One for the Road: Kind of a drag

By Shadow

It was Memorial Day weekend of 2002 and we were stuck in holiday traffic on the interstate just south of D.C. I’m not sure who was more overheated, the bikes or us, but we didn’t care. We were on the way to North Carolina for the Maxton Mile!

Back in 1996, a Sportster owner named Doug Mansfield started an email listserv for other Sportster enthusiasts. It was called the XL-List and was part of the sportster.org website, a wonderful online resource for all things Sportster. When I wanted to do mods to my 1999 XLH, I found the list and its source the XL-Digest in mid-2000. It was the start of an amazing journey.

The XL-List opened my eyes to all things Sportster, and more importantly, introduced me to a cast of characters some of whom, to this day, remain good friends. The same year I joined, a Moto Guzzi took the 1000cc Production Frame/Production Pushrod (P/PP) Land Speed Record away from a Sportster at the Bonneville Salt Flats. List member George Crim tossed out a challenge to the list: “Are we gonna let them get away with this shit?”

And so it began. The Sportster List Team and another group, the Yahoo! Sportster Owner’s Club, started to raise money to build a bike. The first one was Nola, an ’83 XR1000 owned by Gene Brauninger and raced by Timbo Horton and Ray Kimbro. Sadly, she didn’t fare too well. She ate a lot of pistons but didn’t achieve any records. Poor Nola was retired after her last debacle at the Salt Flats in 2001.

Ohioan Dale Amsden built a 1000cc Production racer out of a 2001 Hugger punched out to 995cc and jazzed up with heads, cams, and more. The Mystery Evo crushed the Moto Guzzi’s record at the 2001 World of Speed. Next, fellow Ohioan Crim and North Carolina resident Art Northrup built a bike called Roadkill. First was the souped-up engine which Art took to Crim in Ohio—the first time these two met in person. Crim and his wife Jody stuffed the motor in the frame and off they all went to Bonneville.

This whole adventure was truly revolutionary at the time—a bike built by Internet! There was no Facebook, no GoFundMe, just a bunch of Sportster nuts that wanted to see Sportsters kick ass on the track. To raise money, merchandise such as shirts, hats, timing covers, and such was sold. And when the team raced at Bonneville, we waited eagerly for the email updates. This was our team!

Bonneville, the epicenter of Land Speed Racing, was pretty far for racers from the East, so a few Bonneville veterans decided to find a racing venue on the East Coast. The old Laurinburg/Maxton Air Force Base had a runway that hadn’t been used for years, so permission was secured to clean it up and hold time trials. The air strip was nearly two miles long, a mile for the speed trials (hence the moniker Maxton Mile) and nearly a mile for shutdown.

Once we arrived at the track, we met everyone we’d only known through the XL-List. Some of the folks had set up tents and brought food and beverages, so between picnicking, watching the time trials, and just hanging out, the weekend flew by. There were Crim and Art, with Roadkill, representing the Sportster List Race Team, Larry Young a.k.a. Skinny No Ass Larry (SNAL) and his team SNART (Skinny No Ass Race Team), “Dad” Land and Lone Eagle Racing, Twin Jugs Racing with Todd Dross and his wife-to-be Debbie, Team Timbo with Tim Horton and crew, Jim Snyder with “Whiplash,” and more. We had such a good time that we traveled that same 600 miles the next month to do it all over again.

Friendships were formed, stories were swapped, and we swore to get together as often as we could. The next year, a northern contingent rode the Blue Ridge Parkway from the Northeast to North Carolina where we met up with the Southern Sportster Riders Group (an offshoot of the Yahoo Sportster Owners Group) at Blue Ridge Motorcycle Campground. We visited the Wheels Through Time museum which had opened just the year before, some of the group rode Tail of the Dragon, and we all gathered for a party at Larry and Johanna Young’s house nearby.

As the years went on, I tried to keep up with the various teams’ racing exploits. Records were set and smashed, and some broke into the venerated 200 MPH Club. Those aiming for Land Speed Records aren’t competing against anyone else like a typical drag race; they are battling only the elements—and the clock. What really drew me in, though, was the support each team showed for each other. Although they often competed for the same classes, if someone needed a part or some tech assistance, someone from another team was right there. 

At some point, Doug transitioned to another job, and was unable to maintain the XL-List server. And then, in 2011, time trials could no longer be held at the Maxton Mile. The ECTA found a location in Ohio which, I think, lasted a few years. I don’t know if any of the original group races anywhere anymore, but there are now three ECTA speed trial events this year at another venue in Arkansas.

The cool thing, though, is that in 2016, George Crim started a new Sportster List on Facebook to once again bring together the members of the original XL-List, reminisce about the old days, and remember those who have passed on. And we welcome new members, as well. I still see some of the old XL-Listers, like THUNDER PRESS contributor Moshe Levy, we visited Todd and Debbie one year on the way to Myrtle Beach, and more recently we stopped in to see Larry when we were in Asheville. But time marches on. Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

 

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