They’ve played Taps several times recent- ly for some heavy hitters in the performance world—Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins, “Big Willie” Robinson, king of the street racers, Carroll Shelby and Ralph Kramden. But the guy I personally miss most, and the one I fired off a 21 12 ga. shotgun salute for at 2 a.m. was E.J. Potter, a/k/a the Michigan Madman.
Elon Jack Potter didn’t just think outside the box. To him there was no box. He loved to do stuff that couldn’t be done. His initial claim to fame was mounting a V8 engine sideways in a chain-driven Harley-Davidson motorcycle frame. He had problems getting clutches to stand up to the abuse, so he abandoned clutches completely, starting off by raising the rear wheel on a stand revving up until it was spinning at about 100 MPH and having his crew would push him off the stand. Cojones, no? E.J. made exhibition runs on his V8-powered bikes and local track promoters would pay him a dollar for every mile an hour he could hit above 100. He usually made 3 runs @ $150 per. Why only three runs? Because that’s how many he could make before the tires blew out.
V8-powered bikes got mundane after a while, so E.J. picked up a U.S. military surplus jet engine, stuffed it into a 3 wheel bike he called the “Widow Maker” and went nearly 200 MPH. While E.J. never achieved the notoriety of an Evil Knievel, his accomplishments—both in engineering (in which he had no formal training) and performance dwarfs that of the bone-busted Evilman. Comparing himself to Knievel, E.J. was quoted, “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.” ‘Course, E.J. had his fling with Mopars, too. I had the pleasure of interviewing him for an article we did a few years back. One of his Mopes was a ’57 Plymouth 4-door into which he installed an Allison V12. This engine was so long, that E.J. had to drive this thing from the back seat. He took the Plymouth up to 150 MPH—and this was long before the first Funny Car existed. His second Mopar was a new Dodge Dart station wagon that he bought for his wife. E.J. asked to “borrow” the wagon for a while (so he could stuff another Allison V12 into it.) When he was finished running the wagon, he converted it back to stock and returned it to his wife.
E.J. passed away at 71, not as the result of an accident (he had a few) but complications from Alzheimer’s—something that seems to be catching here around our office which is why we all wear surgical masks and keep little vials of fairy dust on our desks.