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Cannonball Characters: #22 Jeff Lauritsen

By Felicia Morgan

Jeff Lauritsen
#22 1916 Excelsior

Cannonballer #22 is a two-time rider who is signed up to make it a triad for 2018. The 66-year-old Lauritsen chuckles when asked where he’s from. He announces that he’s a South Dakota resident who lives in Nebraska, an arrangement made for business purposes. For 45 years Jeff transported bees across the country, primarily between California, Texas, North and South Dakota, but says he’s retired to the life of a farmer now. “I’m a hobbyist farmer,” he grins. “It’s what I do for relaxation, really.”

The story of how he became smitten with the run comes from stumbling across the riders as they made their way across the Midwest back in 2012. He and his wife Linda were out for a pleasure ride one sunny afternoon and started seeing all these old bikes sputtering along the countryside. After discovering what they were all about Jeff decided he needed to be a part of the adventure and called Lonnie Isam to see if he could sign up. Unfortunately the roster was already set for the 2014 run so his name went on a waiting list. Jeff laughs when he tells about calling Lonnie incessantly and his surprise that, after being such a pest, Isam even bothered to answer the phone. Eventually someone dropped out and Jeff moved into their position in the lineup. It was on the sands of the Daytona Beach that he finally met the patient and smiling promoter face-to-face. “Lonnie was such a great guy,” Jeff shared.

Both Lauritsen’s Cannonball adventures have been wrought with drama as he’s struggled to get his motorcycle across the country with teammates. Winning is not important to Jeff; the adventure itself is what excites him. The ride got serious just a day away from crossing the finish line during the 2016 run when Lauritsen was involved in a traffic scrape that took his bike out of contention and required a trip to the hospital for him. He waves off any concerns when asked how badly he was hurt, but tells about friends helping him push his wounded 1916 Excelsior across the finish line on a dolly, since it wasn’t capable of rolling on its own.

For this year’s run Lauritsen has a different machine undergoing an overhaul and the bike’s completion is his only real concern. Cannonball alumni, racing and building veteran Fass Mikey Vils is currently wrenching on his 1914 Excelsior and Jeff’s a little concerned. Parts availability has been a serious issue since suppliers, machinists and craftsmen are all very busy working with other Cannonballers who are also frantically preparing for the fall adventure, but Jeff says he’s certain Vils will have it in tip-top shape in time to toe the line in Portland, Maine, come September. Vils is also signed up to tackle the run and is prepping his own machine as well.

“The Motorcycle Cannonball is the most exciting thing I’ve ever done,” Jeff beams as he shares that his wife and youngest of his three daughters will accompany him just as they have in the prior runs. “And they’re just as excited as I am.”

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