Michigan Motorcycle Legend Takes His Last Ride RIP The Michigan Madman


Elon Jack “E.J.” Potter
April 24, 1941-April 30, 2012

Elon Jack “E.J.” Potter, age 71, of Ithaca, MI, passed away Monday, April 30, 2012, at Rosewood Adult Foster Care, Gratiot County, MI, and with his passing, the world of motorcycling lost a legendary character. A memorial service will be held at Smith Family Funeral Homes Ithaca Chapel Ithaca, MI on Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 3 p.m., and the service will give anyone who loves motorcycles, wrenching and madness a chance to pay their final respects to a man who did all those things with style.

E.J. Potter, the "Michigan Madman"

With a vast knowledge and love of machinery at his disposal, Potter was a self-made mechanical engineer, innovator, inventor, and racing legend, exploits which earned him the sobriquet “The Michigan Madman.”

Potter was perhaps best known for his balls-out runs on his bikes the  “Widowmaker” and “Bloody Mary.” Potter’s “madness” earned him an entry, back in the glory days of 1973,  in the Guinness Book of World Records. Potter went on to be inducted into the Michigan Motor Sports Hall of Fame in 1992, for holding his many racing and tractor pulling records.

He is survived by son, Jack and Deborah Potter of Howell, MI; daughter, Alison (Potter) and David Tiihonen of Howell, MI; grandchildren, William, Jennifer, Jacob, and Emily; and three sisters.

Though he was lacking money, Potter refused to allow that deficiency to stop his progress toward mechanical proficiency. He learned to weld at a young age and went on from there to use his skills to build whatever struck his fancy.

So what caught his eye? The small block Chevy V8. And he put them to good use:

“Ignorance is a powerful tool if applied at the right time, even usually surpassing knowledge. Lots of times a guy will jump into a project without knowing how far he is into something way over his head until it’s almost too late to back off. This is a situation that I frequently wake up to in the middle of another adventure.”

– EJ Potter

The first Chevy powered motorcycle EJ built was a wonder, the frame was heavily modified Harley, square tube engine mounts, a Whizzer gas tank and a starter drive in the end of the crankshaft. A totally inadequate clutch was connected to a number 50 roller drive chain rated at 24 horsepower. Well, you have to start somewhere and it was a start.

A few highlights from a storied career:

  • 1960 Built first Chevy V-8 drag bike – went 130 mph.
  • 1961 Went 147 mph in 1/4 mile with V-8 bike.
  • 1962 Went 152 mph – throttle stuck and crashed at Onondaga Drag way.
  • 1963 Built 1957 Plymouth with V-12 Allison engine. Went 147 mph.
  • 1964 Built 1964 Dodge Dart with V-12 – went 152 mph.
  • 1966 Went to England with V-8 bike – best crash they ever saw on 13th run.
  • 1967 Built electric car – went 120 mph in 1/4 mile.
  • 1968 Set AHRA bike record at 167.04 in Phoenix.
  • 1970 Made Guinness World Record book with an ET of 8.68 on a motorcycle in Australia.
  • 1971 Built 1200 horsepower jet cycle – crashed when parachute failed – sold it to Evel Kneivel.
  • 1973 Quit drag racing and went to tractor pulling.
  • 1975 Won the 7000# Indy Super Pull class with V-12 tractor.
  • 1976 Repeated at Indy Super Pull
  • 1981 Won California “World Championship” pull with 24-cylinder tractor.
  • 1982 Repeated as “World Champion” in California.
  • Came out of “retirement” in 1999 to make a 150+ mph run on one of his machines

Potter’s adventures were not without some “experimental” glitches along the way. From one of the TheKneeslider’s excellent articles on the man:

I should censor out some stuff so as to not sound like a total dimwit, but the accuracy of the story demands that I have to tell you that I was just really intrigued by this strange noise that was exactly like when you walk on snow that is 10 below zero or so. Like I said, it was a creaking sound.

This has to rate as about the stupidest thing (almost) that I ever did, but I reached down and shook the hose between the two air tanks. Lo and behold I immediately found that the weird noise was the sound of the wire braid inside the hose breaking. I could tell this because as soon as I shook the hose, the rest of the wires broke and the two air tanks immediately took off in separate directions making such a roaring noise that you would need to hear it to believe it. Each tank had a short piece of broken hose attached to it, of course.

Well sir, one tank had a straight fitting on it and the thing made a really good rocket, sorta like when you blow up a balloon and let it go. That bastardly thing smashed into my big drill press and bent the main shaft, then went up through the ceiling and tore around in the attic blowing the insulation all over everything. On the way past, it shot a stick of air at me that blew out my eardrum and shoved me out through the doorway. The other tank had an elbow fitting on it, so it just pretty much stayed in one spot and spun around at such a speed as was really wonderful to see. Naturally, about this time it was beginning to look like those jumper cables and the electric starter would not be so bad after all, really. That was the end of starting jets with air for a while, as you may expect.

I feel a real kinship with the man, not just for his audacity and his skill, but for something he once said about what it takes to get things done.

“It ain’t whatcha got, it’s what you do with it.”

He was one in a long line of men who did something, and that will sorely be missed….

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