“What rock and roll owes to Elvis– drag racing owes to Leo Payne.” –Cook Neilson.

Leo Payne on the bonneville salt

Leo Payne at the Bonneville Salt Flats. via

leo payne harley-davidson turnip eater early days

“‘Back then,’ recalls racer/promoter Bonnie Truett, “we were all using those little four-inch Avon slicks and no wheelie bars. The theory was that the faster you could spin the tire, the faster you would go. Leo Payne changed that when he accidentally invented the slipper clutch at Irwindale in 1967 or 1968. His clutch slipped when he left the line, but then the heat from the friction welded everything together when he was about halfway down the track. The clutch locked up solid and Leo made the fastest run he’d ever made. The slipper clutch was a big deal because it let us go to a bigger tire.'” –via ‘Motorcycle Drag Racing: A History’ by John S. Stein 

leo payne turnip eater drags

Young Leo Payne screwing around

Leo Payne Turnip Eater Harley-Davidson

“Harley legend and top drag racer Leo Payne was tearing up the racetracks on his 75 ci street Sportster, dubbed “Turnip Eater,” and 74 ci lay-down Top Fueler. Leo was an excellent engine builder and master at modifying and tuning gas and fuel carburetors. Once he began modifying his Sportsters, Leo quickly earned the reputation of having two of the fastest Harleys in the Midwest, turning 11.08s at 125 mph on Turnip Eater and mid-9s at 150 mph on his fueler. Turnip Eater started life as a ’57 Sportster, and Leo purportedly coined the bike for eating up British imports on the dragstrip. Payne became known for his lightning-quick reaction times, won numerous titles, and set countless records in various sanctioned drag races during the ’60s. In ’69, Payne’s trap speed of 201 mph on Turnip Eater made him the first rider in history to ride a non-streamliner faster than 200 mph.” –D. William Denish


Leo Payne’s legendary Turnip Eater Harley drag-bike. Payne won numerous titles and set countless records in the often informally sanctioned motorcycle drag races of the 1960s. He was noted for his consistency on the drag strip where his runs rarely varied by more than a few hundredths of a second. Payne won with single-engine bikes during an era when dual- and even triple-engine dragsters came into vogue. One of his secrets was shaving a great deal of weight off his Sportster-based dragsters. He eliminated all unneeded parts and removed enough metal to get the normally heavy Harleys down to just over 300 pounds. via


Leo Payne’s Turnip Eater Harley-Davidson gasser drag bike, photographed by D. William Denish in ’93 at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum in Pickerington, Ohio. Courtesy Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum.


Leo Payne’s legendary Turnip Eater Harley drag-bike


Leo Payne’s legendary Turnip Eater Harley drag-bike

Leo Payne Turnip Eater Harley-Davidson dragster

The legendary Leo Payne (pictured above) was well known for his demonstrative tire smoking, not just to improve traction– it was Payne’s psychological warfare of choice to wage.

leo payne harley-davidson top fueler drag bike motorcycle

Leo Payne became known for his lightning-quick reaction times. He claimed the quick reactions came from his job at Quaker Oats, where he would sharpen his sense of timing by pitting his reactions against the start-stop lights of box-filling machines. via

Leo Payne Tibben

AMA Motocycle Hall of Famers Leo Payne & John Tibben.

Leo Payne Harley-Davidson XLCH

Leo Payne with his 80 cubic inch Top Fuel Harley-Davidson Sportster

harley-davidson fueler racer racing leo payne 80ci

Leo Payne’s 80 cubic inch Top Fuel Sportster sits in the pits at the October 26, ’69 Atco, NJ drag race. (Circa 10/26/69) via