Motorcycle Madness — It’s Often a Hereditary Thing

//Motorcycle Madness — It’s Often a Hereditary Thing

Motorcycle Madness — It’s Often a Hereditary Thing

If loving motorcycles — and Harley’s in particular — is a hereditary trait, I guess you could say I came by my infatuation honestly. My dad was a mechanic and I grew up surrounded by disassembled machines, frames hanging from the garage ceiling and the intoxicating aroma of half-filled oil pans. My dad had bikes around our property before I was born, and he actually dabbled with open wheel racing with the United States Auto Club.

Dad never owned a bike when I was growing up, but back in the early ’70s, at the impressionable age of 14, he helped me pick out a 1968 Montgomery Wards Riverside 250 Street bike and take it home. I started tinkering with the bike when it developed some shifting problems, and I ended up taking it apart and putting it back together about a million times over that summer. About that same time, my folks took me to a drive-in theater to watch a double feature of Evil Knievel and The Hard Ride. That night I announced to my folks I was gonna get me a bike like that!

After that, I was almost always elbow-deep in grease. I had a passion for working with fast engines and I wanted to be the fastest guy out there. I read everything I could get my hands on about engines, and not just motorcycle engines. Anything that made power was going to get my close scrutiny, including hot-rodding. If it made a vroom sound, I made it my mission to get it to run better and faster.

As soon as I turned 18, I purchased my first Harley. Not just any Harley, mind you, but an 86-cubic-inch stroker 1956 Panhead. First time behind the handlebars, I remember dumping the clutch and hanging on for dear life as my new bike plowed through a hedge alongside the garage of the guy I just bought it from. After regained control —and a modicum of dignity — I rode around the block with mixed emotions — sheer terror replaced by intense joy.

That Pan and I pretty much covered all of creation, including a three-day ride from Chicago out to Los Angeles. That’s right. Three days, and I’ll tell you, my butt was sore for a week. My Harley joined me when I joined the Marine Corps, and it seems that bike was always getting me in trouble with one commander or another. When I got out of the Corps, I qualified for vocational rehabilitation with the Veterans Administration.

I was working as a truck mechanic at the time and I told the VA I’d love to enroll in the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute (MMI) in Phoenix, Ariz. Once there, I was certain that I knew everything there was to know and the course would be a breeze. Wrong! I had to relearn everything I thought I knew, and ended up getting the best education anywhere. A few years later, it was payback time, and I was asked to go back and teach at MMI. For three years, I passed on what I’d learned to a new crop of students. And one of my favorite thrills is when I pick up the phone and it’s a former student checking up on me.

Next on my list of go fast projects, was to build a turbo-charged 1954 Panhead, a bike that had such incredible acceleration that I found myself constantly outriding the triple-disc brakes. In a moment of clarity, I came to the realization that I’d have to take this bike off the streets before I killed myself. That’s when I became a regular at El Mirage dry lake bed in the Mojave Desert, attempting to get that Pan into the record books. Then it was off to the Bonneville Salt Flats, where I became addicted to sodium. I still have that addiction.  And while I never quite made it into the record books with that bike, I sure had a huge amount of fun trying.

It’s this madness for motors and motorcycles that influenced my participation in the J&P Cycles’ Express Streamliner land-speed record attempt team. A highlight was in 2006 when we set an AMA national record at Bonneville with a speed of 180.496 kilometers and 178.945 mph in the S/PG class. Believe me when I say that working with the Streamliner at this particular time in my life is one of the highlights of my career. For more information, visit my Bonneville Blog.

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One Comment

  1. Ray Rusaw August 21, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    It sounds to me like you have had a very blessed life,I fell your passion for all things that go varoom but by making the decision to live in South East Alaska absout speed is just not very practical since we only have 90 miles of road . I hope to someday get a chance to see bonnivile.

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