Earl Sutton reminisces about
his winning ways with motorcycles
INTERVIEW BY GARY RIDOUT for the
Smithfield Weekly Sun
interview took place at Edward Earl Sutton’s home
in a room he calls the "Harley Davidson Room."There
are five motorcycles in this room and the walls
are lined with 115 trophies. The trophies
are just some of those he won racing motorcycles
from 1957 to 1975.
OF THE INTERVIEW:
I was born in Wayne County near Suttontown in 1934.
When I was five years old I saw something that was
so wonderful I have never forgotten it. It was a
Whizzer motorbikes were produced in the United
States from 1939 to 1965. A neighbor of ours would
ride this motorbike by our house and I would run out
to the road to watch it go by. Even at age five in
1939, I was so impressed that I was determined that
I would someday own a motorcycle.
I moved with my family to Smithfield when I was 10
years old. The house we lived in was on Buffalo Road
just beyond (present-day) Smithfield Middle School.
My father, T.L. Sutton, worked for J.E. Wilson Sr.
Mr. Wilson owned several farms, the Chevrolet
dealership, and a livestock market on Highway 301
across the street from what is now Willowrun
One of my father’s jobs was to buy mules. He would
go to Memphis, Tennessee and buy a train-car load of
mules and have them shipped back to Smithfield. They
were unloaded behind what is now Coor Farm Supply.
Frank Holding Sr. would go to the train siding where
the mules were unloaded. He would then ride his
horse to the mule barn, which was near the
intersection of Market Street and Bridge Street.This is near
where the Post Office is now. The mules would follow
Frank Holding and the horse to the mule barn.
In 1949, there were four of us guys that wanted to
go to Raleigh from Smithfield. In those days there
was no 70 Bypass and no I-40. You had to go right
through Clayton and go under the railroad bridge
toward Garner. At 14 years old, I agreed that all
four of us would ride the motorcycle to Raleigh.
Just past Clayton, a Highway Patrol officer went by
us and went over the hill where he could not see us.
I stopped the motorcycle quickly and Durwood
Thompson and I got off and hid behind a little
building beside the road. Spencer Powell and his
cousin got on the motorcycle and took off to
Raleigh. (Durwood and I hitchhiked to Raleigh.)
The patrol officer turned around and caught up with
the motorcycle. The officer walked up to the two
boys and looked at them. Spencer Powell asked, "Sir,
what have I done?" The officer said, "You haven’t
done anything, but I would have sworn there were
three people on the motorcycle!"
late teens, I had a mission to buy a motorcycle.
To meet this objective, I delivered The News and
Observer to 250 customers every morning. I
made 10 dollars a week delivering newspapers. In the
afternoon, I worked at Roses Department Store. I
made 18 dollars a week working at Roses in Downtown
Smithfield. In the evening, I worked at the Howell
Theatre. My job was to pop popcorn and I made 10
dollars a week doing that. Altogether, I made 38
dollars every week. After a few months, I was able
to buy a motorcycle.
motorcycle I owned was a Simplex Servi-Cycle (pictured
here). In 1953,
when I was 18, I bought my second motorcycle. It
was a 1948 Harley-Davidson – '74 Harley. I paid
$250 for it. Today, it would be worth $35,000. I
found the Harley-Davidson at a used-car lot in
My wife, Myrna,
was raised in Smithfield. Her father was G.W.
Bridgers and he rode motorcycles. In my early
twenties, I had a part-time job at a Mobil gas
station that is now Chavez Tires on Highway 301 near
the Brogden Road intersection. The gas station was
owned by Vance Brady. Myrna’s father would come by
to get gas and we would change the oil in his car
periodically. Many times he brought his daughters,
Myrna and Kay. While I was pumping gas for Mr.
Bridgers, I would talk to Myrna while she sat in the
car. I had my Harley-Davidson parked at the gas
station and he saw it. One day he asked if he could
ride my motorcycle and of course I said “Yes!”
I began working for G.W. Bridgers Equipment Company
in 1954. I started out as a "grease monkey" in the
shop. Within a year, I was a heavy-equipment
operator. I turned out to be the best
heavy-equipment operator in the company.
The first race I entered was when I was 23 in
I finished in third place driving a Harley-Davidson
motorcycle. The next month I entered another race
and finished in second place. I won the third race
and went on to place first in 27 straight races.
On many weekends, we would race on Saturday and
Sunday. Sometimes the sponsors would have a special
event and we would run three races in a weekend. For
18 years (1957-1975) I operated a drag-line
excavator for the G.W. Bridgers Company during the
week and raced on the weekends.
The race sponsors grew tired of me winning all the
races. They wanted to stop me from winning. One time
they had me running a 165-cc against 650-cc
motorcycles. I started in the back and ran my little
165-cc motorcycle as fast as I could. I never let
up. Soon I began to catch the leaders. Blacky
Blackman was driving a 650-cc Triumph. I knew he was
in first place, but I kept racing as hard as I
could. In 25 miles, I caught him. Then all of a
sudden, he blew by me. I knew there was 25 miles
left in the race and I had I to get ahead of him. I
beat him and won first place in the race.
When I went to receive the first-place trophy, the
race sponsor, Red Nabors, said,
"I never thought I would see the day when somebody
would come here with a Harley-Davidson honky-tonk
motorcycle and outrun everybody in the 650-cc
I decided I would never race them again because they
wanted to put my 165-cc motorcycle in the 650-cc
class every time.
On July 4, 1958 I won the Southeastern United States
Championship in Sumter, South Carolina.There were seven
states represented in that race. When we arrived at
the race, some of the people laughed at me. A friend
of mine leaned over and said, "Ed, they are laughing
at your motorcycle." I admit my motorcycle was a
little ragged and had grey tape in some spots that
needed repair. I looked at the crowd and said, “You
guys laugh all you want to. At the end of the day,
you might want to look at it a little closer.”
The people were not laughing when I left that day.
After I won the championship, people lined up to
look at my motorcycle.
One day in 1958, I went to Advance, an
unincorporated town in Davie County. I was having
vehicle problems so I took the saddlebags off my
touring motorcycle and set the front wheel of the
racing motorcycle in the crash bar and tied it down.
I took the chain off the racing motorcycle and
pulled it all the way to Advance. I raced that day
and then pulled the racing motorcycle back to
was about 350 miles.
On the way back, my friends and I stopped to get
gas. I parked the motorcycles around
the back of the gas station. A man walked up and
said to my friend, "You know, I saw something a
while ago I had never seen before. Would you believe
I saw a motorcycle pulling a motorcycle?" Around
that time, I walked up and said, "You did?" He said,
"I sure did." I said, "You want to see that
motorcycle?" We walked around the back and he looked
at the motorcycles tied together and just shook his
I raced on dirt tracks 99% of the time.
The only time I raced on pavement was in Upper
Marlborough, Maryland in 1958. I went down in that
race and knocked my little toe out of joint. It has
hurt me ever since. That is the only injury I have
ever had on a motorcycle.
Dirt tracks had different kinds of soil. Some had
clay soil. Others had different amounts of gravel or
sand. The worst soil surface is rocks and sand. On a
clay surface, I could lay the motorcycle almost on
the ground and it would not slip. I would practice
prior to the race and see how low I could get the
motorcycle without it slipping and losing control. I
went six years and never fell on a race track.
At a race in Fayetteville, I was riding a Sportster
Harley-Davidson. I came down the straightaway and
there was a large jump. Attempting to down shift, I
missed a gear. There was an escape route in the
curve. In the middle of the curve stood a small boy.
I was afraid I would hit him but at the last minute,
he jumped out of the way. I thank the Lord he jumped
when he did.
all sorts of tricks on a motorcycle. I stood
up on the seat of the motorcycle while it was
traveling down the road.I also did
wheelies on motorcycles, and I picked up objects off
the road while riding a motorcycle.
The Good Lord looked after me and I was never
seriously injured doing any of these stunts or when
I was racing. A lot of my motorcycle friends have
been injured riding motorcycles and I have been very
This picture is of a 250-cc Yamaha twin racing
motorcycle. I won 40 to 50 races with this
motorcycle. Top speed for this motorcycle is one 130
miles an hour. You could take a
corner with this motorcycle and lay it down and it
would spin and spin.
out racing on Harley-Davidsons, next I rode a
Ducati. The third motorcycle I raced with was a
Triumph 650. Years later, I went back to the
Harley-Davidson Sportster. The picture shows me (on
the left) after winning the North Carolina
State Championship with the Harley-Davidson
Sportster in 1960.
There were certain contests where the fastest and
strongest motorcycle got a trophy. The trophies
shown here were won in contests where they I built
and/or modified a motorcycle and won first place. I
did this three years in a row. My motorcycle had the
most horsepower of any of the contestants. I am very
good at modifying motorcycles to go very fast. My
brother even joked that my riding lawnmower would
beat any other lawnmower!
My son’s name is Eddie Sutton. He loved being with
me in the shop and on the race track. We have always
had a very good relationship and understood each
other. Today he is 65 years old. Every time he calls
me he ends the conversation saying “Daddy, I love
you.” Here's a picture of Eddy and me, taken in 1973
when he was 16.
As a child, my daughter, Angie Lock, was a great
questioner. I could tell her something and she would
say “Why, Daddy, why?” She has always been a great
person but very independent.
Some of the motorcycle races had a “Powder Puff”
division. I knew Angie could outrace any of the
other girls, but I did not want her to get hurt so I
never allowed it.
Now she and Eddie both ride Harley-Davidsons as
large as mine. Here is a picture of her on her first
motorcycle when she was six years old.
This October I will be 88 years old. I still enjoy
riding with my son, daughter, and son-in-law, Tom. I
have driven my motorcycle in all of the lower 48
states and to Canada within 500 miles of Alaska. If
they would build a bridge to Hawaii, I would drive a
motorcycle there. I have attended the Sturgis, South
Dakota motorcycle rally 13 times. My brother,
Charles, and I have ridden to Nova Scotia and California twice.
lived a very blessed life.The Good
Lord has looked after me in the business world, on
the road, and on the race track. I would not take
anything for my family and the life I have lived.