News Racing

Ashes to Asphalt

After Eric Stahl’s King of the Baggers race bike was destroyed in a fire, fans and the industry pulled together to get him back on the grid

July 13, 2021

By Kali Kotoski and Ron Brefka

As Jiffy Tune Racing’s Eric Stahl and his team were crossing the country and heading to Wisconsin’s Road America for the second race in the lauded MotoAmerica King of the Baggers series, tragedy struck.

En route, the truck and trailer hauling Stahl’s modified Harley-Davidson Electra Glide caught fire while on the interstate, the trailer bursting into flames and belching dark clouds of smoke. Soon the Dodge truck was also engulfed, with the keys to the trailer (which held the team’s tools) lost in the truck.

It was a total and devastating loss, leaving nothing but a crisp skeleton of iron, and it dashed any hope Stahl had as a privateer racer of beating the deep-pocket OEM-backed teams and racers.

“When I first saw the fire, it was like a huge hole in my stomach…to see your life’s work gone in a fire is very heartbreaking,” Stahl told American Motorcyclist. “That one right there really pulled me down to my knees.”

Eric Stahl king of the baggers

Stahl had purchased the Electra Glide in March in preparation for the series and poured untold amounts of money and time into getting it race worthy, all while securing sponsorships to lessen the financial burden privateer racers face doing what they love.

But what should have been a season-ending accident turned into a rallying cry for the industry to come together and help Stahl and the team get back on the track.

First, Stahl shared the news on social media and it spread like wildfire. Then he set up a GoFundMe account, which raised $12,872 from 126 donors. A nice and generous sum for sure, but a far cry from the cost of a tricked-out performance bagger that conservatively runs between $20,000 and $80,000 depending on the modifications.

eric stahl king of the baggers

As the news spread and the outpouring of condolences flowed over, Wisconsin’s House of Harley-Davidson and The Motor Company reached out to him with a plan.

“I was getting a lot of calls and texts and was ready to head home. But I kept on getting this one call that I was ignoring because it was just all too much when someone told me ‘Hey, the MoCo is trying to get a hold of you,’” Stahl said. “When they told me they had a bike and mechanics ready to get it race-worthy, it was almost as shocking and emotional as the fire because we could still continue to race. [The King of the Baggers] is a short series and you have to make the best of it.”

Once the new bike arrived, the team worked feverishly with the support of House of Harley-Davidson to get it ready as the clock was ticking down to race day. One by one they handled all the things needed to turn a bagger into a competitive race bike that could go head-to-head against the other Harleys and the lone Indian Challenger.

“Stahl and his team hit every bump in the road, but we are so proud we could help him finish the race,” said House of Harley-Davidson General Manager Tom Donnelly.

Crew Chief Travis Blasier of Blasier Performance Door County said the outpouring of support was “one hell of an experience.”

“From Eric’s rig burning while driving from California to actually competing…it has just been an amazing journey,” he said.

“This is what it’s like when the Harley-Davidson racing family comes together,” said Harley-Davidson Senior Public Relations Manager Paul James. “When we saw the news, we put our heads together to see what we could do.”

A true comeback story, there was so much emotion for Stahl — and the entire team — when he took the new bike out on the track at Road America. And despite a mechanical setback in practice that had the team working through the night again, he finished 8th in the June 13 race, which, given the circumstances is still an admirable finish in a race currently dominated by big-spending teams with professional racers and plentiful budgets.

“I couldn’t give up on account of my family,” Stahl said. “Getting to this level of racing is not easy with all the sacrifices we’ve made. For everybody that put in the time and the effort, they were counting on me and I had to keep pushing forward.”

Family. It’s a big part of what makes motorcycling so special. Because, really, in that larger sense, we are One Big One. Even when we can only manage an 8th.