E.J. Potter, also known as the Michigan Madman, was a legend in the world of motorcycle racing. He was famous for his daring and innovative creations, such as putting a Chevy V8 engine or a jet engine on a motorcycle. He set several world records and entertained crowds with his thrilling and sometimes dangerous stunts. He died in 2012 at the age of 71 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. This article will explore his life, achievements, and legacy.
Early Life and Interest in Engines
E.J. Potter was born in Ithaca, Michigan, on April 24, 1941. He grew up on a farm, where he learned to repair tractor engines from an early age. He developed a passion for motorcycles and speed, and wondered if he could build a bike with a V8 engine. He graduated from Ithaca High School in 1959 and started working on his dream project.
The Birth of Bloody Mary
In 1960, Potter completed his first V8 motorcycle, which he named Bloody Mary. He used a Harley frame as the base and fitted a small-block Chevy engine on it. He also built a centrifugal clutch using Harley brake parts and a sprocket from a combine. He tested the bike at a local strip and reached 130 mph (210 km/h). According to Hagerty Insurance Agency, he later realized that the clutch was unnecessary and switched to a direct drive system. He would start the bike on a stand at the line at about 7,000 rpm, then drop it off the stand and take off.
The Widowmaker and Other Creations
Potter improved his design over the years, creating several versions of his V8 motorcycle. The most famous one was the Widowmaker, which had a 350-hp engine and could reach speeds of over 200 mph (320 km/h). Potter also experimented with other engines, such as a military surplus rocket engine and a jet engine. He built a three-wheeled motorcycle with a rocket engine, which he called the Widowmaker 3. He also built a trike with a jet engine, which he sold to Evel Knievel. Potter’s other creations include putting WWII airplane engines into tractors for tractor pull competitions.
Drag Racing Career and World Records
Potter began touring the drag racing circuit soon after his high school graduation. He performed as an exhibition act, since no one else raced against him or his machines. He amazed and entertained audiences with his speed and skill, but also faced some crashes and injuries. He set three world land speed records with his motorcycles, the last one being an 8.68-second quarter-mile run in Australia in 1973. According to The New York Times, he retired from drag racing in 1973 and switched to tractor pulling.
Death and Legacy
Potter died in Ithaca, Michigan, on April 30, 2012, from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. He was 71 years old. He left behind a son, a daughter, four grandchildren, and three sisters. He also left behind a legacy of innovation and courage in the motor sports world. He was inducted into the Michigan Motor Sports Hall of Fame in 1992 and the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2011. His motorcycles have been featured in museums and shows, such as the Speedway Motors Museum of American Speed and American Pickers. In 2017, his 1971 Widowmaker 7 went up for auction in Las Vegas.
E.J. Potter cause of death was a sad end to a remarkable life. He was a pioneer who pushed the boundaries of what was possible with motorcycles and engines. He inspired generations of racers and enthusiasts with his vision and creativity. He was truly the Michigan Madman who left his mark on motorcycle racing.