When the Harley-Davidson Sportster was introduced in 1957, it became the machine of choice of many top drag racers. Leo Payne, for one, raced them, stock framed and stretched for better weight transfer. When the Shovelhead engine was introduced a decade later, it took up where the Sportster engine left off; there’s no substitute for cubic inches. Stock, the new 1966 Shovelhead displaced 74 cubic inches where the Sportster engine had 55. But the Sportster was a compact, unit V-Twin, with a “cassette” transmission and a neat enclosed primary. So why not join the two?
For some racers the ultimate Harley-Davidson drag bike motor in the era was a combination of the two: the more desirable for it size and breathing Shovelhead top end mated to a set of Sportster crankcases. The Shove-Ster is born. With its hand-built frame, finless cylinders, and trick heads, this Shove-Ster is very different, very quick, and very cool to look at.
John Stein, author of the book Motorcycle Drag Racing: A History, offers some good background: “Racing on the street had its obvious drawbacks. And so on July 19, 1950, C.J. “Pappy” Hart established the first drag strip in Santa Ana, California, on an old P-38 landing strip. Because of their length and smooth surface, aircraft landing strips made excellent drag strips, and Hart made a deal with the airport manager to rent an unused runway every Sunday.
“Hart determined that a drag race should be a quarter-mile in length, having borrowed the distance from thoroughbred racing. That connection, he believed, would help publicize the sport and gain acceptance for it.
“Tracks remained that length until the death of one of the sport’s most popular drivers in 2008, at which time they were shortened to 1,000 feet where they remain.”
This motorcycle was built in memory of Parts Pete and is part of the Jill and John Parham Collection. Pete would have been very proud. When you visit the National Motorcycle Museum you’ll see a varied collection of drag bikes, everything from a twin TZ700 drag bike to one powered by a Vincent V-twin motor.
If you live in the central part of America and would like to see some vintage drag bikes in action, plan to attend the The Iowa Hog Drags & Nostalgia Reunion at North Iowa Dragway, Humbolt, Iowa July 3 & 4, 2020 and visit the National Motorcycle Museum booth.
- Engine: Sportster Cases/Flywheels, FL “Shovelhead” Heads, Fin-less Cylinders
- Carburetor: S&S Super Carburetor
- Frame: Tubular Steel, Hand-Built
- Suspension: Ceriani Forks / Rigid Rear
- Wheels / Tires: 2.50 x 18 / 5.00 x 16 Firestone drag slick