Performance-focused motorcycle shop Dirty Dixie Performance
takes high-performance Harley-Davidson to the next level
Words by Joy Burgess
Photos by Max Horta and DDP archives
Dirty. Rough, raw, rugged. That’s a pretty good description of Sam Cabe and Johnathon Denton, the guys behind Dirty Dixie Performance, who we first met at the inaugural V-Twin Visionary tour in Tennessee earlier this year. The two launched their custom Softail performance business and their Instagram account (@dirtydixieperformance) in August 2018, and just one year later – in August 2019 – they were an invited builder at the V-twin Visionary Smoky Mountain Tour.
From that point on, they started blowing up Instagram, not only with their high-performance bike builds and performance modifications, but also their own unique parts. A few weeks ago, they nearly broke the ‘Gram with the introduction of their 2020 Harley-Davidson quarter fairing 14-inch windshield (prototype #1), which they’ll be offering to customers in addition to other custom parts they’ve used on their builds. And they just found out they’ve been invited to Mama Tried – one of the most prestigious custom motorcycle shows in the world.
Dreaming of Motorcycles
Although both of them grew up around motorcycles, neither of them had a motorcycle until they were adults. “I grew up around motorcycles, but never rode,” Sam said, “So I didn’t get into riding until later in life. But when I finally pursued it, I went all out with it – I don’t do anything halfway.”
Denton’s story is similar. “I grew up around motorcycles my entire life, but we didn’t have one. My great uncle had a Harley, my grandparents rode, even my grandmother had one and was a nurse who’d ride one down the road at a time it was uncommon for women to ride. I was destined to ride.”
However, several things stood in Denton’s way. “My dad said I could have a bike when I could afford it, so finally when I was about 19 or 20 I got a streetbike. Had sportbikes through my 20s – that was all I could afford – but then I took a forced sabbatical during my first marriage. We parted ways in July 2015, and in August I bought my first Harley. I’ve never looked back. Divorce taught me not to settle, that you should never change who you are for someone else, and I finally found the freedom of who I am again. As you grow as a human, you realize you should be yourself, and someone who truly loves you will respect that.”
The Birth of Dirty Dixie Performance
Both Sam and Denton work at a tire plant, which is where they met. “I’d been riding my bike every day, and Denton saw it,” Sam mentioned. Denton added, “We met one day in the smoking area, the local hangout for heathens and riff raff.” The two started talking about bikes, and they still haven’t stopped.
“When I was younger,” noted Denton, “I had a cool resume of jobs in the high-performance auto world focused on racing. But when I had my daughter I had to choose between that and a serious stable living, which is how I ended up at my day job. Sam and I would both ride to work and bullshit about motorcycles. One day Sam said something about me doing something on his bike. Next thing I knew I was at his house working on his bike.”
“We kept talking about what we could do if we had the money. This was in late 2015 when the performance Harley thing was taking off. I knew I could do it. The café racer crowd had been doing it for years, but it hadn’t really been done in the Harley world. We kept getting into more expensive personal motorcycles and modifications, getting in deeper and deeper, and one day Sam said, ‘Why do you work at the plant instead of doing this for a living?’ So I told him about my background.”
“I told him, ‘Are you kidding me right now?’” Sam interrupted. “Denton’s not a braggadocios person. He has a lot of skill and I felt there were places we could go with this.”
“So, we kicked around the idea of a business for a year, but it was more of a joke at the time,” Denton continued. “Sam would bring his bike over, I’d post stuff on Facebook about it. Finally, in August 2018, we officially launched Dirty Dixie Performance on IG, and from then on out, it just started growing.”
“Sometimes it’s tough to push enough income to the side to invest in our business – we’ve done this with no investment capital because we don’t want to owe anyone – so we started signing up for overtime, working 65 to 80 hours a week. All that overtime we invest in our business.”
Taking the Softail Performance Niche by Storm
Dirty Dixie Performance (DDP) specializes in custom Softail performance – high-performance Harley-Davidson. When everyone was losing their minds over the Dyna going away, they decided to jump on board with the new platform, embracing the untapped potential in the Milwaukee-Eight.
“I traded in my Road Glide for a 2019 Low Rider and then completely tore it down,” Denton remembers. “It had 30 miles on it,” Sam continued. “He rode it home and two days later it was just a frame and transmission.”
“Everyone already figured out twin cams,” Denton went on, “so when that Milwaukee-Eight came out I wanted to jump on that, tear it apart, and figure out what works and what doesn’t work. And know I can tell you every inch of this platform because I’ve seen every inch of it in my hands.”
When designing the 2019 FXLRT bike build (the one shown at the VTV tour and now headed to another premier bike show) and as they continue their 2020 custom bike, their goals are to bring more young people to the world of motorcycling and to build people what Harley failed to give them.
“Our niche is giving people the bikes they want Harley to build,” Sam said.
“Performance Harley-Davidsons,” Denton continued. “We’re not your run of the mill custom shop. We don’t take every repair job coming off the street. I don’t build real flashy bikes. I don’t build any other brand. But if your bike comes to DDP, it will be better than 100% when it leaves.”
And you can see their dedication to excellence and performance in their recent builds for customers, such as the 2019 FLHXS Street Glide Special they built to squeeze out a whopping 133hp and 150 lb-ft of torque.
“I go the extra mile on everything, and I’d lose money before I cut a corner for profit because I care about my reputation a lot. And if you want your bike to haul ass and take a corner like it should…I’m your huckleberry!”
Stay tuned in 2020 as Thunder Press follows their current build’s success as it heads to the Mama Tried Motorcycle Show and the progress of their 2020 custom build.