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History E.J. Potter

Discussion in 'Traditional Hot Rods' started by tfeverfred, Jul 12, 2017.

  1. Reds 29
    Joined: Jan 16, 2006
    Posts: 444

    Reds 29

    Saw him run at Detroit dragway in the sixties. He was from Ithaca, a small town in central Michigan. I live not far away. Years later I worked with a guy who grew up with him. He said he could build, repair, or try anything. He had many stories about the crazy things they did when young.
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  2. ron marchand
    Joined: May 28, 2017
    Posts: 7

    ron marchand

    I saw him run at Bunker Hill, indiana back in the mid 60s, crazy guy ,had glasses that looked like coke bottles

    Sent from my VS995 using The H.A.M.B. mobile app
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  3. Tell us about his slot car...
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  4. Oldbill51
    Joined: Jun 12, 2011
    Posts: 284


    He did a lot of speed and power applications with Alison airplane engines as well. I read once that he bought quite a few of these salvaged engines because he heard that the main bearings were filled with gold to reduce vibration. He had a pulling tractor with two of these engines called Double Ugly, I saw him in the Pontiac Silver Dome in the first indoor pulling event held there in the early 70s. He also campaigned a car with one of these huge 3000 HP engines.
  5. loudbang and Montana1 like this.
  6. He was well known for his knowledge of the Allison motor and received calls from around the globe asking for his advice. Most of the military surplus went over seas and he kept them running. I believe he even named his daughter Alison but don't know if its just a coincidence.
    He believed big money was ruining racing and suggested having a dyno style competition where all the competitors got the same parts and see who could build the most HP and torque. Interesting idea.

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Jul 13, 2017
  7. Mark Hysong
    Joined: Dec 4, 2016
    Posts: 28

    Mark Hysong

    Saw him at Muncie back in the early 60s. he would the bike and a stationwagon with a allison motor (i think).
    loudbang likes this.
  8. mrharley51
    Joined: Sep 16, 2007
    Posts: 245


    Saw him run at Detroit Dragway many times as I worked the pit gates and starting line. Saw him run the Allison powered Dodge Dart once on a test-and-tune night. Here is a couple pics of me with his helmet and Widow Maker7..wife made him change name from Bloody Mary... Clyde Hensley has No. 7 and many of his bike parts and memoralbilia as he was a good friend to EJ during his last days. Original motor was a 265 with a split manifold to miss the frame...later evolved into Hilborn 327's...smelled the smoke many times from his kickstand burns down the 1/4 mile...for high school kid in love with drag racing this was a memory not forgotten
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2019
  9. 42˚18'N 83˚09'W
    Joined: Jul 29, 2008
    Posts: 152

    42˚18'N 83˚09'W

    " There is nothing worse than a bad idea whose time has come"
    I remember E.J. at Connecticut Dragway sometime back in the 60's... INSANE! I also remember the '57 Plymouth with the Allison in it. Sometime back in the 60's there was an article as I remember titled "I Dumped my Bike at a Buck and a Half" where he got off the bike near the lights and ran/tumbled to a stop and received no major injuries. I tip my cap to him, the man had definitely had balls...
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  10. 0NE BAD 51 MERC
    Joined: Nov 12, 2010
    Posts: 1,446

    0NE BAD 51 MERC

    Never saw him in person , but I read about him in the late sixies in Hot Rod . I grew up in Burlington Wi. about 18 miles from Union Grove Dragaway and I am sure Broadway Bob had him there for some of his big Memorial and Labor day weekend events back in the late 60's and 70's. I got my license in 71 and started going there after that. As crazy and full of life as Broadway Bob was , him and Mr Potter would have got along great. Wild times that you will never see again!
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  12. charlesf
    Joined: Jan 14, 2009
    Posts: 211


    EJ's parents were contemporaries, and friends, of my parents. EJ was a sometime client of mine. To say that he was a bright guy was the grossest understatement. You have only to look at these photos to know that he was equally eccentric.
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  13. sailingadventure
    Joined: Feb 11, 2007
    Posts: 279


    Here are a few pictures took at Farmington Dragway in the late `60s or early `70s.

    E J Potter 1 1.jpg

    E J Potter 22.jpg

    E J Potter 33.jpg

    E J Potter 44.jpg

    E J Potter 55.jpg

    E J Potter 66.jpg

    E J Potter 77.jpg

    It was CRAZY!
    mrharley51, Fulvia, Montana1 and 8 others like this.
  14. loudbang
    Joined: Jul 23, 2013
    Posts: 33,011


    Saw him at Connecticut Dragway probably 1965. Widow maker sounded like the appropriate name for the bike at the time.
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  15. Great pics sailingadventure, thanks for sharing.
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  16. The New York Times obituary when he died 0n April 30th, 2012

    E. J. Potter, ‘Michigan Madman’ of Motorcycle Racing, Dies at 71

    E. J. Potter, a k a the Michigan Madman, a legend of the American drag strip who earned his nickname riding 170 miles per hour on a motorcycle he fitted with a Chevy V-8, and who later went nearly 200 m.p.h. on a three-wheel bike powered by a jet engine, died on April 30 in Ithaca, Mich. He was 71.

    The cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease, his daughter, Alison Tiihonen, said.

    Potter, whose early career paralleled that of the motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel, toured the country in the 1960s and ’70s, when many drag-strip exhibitions featured racers known for building their own vehicles and for taking extreme risks. Like Knievel, Potter made a niche for himself in motorcycle racing.

    “Usually, a guy went for the fastest time on the track, or he tried to win the competition for the highest speed clocked that day,” said Roger Meiners, a motor sports journalist and photographer. “E. J. wasn’t looking to win anything. He just showed up and tried to make people go, Oh, my God!”

    Potter was a motor-obsessed farm boy who grew up tinkering with tractor engines, building motorcycles and racing them at both organized and informal drag strips around central Michigan well before he was old enough for a driver’s license, his friends and family said. The idea to mount a V-8 car engine sideways on the frame of a chain-driven Harley-Davidson motorcycle came to him when he was 16.

    As far as anyone knew, no one had ever done it before. Though many technical problems would emerge — extreme vibration, unpredictable steering, a tendency for the front wheel to become airborne — Potter later concluded that his youth and ignorance were his greatest assets in seeing the project to completion. He rode the motorcycle for the first time at a local strip in 1960, reaching 130 m.p.h.

    “Ignorance is a powerful tool if applied at the right time, even, usually, surpassing knowledge,” he wrote with wry self-mockery in “Michigan Madman,” a memoir he published in 1999.

    E. J. Potter went nearly 200 m.p.h. on a three-wheel bike powered by a jet engine Credit Courtesy Potter Family

    In the late 1960s, the same combination of know-how and useful ignorance helped him construct a three-wheel motorcycle rigged with a rocket engine purchased from United States military surplus. He called it the Widow Maker.

    Riding these vehicles required a certain composure. “The acceleration would be real noticeable and the vibrations, bumps and engine noises would stop registering,” he said in an interview. “It got kind of mental.”

    Potter toured the drag-race circuit for 13 years, beginning soon after he graduated from Ithaca High School. Local drag-racing promoters began paying him a dollar for every mile above 100 m.p.h. he could take his V-8 bike, said Clyde Hensley, an old friend and collector of some of Potter’s famous motorbikes. Soon he was earning considerably more.

    “On a given night, he would make three passes at $150 a run,” Hensley said. “He only did three because that’s how many he could make on a set of tires before they blew out.”

    Elon Jack Potter was born in Ithaca, Mich., on April 24, 1941, one of four children of Howard and Sheila Potter, who owned a small farm and a honeybee business. In his memoir, Potter thanked his parents for allowing him to be himself — a risk taker. Besides his daughter, he is survived by a son, Jack; four grandchildren; and three sisters.

    Potter was seriously injured twice: in 1966, when he broke his pelvis in a crash of his V-8 bike in an exhibition in England, and in 1971, when he sustained multiple bone fractures after being forced to jump from the Widow Maker at 120 m.p.h. when a parachute failed to open. He was an advocate of motorcycle helmets and wore them faithfully long before they were required by law, his family said. In 1973, he quit drag racing and took up competitive tractor pulling.

    In an interview in the 1980s, Potter was asked to compare himself with Knievel, his more famous counterpart. “The difference between me and him,” he said, “was that he got paid to say he was going to do stuff, whether he did it or not. I got paid to actually do stuff.”
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  17. frank spittle
    Joined: Jan 29, 2009
    Posts: 1,672

    frank spittle

    E.J. had just came out of a 27 year retirement when that footage was shot in 1999. He was 59 years old.
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2017
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  18. Geez, I'm really not paying attention to the details in these pics. I hadn't noticed the bulb type horn mounted on the handlebars. At the finish line I can imaging that squeeze-bulb being inflated like a balloon! :p
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  19. Finally get to see some good pictures. Great stories, too. I couldn't imagine just trying to keep the bike from falling over. Big weight difference between a bike engine and a small block Chevy. I thought Ted Nugent was the Michigan Madman, clearly E.J. Potter was the real one. Beyond badass.
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  20. steinauge
    Joined: Feb 28, 2014
    Posts: 1,507

    from 1960

    I saw the Bloody Mary and the Allison engined 57 plymouth run in the mid 60s.Great stuff!
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  21. Matthyj
    Joined: Apr 18, 2007
    Posts: 11

    from Missouri

    I knew the man that made the original Widow Maker that EJ had bought, from him. A man named Gary Werner, who was at one time on Big Daddy's pit crew and built at least one of his chassis for Garlits in the late 60's or early 70's. He always spoke highly of EJ and bought the bike back (the original) from him in the late 90's, he later (late 90's early 2000's maybe) built a new bike and was in Florida trying to get certified by the NHRA and died in a freak accident in a test run while EJ & a few others where watching, hooked his foot in a storm culvert while slowing down. That was the last I heard of EJ until his death, he lived through some crazy things, and did most of them.
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2017
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  22. That is the Super Stock Reunion footage from Richmond right? Hard to believe that was 18 years ago, man I'm getting old.
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  23. Baron
    Joined: Aug 13, 2004
    Posts: 3,539


    Saw him run in Norwood MA, back in 1968. Fearless was the first thing that came to mind.

    Sent from my SM-G930P using The H.A.M.B. mobile app
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  24. frank spittle
    Joined: Jan 29, 2009
    Posts: 1,672

    frank spittle

    Matthyj, you are mostly correct but Potter never bought the bike back from Werner. Here is the story. I had tried unsuccessfully for several years to get Potter to attend one of the Super Stock Reunions I organized for over 20 plus years in the '80 and '90s. He said he was busy doing maintenance on Allison V-12 aircraft engines in South America where they were still being used to power electrical plants. He was one of a few available who knew everything about them.
    In 1999 Potter called me and told me he was writing an autobiography and was in contact with Gary Werner about bringing Widow Maker out of retirement. Potter knew having the bike at his appearances would bring more people in and sell more books. Werner had changed a few things on the bike that Potter didn't like. He told Werner if he got back on the bike it would have to be just like it was when he sold it to Werner 27 years earlier. Of course I was interested in being involved with Potter's first appearance.
    Potter and Werner restored the bike but there was red tape. Virginia Motorsports Park, the track I was renting for the event, was NHRA sanctioned and required a V-8 motorcycle exhibition license for anyone foolish enough to ride one. I was amused at Potter telling me on the phone in an aggravated way he didn't need a @#$%^&* license. "I invented the %$#&^* class". After much agony he got one. He was fast approaching 60 and I was way more nervous than he was when he climbed on it that first time.
    It was like he had never retired. The instincts from making 400 passes ("only a few were not successful" he told me) were still with him. It is something I will fondly remember the rest of my life.
  25. king of the mercs
    Joined: Mar 28, 2011
    Posts: 85

    king of the mercs

  26. cs39ford
    Joined: May 1, 2012
    Posts: 821


    King. Sent you a pm. Were mine came from
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  27. raven
    Joined: Aug 19, 2002
    Posts: 4,614


    I did, too. Loved it. Want to build my own version...
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  28. rd martin
    Joined: Nov 14, 2006
    Posts: 2,447

    rd martin
    from indiana

    i was lucky enuff to see ej make some passes years ago, and lucky enuff to get to talk to him before he passed. he was at a friends party. quite the guy, he could do it all, with no reservations. r.i.p. ej.
    loudbang likes this.

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