STURGIS — The motorcycling community lost a great man Wednesday when Ron “Ronster” Brefka died of injuries sustained in a crash during motorcycle races at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Tuesday.
Sturgis Motorcycle Museum Director Leah Whaley had just hosted Brefka, 59, and other friends for lasagna night at her home near Sturgis before Brefka headed out to go racing Tuesday night.
She said she will miss her friend.
“He was an incredibly kind, generous person who loved the sport of motorcycling and everything about it. He loved racing, antique bikes, the sport, the culture, the people, the stories. He was just quintessentially motorcycling,” she said.
And, he was a fixture in the Milwaukee motorcycle scene, Whaley said.
The race on Tuesday in which Brefka was running was sort of a “run what you brung” affair, Whaley said.
“We’ve got a picture that one of the guys is going to blow up and clean up for us of him (Brefka) in the first turn on the first lap. You can see the smile on his face from ear to ear. It sounds trite, but he was doin’ what he loved,” Whaley said.
Friend Michelle Perez said Brefka had an impact on a lot of people.
“He was just huge in the motorcycle community, especially in Milwaukee, but he had followers from all over the world,” she said.
Friends messaged Perez Tuesday night telling her about the accident at the Flat Out Friday flat track race at the JC Pappy Hoel Short Track in Sturgis. Brefka was competing in the spectator race of the race program, she said.
“He wasn’t in the Hooligan race or one of the other classes. It was a fun kinda race,” Perez said.
Brefka’s friend, Randy “Detroit” Hayward, was in the same race as Brefka Tuesday night.
“He just appeared to high-side, and we don’t know if it was from the application of brakes, or if the kickstand caught. We don’t know why he high sided,” he said. “Sadly, with this sport, once he made contact with the dirt, which is probably the equivalent to concrete, he had a traumatic head injury.”
Following the crash, Brefka was taken by ambulance to Monument Health Rapid City Hospital. Then, on Wednesday morning, Perez said she found out that he had died.
The death was confirmed on the Flat Out Friday Facebook page just before 11 a.m. Wednesday. The post read: “Flat out Friday is saddened and shaken by the passing of Ron ‘Ronster’ Brevka, who was injured in an on-track incident last night in Sturgis, South Dakota. He was a fellow Milwaukeean, race promoter, racer, and a friend. We are going dark and pausing social media while we reflect on what Ron brought to our lives and the numerous threads he wove into our motorcycle community. Appreciate your loved ones and let them know what they mean to you. Take care of your friends and savor the time you have together. Hug your racers before they go out on the track. Godspeed, Ron.”
Helene Duhamel, spokesperson for the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office, also confirmed Brefka’s death.
Brefka was a six-year pancreatic cancer and three-year liver cancer survivor who worked closely with the We Care Fund of the Medical College of Wisconsin. Founded in 2010, The We Care Fund supports MCW researchers and physicians doing research in the fields of cancer, cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal disease, diseases of newborn/child, organ transplant, and trauma.
Brefka’s philanthropic endeavors began in 2016, when he staged the first High Voltage Motorcycle Show at Frank’s Power Plant, a Milwaukee bar and tavern, according to a story published in the American Motorcyclist magazine. Watch this video by clicking here
Within a couple years, the event outgrew the venue and moved to Humboldt Park, a 73-acre park in Milwaukee’s Bay View Neighborhood.
In 2018, Brefka built upon the success of the High-Voltage Motorcycle Show and brought back the High Voltage Ice Races, an on-ice motorcycle race that would also serve as a fundraiser for the We Care Fund.
As that event grew in size and scope, Brefka received an invitation from the American Motorcycle Association to become a promotor for the Ice Race National Championships, leading to the formation of the High Voltage AMA Ice Race Grand Championship, an AMA-sanctioned event that crowns 14 new AMA National Champions each winter.
Brefka, who rides an old shovelhead, also was instrumental in organizing shovelhead reunions the first at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee.
Perez said Brefka was also very supportive of women motorcycle riders.
“You know, he was always like our No. 1 fan. He was just very supportive,” she said.
And, Brefka was a great conversationalist who loved to tell stories, Perez said.
“You’d go over there to his house to pick something up and you’d end up sitting there and talking to him for two hours,” she said.
Perez characterized Brefka as someone who would give to others before he would ask for something for himself.
Whaley concurred saying Brefka donated his own blood and tissue to help researchers learn more about his rare form of pancreatic cancer.