“Usually, a guy went for the fastest time on the track, or he tried to win the competition for the highest speed clocked that day,” said Roger Meiners, a motor sports journalist and photographer. “E. J. wasn’t looking to win anything. He just showed up and tried to make people go– Oh, my God!”
Growing up in Ithaca, Michigan, young E.J. Potter proved to be an inventive and daring motor-head. The teenage Potter was stuck with a crazy idea, one that was unheard of– drop a V-8 engine in a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. He was already tinkering with tractor engines on the farm, building motorcycles and racing at the local tracks and drag strips around central Michigan well before he was old enough to legally drive. Potter shared this radical V-8 powered motorcycle concept with a few of his high school buddies who thought he was crazy. Their disbelief and ribbing only served to fuel Potter to make it a reality– and his legendary 283 ci Chevy-powered “Bloody Mary” beast was born in the late 1950s. Potter was just 19 years old when he designed and built the bike.
At that time, no one had ever married a V-8 with a motorcycle. E.J. Potter powered through daunting technical problems that would’ve deter most— extreme vibration, unpredictable steering, the front wheel taking flight and popping up in the air. He debuted the “Bloody Mary” at a local strip in 1960, reaching 130 MPH.
Potter later credited his youth and ignorance as the greatest drivers that saw his vision become a reality. “Ignorance is a powerful tool if applied at the right time, even, usually, surpassing knowledge.”
“I didn’t really know what a Chevrolet engine was, except the hot rod magazines were talking about it being the smallest, lightest, most-powerful car engine that had ever been built up to that time, which was about 1958, when I got the idea.”
Through trials and tooling Potter would ultimately coax his new beast the “Widow Maker” to a top speed 172 MPH– a spine-tingling spectacle that he’d repeat for decades, risking life and limb every time. E.J. Potter achieved this with an upgraded V-8 Chevy 350 ci engine. The new 500-horsepower “Widow Maker,” would set three world land speed records that fueled his popularity, and had him traveling to drag strips all over the world.