime we get to see Victory Junction campers at the stops. The excitement on their faces is awesome.”
4. What is your favorite route the Ride has ever ridden?
“I think the 2006 Ride when we started in Coeur d’Alene and went to Glacier National Park with stops in Butte, Montana and Boulder, Colorado among others before ending back in North Carolina. The whole route was just phenomenal. For me, going to Glacier National Park was the biggest highlight.”
5. What is your top motorcycle safety tip?
“Maintain situational awareness of what’s going on in front of and around you.”