September 22, 2022

Edward Earl Sutton reminisces about
his winning ways with motorcycles

INTERVIEW BY GARY RIDOUT for the Smithfield Weekly Sun

This 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.


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 motorbike.

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 Veterinary Hospital.

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!"

n my 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.

The first 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 Downtown Smithfield.

My wi
fe, 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 1957.

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 class!"
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 Smithfield.
This 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 head.

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.

I 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 fortunate.

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.

I started 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.

I have 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.