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Heartbreaking News: EJ Potter, “The Michigan Madman” is Dead

Heartbreaking News: EJ Potter, “The Michigan Madman” is Dead

Elon Jack Potter, better known to hot rodders the world over as “EJ” or “The Michigan Madman” died on April 30th, 2012 in Ithaca, Michigan. EJ was 71 years old. Normally I write these obituaries in as news-like a manner as I can, but this one really hurts. I cannot claim to have been a friend of EJ Potter’s but I did have occasion to speak with him several times for stories and other projects I have worked on. I count him as one of my biggest hot rodding heroes and he was a man known to people in one form or another all over the globe. Most knew him from his exploits on the series of Widowmaker Chevy V8 motorcycles he rode through the 1960s  and early 1970s. Many knew him from his other creations, which included a trike powered by a cruise missile engine, several Allison powered cars, and a raft of nationally known pulling tractors that were called, the “Ugly Tractor” and “Double Ugly”.

He was one of the country’s foremost experts on Allison aircraft engines and at one time owned hundreds of them. He sold them off to airplane racers, pullers, and others over time. He had a business selling snow melting machines in recent years and about a decade ago he released a book and film about his life. I own both of those items and I will be spending some time with them over the next few days.

Throwing all manner of professionalism and decorum out the window here, this truly sucks. While Potter’s career is the stuff of comic book heroes, his passing signifies a sad end to an era in both motorsports and society where a guy with a crazy idea could make a hell of a living. Today, there are no more EJ Potters because the world has snuffed ‘em out with red tape, lawsuits, bicycle helmets, knee pads, helicopter parents, anti-lock brakes, traction control, electronic stability control, and general enslavement to insurance companies.

I’ll leave you with a link to our feature on EJ Potter and a couple of my favorite quotes from the man. His loss is a true heart breaker for us and for the world of hot rodding as a whole. He was a crazy empirical genius of the type that are no longer manufactured. God, this sucks to write.

LINK: The BangShift EJ Potter Interview

“The acceleration would be real noticeable and the vibrations, bumps, and engine noises would stop registering. It got kinda mental. It would feel like I was doing something that was not supposed to be even possible because from the time I drew that first picture in school of the Chevy and two wheels, nobody I ever talked to about it ever thought it was possible, and more to the point, nobody thought I could do it. So here I am going real fast, real smooth, all by myself approaching a place that no one else could, at that time, get to.”

“Ignorance is a powerful tool if applied at the right time, even usually surpassing knowledge.”


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25 thoughts on “Heartbreaking News: EJ Potter, “The Michigan Madman” is Dead

  1. crazy canuck

    condolances to all his friends and family. the sad fact is alot of the heros and inovators of motorsport are passing on ,they all will be missed . they all made these forms of motorsports what they are today.

  2. Hotrodcharlie

    A true pioneer in so many ways. It is truly a sad day in the world of hot rodding. God speed to him, and condolences to his family. May he rest in peace.

  3. zombie289

    RIP Madman, I remember reading of your exploits and instantly respecting your brilliance and fearlessness!! God speed.

  4. gary

    Like the WW2 veterans, we begin to lose them at a faster pace. I’ve seen EJ ride the Widowmaker back in the Day. Rude, crude, and totally awesome! Indeed, a sad day for all of us, and your perception of the reality of our modern word, sadly, is right one.
    Godspeed, EJ, we’ll catch up to you later…

  5. Clyde Hensley

    RIP to the most fearless man Iv’e ever known! EJ befriended me at Dave Crane’s annual drag race reunion in 2002, sold me everything to put “Bloody Mary” # 1-2 motorcycle together, he even fired up a jet engine for me! I got it done for the Detroit Autorama in 2008 and was invited to show it at the Gilmore Museum “1/4 mile at a time” exhibit in 2009. EJ showed up at the Gilmore with an old girlfriend from high school and posed for photos with the “Bloody Mary”
    I met his daughter Alison, her husband Dave and EJ’s son Jack there. From that exhibit I was contacted by the owner of the “WidowMaker 7″ (a widow) and I bought it from a personal collection. I still own both bikes, tons of pulling tractor trophy’s and a valve cover off of “Double Ugly”. The “Bloody Mary” will be on display at the National Motorcycle Museum in Iowa from June 2012 till May 2013. I am EJ’s # 1 fan!!
    The last time I visited EJ in the assisted living home and he had a 8 X 10 photo of him and I with the “Bloody Mary” at the Gilmore over his bed. EJ was not doing well when I visited him and it was the last time I saw him. I along with all the other gearheads will miss him, he was one of our biggest heros.
    Clyde Hensley

    1. Holly Stoneman

      You should be ashamed of yourself for taking all of those momentos/treasures from E.J.s children and grandchildren. I know how it went down from a first hand acct. Remember that you will have to stand before the Lord on judgement day…was it really worth the money???

      1. Dennis

        My most heart felt and humble condolence to E.J.’s Family,.. He was truly one of a kind, A brilliant humble soul with a quick whit and a contagious smile.

        But Holly, Your “First hand account” is totally wrong. I was with Clyde when we went to visit EJ one time. EJ was actively offering items for sale to Clyde,… The subject of family came up, and EJ said “They don’t care about any of this stuff”.

        When EJ offered a old piston and rod from one of the Allison engines, EJ shot Clyde a price,… Clyde told EJ it was worth more than he was asking,.. And gave him more than he had asked. This process repeated itself on a number of items EJ sold Clyde.

        When Clyde asked EJ, “are you sure you want to sell this ?”,… EJ said,.. I would rather see it go to somebody who knows what it is, and can appreciate it.(Clyde and EJ’s friendship went on for many years,.. way before EJ was ill).

        EJ always had a way of bringing a lot of smiles into any location he was in,… A truly unique man that was a wizard with anything mechanical. Always making you feel comfortable and at ease, and never taking himself seriously. I truly beleive EJ never totally understood his celebrity status,……. And what a hero he was to so many of us “gear heads”.

    2. Ashlee

      I’m sorry that you chose this sad time to advertise yourself and the belongings that you “aquired” from EJ. This was meant to honor and remeber a wonderful man that you took advantage of while ill. Heaven have mercy on your soul.

  6. joe flabeets

    I watched EJ Potter on the starting line at Detroit Dragway many times. I worked on the starting line while I was in high school. To ride an injected Chevy and kick it in gear and burn rubber all the way down the track….He truly was a madman and a genius to boot. He had a Dart with an Allison engine in it that he ran later on. “Bloody Mary” is still around, rebuilt by Clyde from pieces of Potter’s collection. It was featured at Detroit’s Autorama in 2010. RIP EJ you gave us all many a thrill.

  7. John

    I never met E J, or ever spoke with him,but about a year ago i bought his book and the dvd.
    Somehow it just gave you a feel for the guy.
    I liked him, and hoped I’d meet him sometime.
    Guess that’s not going to happen.
    Safe ride E J.

    To anyone interested I recommend both the book and the video if you can still get them.

  8. PrimerDust360

    EJ Potter is dead. Long live EJ Potter!

    As a lifelong fan of EJ’s I had just purchased a $650 ’66 Dart Wagon. I learned he’d published an autobiography recently. I called the # to order his book and it was his home answering machine. “This is EJ. If you get this message I may be on the internet, in my garage or out in the garden, but leave a message and I’ll call you back” was basically the recording. I was at work at the time, so I left a message with my work number. “EJ, My name is Cameron and I am a fan of yours calling to order your book. I just bought a ’66 Dart Wagon and while I am not planning on installing an Allison in it I did just buy a triple SU intake for a Slant 6 from Australia. I would love to read your autobiography, please call me back at…” 10 minutes later he called my ext. and asked for Cameron. what tripped me out the most was how humble and soft-spoken he sounded. It took me 45 minutes to order his book. We talked about ’57 Plymouths and Dart Wagons, He talked about the Vincent he had before building the Widowmaker. I told him I had one of his quotes as my sig line on MoParts and going back to the early day’s of AOL Car Chat some crazy German kid who was building a tractor for pulling looked to him as an inspiration. I finally gave him my card # and placed my order. When my book arrived I was pleasantly surprised to discover he’d taken the time to personally autograph the inside cover. To me. With well wishes on my Dart Wagon project.

    I met my old friend for beers last Thursday and the conversation turned to how he basically hacked up a vintage Harley frame, welded it back together around a sideways Chevy V8 and dragged raced his “Widowmaker” contraption, crossing the finish at 175 with his rear wheel still doing 200.

    Rest in peace, EJ. You were one of a kind!

  9. Bob Appelle

    I also called EJ about 3 years ago to buy 2 autobiographies and 2 videos I had a delivery about 15 miles from his house so I asked if I could stop by and pick them up. He thought that was great, as he would not have to drive into town to mail them. He called me back and said he had to leave for shot time, but for me to open the side door of his house and leave the money on the kitchen table and take the books and videos. I told him I would come latter because I wanted to me him. We talked for almost an hour, what a story teller. He also signed both books. It’s a day that will always bring a smile to my face. RIP EJ

  10. Dennis

    I had the pleasure of meeting the man at a bar in Hopkins, MI for a book signing shortly after his autobigraphy was released. An incredibly interesting, intelligent, funny, and just plain cool person to meet. I asked him if he ever gets on any of his bikes and rides anymore…he looked at his wife and said, “No, this is the wildest thing I ride anymore!”

    RIP E.J.

  11. John Hubka

    My brother and I had the pleasure of pulling modified tractors against EJ back in the 70’s. He was always willing to help out a fellow puller as long as they were not a holes. The only downside to pulling against EJ was if he showed up with both tractors everyone else was pulling for third place unless he broke, and I can’t ever remember a time when that happened to the point of taking him out of the pulloff, or next class. He was truly WORLD CLASS! Maybe God wanted to see what a REAL modified puller could do.

  12. Hoot Geezer

    I had the great pleasure of working at Flemington N.J. Dragstrip in the very early 60s as the announcer and my adopted brother Alan was the flagman! We had E.J. there as a paid exobicionist and it was a day I will always remember! Rev that Chevy up to redline and his partner would kick it off the stand! Left one black mark the entire 1/4 mile! Innovationists in the sport of drag racing in those days was what made those years so very interesting! I am 73 and still playing with drag race and street rods! RIP Mr. Potter! Hoot Geezer

  13. Glen Mascho

    My Brother inlaw at that time in the 70 ts pulled with Ej and have had great time with Him he was fun to be around and He would do some crazy things he loved making folk stand up He will be Missed many good times Twitch

  14. Steve in Flushing

    Ended up here trying to find EJ’s info to buy his book. I am so stunned & sad to hear that EJ is gone. Used to see him every summer with Double Ugly at the Ionia Free Fair tractor pulls. Such a fascinating guy and I’m sorry I never got around to calling him up to get a copy of his book.

    Goodbye, EJ. You will truly be missed.

  15. Norman Beean

    As i was growing up i was lucky to like just 2 doors down from EJ.That was a experence in its self. the entire family was nice. His father farmed and was a professer at a near by collage.his sisters were all the greatest.one i had a crush on and took tap dancing lessons from.EJ was one of a kind, he gave me a ride once and only once on a vincin black shadow. i kissed the ground when i got off haha. My uncle now gone to, lived. next door to EJ or piss pot as he called him in fun only had alott of respect for him.I started racing dirt tracks and got a few tips and motor parts from EJ. he knew chevys like the back of his hand. knew alottt of other too. Mad Man we will miss you.ty for everything.Storin Norman

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