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.
“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.”