Originally Published In The May 2014 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
It all started when my mother ran over my metal flaked Honda 55 Super Cub with a single shotgun pipe. She stormed into our tiny stucco house in Long Beach and announced, “Get that damn thing out from under my car.” Her car was a massive ’59 Ford station wagon. It was 1964 and I was 15 years of age. That Honda was my first motorcycle. Mom and I didn’t see eye-toeye on a couple of issues. The day after I graduated from high school, I joined the Navy and was shipped to a heavy cruiser off the coast of Vietnam for three tours. I fell in love and got married; much to my mother’s chagrin (my loves have always played a major part, as you will see). During that time, I bought my first Harley — a ’69 kickonly XLCH with a magneto and no battery.
And so began a life of running wild, building motorcycles, ditching wives, and being involved in Bonneville racing. One of the first bikers I ever met was on a small destroyer: the USS Maddox. Andy Hanson was also building his first ground-up Big Twin in 1970, and his mentor was the late Bob George. Bob was an engine builder and an innovator. He taught me how to build engines. When I slipped away from the Vietnam War, honorably discharged, while dodging a potsmuggling bust, I returned to civilian life. I was innocent, I tell ya. They would let me out early if I took a trade course, so I took a welding class at Long Beach City College, that way I could rake frames. I took the certified welder course. Once clear of the Navy, I enrolled at the liberal arts campus at LBCC and started taking classes. I worked part time at US Choppers in Inglewood, and built engines and bikes on the side. One of the bikes — a Knucklehead — belonged to a high school buddy, Brad. As we were about to finish this wild chop, a new magazine appeared on the racks: Easyriders.
I wrote the publisher a note about Brad’s Knuckle and Lou Kimzey, and he came to see it. The next thing you know, I was the manager of ABATE — the first grass roots’ organization fighting for motorcycling freedom in America. Then I became an associate editor of Easyriders’ magazine. Long story short, I worked for this publishing company off and on for 30 years and built a few bikes during that time. Okay, so during that stretch, I introduced Bob George to the Jammer Cycle bosses: Joe Teresi and Mil Blair. Bob built a streamliner with two 90-inch Shovelhead engines and wanted to go after Don Vesco’s 314 mph motorcycle world land speed record (the granddaddy of records), but he needed financial backing. He couldn’t do it alone. It became the Jammer, then the Easyriders’ streamliner always piloted by Dave Campos. About this time, I ran off on my first wife and hooked up with a biker broad, who became the second Mrs. Ball, and we had a son. That didn’t last long either.
I became more of a crazed bike builder, joined a club, wrote more articles and hooked up with a club sweetie, the third Mrs. Ball. That was the era of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Nothing lasted more than a minute, and she was gone, but what a party we had. Then in the mid ‘80s, I met the most beautiful redhead on the planet and fell in love. I ditched five girlfriends and married the fourth Mrs. Ball. About the same time, Joe Teresi took over the streamliner effort and Paisano Publications. Keith Ruxton became the engine builder/crew chief and Easyrider’s readers went after that world land speed record. In 1989, we set a major record at 284 mph, but that wasn’t good enough. We returned in 1990 with Micah McCloskey, Dean Shawler, Kit Maria, and a solid bunch, bringing the land speed record back to America at 321 mph. We held that record for 16 years, longer than any of my marriages, so number four was history.
I took a break and then met number five, Rebecca, and so 5-Ball was born as a tribute to her and to all the Mrs. Balls in my life. I finally came to the dire conclusion: marriages weren’t for me. There would only be five. I started writing motorcycle fiction books and they all fell under the 5-Ball brand. Then as the Internet fluttered to life, I started Bikernet.com, also a 5-Ball entity. At the time, about the mid ‘90s, I would build a motorcycle each year and test it on the roads to Sturgis, often with a bunch called the Hamsters. Then in 2006, we established the 5-Ball Racing Team and returned to BUB’s Bonneville with the first sport bike Panhead based around John Reed’s V-Bike and Berry Wardlaw’s 120-inch Panhead engine. It was a pure fluke, but Valerie Thompson rode this monster into the record books at a top speed of 152 mph. I was standing on the salt the day the ER record was snatched by the Ack Attack streamliner, 16 years later (342 mph).
We learned so much that year that we decided to return in 2007 with another Panhead. This time, we built an aerodynamic bullet and our notion was to build the world’s fastest Panhead. We did set another record in our class with a top speed of 162 mph during horrible salt conditions. I pulled away from the magazine world, but continued to write wild fiction books, and then a Bonneville book around our second Panhead world record, while building Bikernet.com. Hell, we didn’t know what we were doing, but we did know we were having the time of our lives, writing about motorcycles, building motorcycles, and living the two wheeled dream.
I wasn’t much for trophies or organized sports. I liked to sit alone and write a story, or tinker in my shop. I didn’t ride with groups much, but enjoyed the open road alone, in search of the next redhead and bottle of whiskey. I’ve tried to live by the code of the west and always be available to a downed brother or sister. And I endeavor to help folks in the industry, and with Chris Callen, we promote the Motorcycle Riders’ Foundation Industry Council. So, a couple of years ago, a young man approached me and wanted to build an apparel line around Bikernet. I leaned back in my tattered leather chair and kicked my boots up on my Panhead desk. After a shot of single-barrel Jack, the 5-Ball Racing brand was born. I told him there was no money in it, but Andrew Calogero persisted, while the 5-Ball team prepared for another run at the salt.
While we grappled with designing and building the first streamlined Belly Tank trike for Bonneville, I hooked up another positive element to the growing team, Bob Kay, a man who has lived and breathed the motorcycle business as long as I have. Andrew is the operations and sales arm (rolled 5-Ball apparel into the J&P catalog), while Bob designed a carefully thought-out line of leather goods, and suddenly we had a 5-Ball Racing line of riding leathers. So, there you have it. We were just a handful of brothers and sisters living the chopper dream, snorting racing fuel, drinking whiskey and running amuck. This year, we hope to roll back to the salt with Ray Wheeler’s 124- inch, turbocharged, Hayabusasuspended Twin Cam, the 5-Ball 1940 45 Flathead with a K-model top end (featured in Cycle Source with an engine built by Departure Bike Works in Richmond, VA), and the JIMS Machine, Paughco, Lucky Devil, 5-Ball streamlined trike. Hang on, because there’s never a dull moment around Bikernet or the 5-Ball Racing headquarters.