Friends remember ‘Ronster’ after murderous Sturgis run | Local
Jim Holland Journal Correspondent
STURGIS — Ron Brefka just wouldn’t let a grim cancer diagnosis slow him down.
He didn’t let the odds stop him from feeding on the freedom of the open road, helping others or spending time with a legion of friends, accrued over decades on a motorcycle.
A friend and fellow racer said Brefka, 59, of Milwaukee, was enjoying life to the fullest when he competed in a spectator race at the Flat Out Friday Hooligan Race finale, hosted by the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club Tuesday night at the JC “Pappy” Hoel Short Track in Sturgis.
“I’ve since found out that all Ron was talking about was getting the opportunity to race at the Jackpine Gypsies,” said Randy B. Hayward, known as ‘Detroit’.
Brefka and Hayward, both experienced vintage bike racers, were entered into a fun spectator-class race, known as the “run whatcha brug” event, on Tuesday night.
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Sliding around a bend on the sixth-mile dirt oval, Brefka’s #777 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead grabbed and flipped, throwing Brefka off the bike in what riders call a “high-sidewall” crash.
“It just popped up on the high side, and we don’t know if it was from brake application or if it was from the kickstand,” Hayward said.
The rules required helmets and other safety gear, but Brefka suffered a traumatic brain injury from impact with the track surface, Hayward said.
He was transported by ambulance to Rapid City Hospital at Monument Health, where he died Wednesday morning.
Flat out Friday, which hosts indoor motorcycle races as well as outdoor “Hooligan” races, Briefka’s death was confirmed on its Facebook page on Wednesday.
“Flat out Friday is saddened and shaken by the passing of Ron ‘Ronster’ Brefka, who was injured in an incident at the track last night in Sturgis, South Dakota. He was a fellow Milwaukee promoter racing, a runner and a friend.
“We go dark and interrupt social media as we reflect on what Ron has brought to our lives and the many threads he has woven into our biker community.
“Appreciate your loved ones and let them know what they mean to you. Take care of your friends and savor your time together. Hug your riders before they hit the track. Godspeed, Ron,” says the message.
Other friends remember ‘Ronster’ as a man who loved all aspects of motorcycling and who turned simple philanthropy into an art form.
Brefka hosted bike shows, including the High Voltage Vintage Motorcycle and Chopper show, held at Frank’s Power Plant in Milwaukee.
He also organized and competed in winter ice races in the Milwaukee area, made custom metal fenders for bikes through his company 7 Metal West, and he went out of his way to help young builders. with their bikes.
“Often he didn’t charge them. He would pay out of pocket,” said Dan “Cabana Dan” Rognsvoog of Sturgis.
All proceeds from ice races, bike shows and other fundraisers he organized went to the We Care Fund for cancer research at the Medical College of Wisconsin, said fellow friend Michelle Perez of Milwaukee.
Perez said Brefka has also supported female cyclists throughout the Milwaukee area, encouraging her to compete in an ice race for the first time last winter, where she placed second in a women’s event.
“You know, he was always like our No. 1 fan,” Perez said. “He was just very supportive.”
Briefka’s two-wheeled passion never wavered in the face of her own battle with cancer.
In 2016, he was diagnosed with pancreatic acinar cell carcinoma, a rare form of cancer that only affects about 5% of those diagnosed.
Surgery to remove most of his pancreas, spleen and lymph nodes, followed by arduous rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, seemed to keep the disease at bay for four years.
But in 2020, blood tests showed the cancer had returned to his liver. A second operation cost him part of his liver and gallbladder.
Perez said Brefka had another surgery earlier this year but was back on his bike within months.
“He’s probably run a few times since his last medical procedure,” she said.
Rognsvoog and his wife, Sturgis Motorcycle Museum director Leah Whaley, had hosted Brefka and other friends as guests since moving to Sturgis in 2016.
“We just have a good mix of people and he always had some kind of crazy story that would make everyone laugh, just a good all-around guy,” Rognsvoog said.
Whaley said Brefka and Hayward enjoyed a lasagna dinner with the other guests before heading to the races on Tuesday night.
Whaley said she was going to miss “Ronster” a lot.
“He was an incredibly kind and generous person who loved the sport of motorcycling and everything to do with it,” she said.
“He loved racing, vintage motorcycles, sports, culture, people, stories. He basically rode motorcycles,” she said.
Perez said Brefka’s influence on motorcycling went far beyond Milwaukee.
“Ron will be known as a legend from now on. He was just huge in the biker community, especially in Milwaukee, but he had followers all over the world,” Perez said. “He impacted a lot of people.”
Perez said the High Voltage Vintage Motorcycle and Chopper Show will continue this fall in memory of “Ronster,” who lived with his 97-year-old mother in Milwaukee.
One lasting image, Whaley said, is of a photo taken of Brefka in the first corner, first lap of Tuesday night races. She enlarges the photo.
“You can see the smile on his face from ear to ear,” she said. “It sounds trite, but he was doing what he loved.”