EJ Potter, “The Michigan Madman”
The Michigan Madman was Elon Jack (“E.J.”) Potter, from the Michigan town of Ithaca.
Born in 1941, EJ's beginnings were growing up on a farm, and couldn't have cared less about school. Thin and bespectacled, some considered him geeky and nerdish. One day around 1958 while in one of his high school classes, EJ drew a picture of a Harley Davidson V-twin bike and wondered if he could construct his own bike out of a V-8 engine. Telling his friends about his idea, EJ was laughed at, making him more determined to do it.
Relying on his experience from repairing farm tractor engines, he proceeded to build his dream machine. When he finished, he dubbed his creation “The Bloody Mary” and took it out on the streets for a test run. But the cops pulled him over and told him gruffly, “we don't ever wanna see this thing on the streets again!”
So EJ took it to the dragstrip, reached 130 MPH, and his legendary career was off and running. This 1950s beast was followed by another self-built 500-horsepower bike he called “The Widowmaker” in 1961. The Widowmaker ended up winning EJ three world land speed records.
EJ built many other machines including souped-up tractors, a jet boat, and a three-wheeler with a jet engine. After getting it up to 200 MPH, EJ sold his jet-powered, 1200-horsepower three-wheeler to Evel Knievel, who EJ was not really impressed with. He was quoted as saying, “the difference between me and him 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”.
People would come to watch EJ on the dragstrip but not to win...they just wanted to be there in case he crashed. If he did, it would be some crash. At the starting line he would hike the bike up on the rear stand, get the back wheel spinning as fast as he could, then kick out the stand. Away he would go in a billowing cloud of smoke.
EJ Potter passed away in 2012 – not from an accident, but from Alzheimer's disease at the age of 71. When asked “what ever made you do this in the first place?”, EJ's reply was “basically, it was ignorance”.
MORE ODD MICHIGANDERS:
Clem Sohn, the Bat Man/Birdman of Michigan
The Notorious Conwoman of Menominee
The Mysterious Mr. Rover