El Jebel man aims to break his speed record on motorized skateboard
El Jebel blacksmith Vaughn Shafer doesn’t plan a sedentary visit to Sturgis for the legendary annual motorcycle rally in South Dakota next month.
Instead, the 53-year-old former stuntman aims to top his previous speed record on a motorized skateboard. In 2010, Shafer hit 62 mph in a one-eighth mile on the Sturgis drag strip.
“Now my skateboard is completely redone,” Shafer said. “Our goal is to run 70 in the one-eighth of a mile.”
The 75th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally will be held Aug. 3 through 9. Shafer, his wife Lori and some of their friends are regular vendors with their custom-built motorcycles, leatherworks and Vaughn’s custom ironwork. One crowd-pleaser is the sabertooth tiger bike that Shafer regularly takes and tries to sell.
Drag-racing contests between souped-up motorcycles are always part of the rally. Shafer will be the halftime entertainment on his skateboard in front of a crowd of 40,000 to 50,000 during a pre-rally event Aug. 2.
After putting his skateboard in mothballs the past five years, Shafer got excited about trying to top his previous record.
“I’m an adrenaline junkie,” Shafer said. “I have the need for speed.”
A key to resurrecting the board was finding the right mechanic. He enlisted friend Kit Axelson of Hell Roaring Cycles in New Castle to beef up his board.
“He’s the only mechanic who touches my motorcycles and skateboard,” Shafer said.
Axelson installed a new motor and carburetor system and added new tires on the skateboard.
The 45-horsepower engine has been boosted above 50 horsepower. It runs off jet fuel. Shafer controls the speed with a handheld throttle.
“I call it my drag board,” Shafer said.
The specialized skateboard weighs about 68 pounds. It’s about 4 feet long and 8 inches wide in the rear, where the engine sits. There are no bindings to keep Shafer strapped in, but there’s what he calls a “sky hook” where he can wedge his front foot. The beefy back tires came off a go-cart. The front tires are standard skateboard issue.
After messing around with skateboards for 30 years, Shafer wants to accomplish a speed goal before hanging up the board for good.
“I just want to fulfill my dream,” he said. “I just want to run 100.”
He figures if the board hits 70-plus mph in the one-eighth mile, it can hit 100 in a quarter-mile.
Shafer started skateboarding in California in high school in the 1970s and went pro in 1982. He got into stunts and eventually experimented with a motorized skateboard. He once jumped five cars, setting a record by clearing 37 feet, 10 inches, in the early 1990s.
A crash convinced him the aerobatics would lead to his demise, so he decided to keep his feet on the ground — albeit at speeds in the 60s while in a crouching position on a board in the open air.
Shafer wears a suit that looks like a stock car driver’s outfit with the addition of a motocross rider’s padding. He wears a motorcycle helmet with a full shield.
He has taken three high-speed spills. The key to surviving is to avoid rolling, he said. That’s when he could bust limbs. Instead, he has to slide along the ground and trust his suit.
“It’s like a Pete Rose slide,” he said.
Even in this age of extreme sports, with GoPro cameras capturing every move, Shafer appears to be the only person pursuing speed records on a motorized skateboard.
“There’s nobody else in the world doing this,” he said. “I’ve tried to get other guys to do this, but they say, ‘Hell no.’”
Lori Shafer has seen her husband crash a couple of times when he was testing his board at the Bonneville Salt Flats. The salt clumped on his tires, fell off and made travel treacherous. She supports his speed pursuit because she knows skateboarding has been his passion since high school.
“I say a lot of prayers — leave it in God’s hands,” she said. Besides, Vaughn has proved resilient. “He recovers.”
To help fund their speed attempt in Sturgis, the Shafers are selling T-shirts and stickers from Vaughn’s blacksmith shop at 275B El Jebel Road. Vaughn will be in his shop every day through Tuesday before leaving Wednesday for Sturgis.
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