By Rama Sobhani
He is 70 years old and loves to ride motorcycles more than doing anything else.
He works, but not when he can be riding, doing auto body repair. Snuffy is a motorcyclist’s rider. He easily spends more time in the saddle in one year than most cyclists do in several. Smith estimates he rides about 35,000 miles a year. He rode to the famous rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, this year, as he does every year, just to buy an event T-shirt, then turned around and rode home. He’s owned 21 motorcycles, crashed every one of them and lived to tell the tale, if only barely. By his own admission, he’s a man who doesn’t understand moderation.
In his own words
I quit school when I was 16 and started working at the French Lick hotel for 88 cents an hour. I worked there and in two years I saved up enough money to buy a ’47 Harley and a ’48 Indian. I love motorcycles; I’ve been riding since I was 10 years old. But I had to get rid of them because my mom married a guy who hated motorcycles.
We moved from West Baden to Washington, then I moved up (to Vincennes). Being as I didn’t go to school, I had to get a job and give (my mother and stepfather) $10 a week to live there. When I turned 18, I got kicked out. So, I had to get rid of my motorcycles and then had no place to live. I don’t know why (my stepfather) didn’t really like me. I didn’t know it at the time, but the reason why he kicked me out was because it was unbecoming to have a Smith living in his house.
I had to learn body work. I went out to California for a year and drove a truck for a while. I’ve been here 33 years. I used to work at Brown’s Auto Shop, down the hill from here, for 20 years. At one time I was considered one of the top auto body workmen in Indiana.
I started drinking when I was 14 years old. I was going into bars. When I started going with my wife, she’s the reason I quit drinking. I used to drink all the time. Whiskey. When I quit drinking, mixed drinks were $1 a drink. When I quit, my bar bill was $250-$300 a week. That’s 300 mixed drinks a week. (My wife) said, “You drink too much.” I said, “If I quit, will you go with me?” She said I don’t need to quit, just slack off. I said I really can’t do that. I ain’t got no happy medium. Anything I do, I do whole hog, my riding, my drinking.
Down home, my dad left when I was 6 years old. I started smoking when I was 5. I got one of the worst ass whoopings of my life when I got into my dad’s cigarettes. Lucky Strikes: They were in a dark green package with the red circle and it said, “Lucky Strike goes to war.” 1941 was the only year they made them and he had five or six packs left in a carton he was saving, I guess. I came along in 1947; five years later, I found them and smoked them. They weren’t any good; they were dry, caught fire really easy. Then, Dad smoked my ass.
I smoked all my life. I lost my dad when he was 48 years old. He had a massive heart attack, so I figured I’m going to die at 48-50 years old. I drank a lot, drove like a maniac and had several wrecks in cars. Basically, I tried to kill myself. I figured I was going to die, so I might as well enjoy it. But when I turned 50, I figured I ought to slow down a bit. So, I quit smoking. When I quit, I was smoking four packs of Winstons a day. I quit cold turkey.
Photo Matt Griffith
Snuffy Smith sits on his 2012 Harley Davidson . The 70-year-old biker has road to 48 states in this country and rides between 20-30 thousand miles a year on bike.
I love to ride long distance. I can ride 1,000 miles a day, no problem. When I was 62 years old, I went to South Dakota, to Sturgis. I went 1,250 miles from my front door here — 16 hours on my Sportster. I love to go fast and I love curves. I went to Sturgis, I went to the Buffalo Chip (saloon in Sturgis) and all, but that don’t excite me anymore. I like the ride out there. You’ve got Custer State Park, the wildlife loop, Iron Mountain road, that’s a beautiful road there. Go on up to Devil’s Tower and I love to go up to Yellowstone and the South Dakota badlands. It’s beautiful out there.
I took a guy out there in May. He was having a baby and the wanted to take one trip with me. I took him down to the Dragon (U.S. Route 129, known as the Tail of the Dragon, is a stretch of road famously visited by motorcyclists for its many and challenging curves). We were gone five days and five hours; we went 3,800 miles.
I’m planning a cross-country trip from Atlantic City. I’m going to go out there, it’s 825 miles from here to Atlantic City. I’m going to go out there, put my back tire in the ocean, take a picture, haul ass down to San Diego (California). I’m going to do it in four days.
I know other motorcycle riders, but they don’t like to ride with me because I go too fast. Well, I don’t ride like most people do.
This bike I got here is my 21st bike. I’ve been down 21 times. This one here didn’t make it 75 feet from off the lot. I’ve had some good ones.
I had an 1100 Yamaha dresser. I went around a semi and was running 105 when I turned my turn signal on and pulled in; as soon I pulled in, I heard BANG, and it started wheel hopping, locked up, the driveshaft. Pulled the clutch in, just wheel hopping. So, I thought, “Oh, this is not good.” Every time I have a wreck it’s like slow motion; I have plenty of time to think. I thought, “I have to get out of this semi’s way,” so I hopped over to the side of the road, laid it down and took out 30 feet of ditch. I had this hat on my head; I just wear a cowboy hat all the time and didn’t have no shirt on. Got 5-6 little grass welts on me where the weeds was.
In 1974, I bought a brand new RD 350 Yamaha. Little thing. In 29 ½ miles, I laid her down. Me and this guy got to racing and there was some gravel going into a corner and I laid her down and the guy on the 750 Honda, he said he hit me. I slid down the road, caught the highway peg and it threw me. I picked it up, bent the handlebars back up and I could ride her. About 3 weeks later, St. Pete Beach, Florida, 14 hours on that little son of a gun. I was all over that son of a gun. Sitting side saddle, put my feet on the turn signals, passenger pegs, all over it. It was tough.
On whether he’s afraid
Well, it probably will one of these days. If it does, it does; but I mean, you put 600,000 miles on motorcycles, you’re going to go down, but hopefully, it’s not too bad.
I had a wreck on Willow and Niblack in ’09. Had to have 12 stitches down through here (points to his head). I hit a car; it was raining, he whipped out in front of me, I said, “Oh, no,” slammed on my brakes. They left me for dead. The police officer asked me if I’d been drinking. I said I haven’t had a drink since July 12, 1981.
At the hospital, they tried to give me a shot of morphine and I said, “No, you ain’t.” They said, “What do you want for pain?” I said, “Nothing.”
Ten days later, the insurance totaled my bike, I got another bike and started going again.