Drag Specialties Celebrates 50 Years in the Motorcycle Industry
Admit it. How many of you have visited your local bike shop and drooled over Drag Specialties’ Fatbook like a kid in a candy store? It’s hard not to thumb through nigh 2,000 pages of the latest parts and accessories for the cruiser market and not have your heart beat a little faster. Be it performance upgrades or basic maintenance, Drag Specialties has been shipping the hottest aftermarket parts to dealers and getting them in the hands of motorcyclists with the quickness for 50 years running. Heading into its golden anniversary, Drag keeps the throttle wide open, with its sights set on a century of success.
True to its name, Drag Specialties was founded by a motorcycle drag racer, Tom Rudd, who competed in the A-dragster class on a modified Harley-davidson Sportster in the 1960s. Rudd’s bike was fast, and soon other racers began asking Rudd and a couple of his racing buddies for help in making their bikes faster as well. The story is a common one. The trio had a
racing habit, which is never cheap, so they began doing engine work on the side so they could continue pursuing their passion. A story in the February 2018 issue of Drag Specialties Magazine states that one day somebody called Rudd asking if he was speaking to “Drag Specialties” and the name stuck. Turns out Rudd was a visionary who saw the potential of building and shipping out his own parts, an idea his two partners didn’t exactly subscribe to, so he bought them out. Rudd opened up a small parts and accessories store in Minneapolis called Drag Specialties. Before long, he expanded his product line and brought on board more businesses that were eager to sell their parts to a larger market as well, and in 1968, a brand was born.
“We were king of the castle at that time in the ’70s and early ’80s. We were on top of the world. When things started tumbling, CCI (Custom Chrome Inc.) became the top dog around the mid-’80s,” says Drag Specialties director of purchasing Tom Motzko, who’s been with the company since 1974.
As with most small businesses, Drag Specialties endured the ebb and flow of the economic tides for 20 years before
it was sold to Lemans Corp. founder Fred Fox in 1988. This was the best thing that could have happened to Drag because Fox was already a magnate in the distribution sector thanks to the successful company he founded in 1967, Parts Unlimited.
“That provided six warehouse locations at the time, which we only had one previously. Plus, it gave us access to Canada because he had a warehouse in Canada. Now we were North Americawide,” says Motzko. “We had a handful of people that they trusted, and gave the reins to us, if you will, and we began the rebuilding process with the funding, the warehouses, and the trust. That’s how we rebuilt the company.”
Another instrumental part in the rebuilding process was revamping the Drag Specialties catalog. Fox assigned this task to his in-house marketing team, Edge Advertising in Minneapolis. A primary goal was making the catalog more user-friendly so dealers and shop owners could track down part numbers and prices quicker and easier. Adding eye-catching pictures of products was prioritized as well. Story goes that Edge Advertising began referring to the massive undertaking as the “fat book,” and
Drag Specialties’ catalog has gone by that name since. The 2018 Fatbook has a whopping 1,812 pages.
Another savvy move by Fox was bringing 1972 Daytona 200 winner Don Emde on board to produce Drag Specialties Magazine. The two became friends when Emde worked at Dealernews, the friendship carrying over to when the future AMA Hall of Famer started his own magazine, Motorcycle Collector. Emde said he got the idea for the magazine on a plane flight when he noticed how “everything in the magazine was part of their world.” So he pitched the idea of a magazine featuring “everything in Fred’s world” to his friend. Fox liked the idea and had Emde do a magazine for Parts Unlimited first. After a few issues of Parts, Fox suggested doing one for Drag as well. Twenty-three years later, Drag Specialties Magazine is still going strong.
“The magazine is intended for dealers but compelling enough to leave in waiting rooms. It goes to all dealers in the United States and Canada,” says Emde.
Endearing Drag Specialties further to the cruiser market are the motorcycles it customizes in house, featuring parts found in the catalog. In honor of its 50th anniversary, Drag had Ray Price Harley-davidson turn a stock 2017 Road King into a mean Milwaukee-eight-powered dresser, which is featured on the cover of the 2018 Fatbook. Price was sponsored by Drag during his racing career. Last year, Drag had Suburban Motors H-D build a wicked 2009 Dyna Fat Bob for its cover bike. In the past, it’s teamed up with industry heavy hitters such as Carl Brouhard Designs, which tricked out an Indian Scout Sixty, and Biltwell, which built a nasty FXR called Lobo Negro.
“Building bikes in house has been going on since day one, in 1968, with drag racing,” says Motzko. “We’ve worked with a lot of different builders or dealers to do bikes over the years. It gives them a shot in the arm as well
“BUILDING BIKES IN HOUSE HAS BEEN GOING ON SINCE DAY ONE, IN 1968, WITH DRAG RACING. WE’VE WORKED WITH A LOT OF DIFFERENT BUILDERS OR DEALERS TO DO BIKES OVER THE YEARS.”
as us. Ray Price, Don Tilley, the drag racing and tie-in with Ray Price H-D was a perfect fit.”
Racing and performance is intertwined with Drag Specialties history, and this year it has partnered with American Flat Track (AFT) to be the official wholesalers for the 2018 season. Flat track has been blowing up the past few years and is reaching new audiences thanks to a TV contract with NBCSN, so the timing of the partnership couldn’t be better. Drag Specialties is also sponsoring two of the most popular racers in the paddock, defending AFT Twins champion Jared Mees and AFT Singles competitor Shayna Texter.
“We’ve been involved with racing all along, all the way back to 1968. We’ve supported drag racing, salt-flat racing, the old flat-track racing back in the ’90s when it was so popular, and now it’s time for us to hit it again,” says Motzko.
Nurturing relationships with its dealers is another integral part of the company’s success. It does this through vehicles such as its annual Drag Specialties Dealers Ride.
“The reason we started that program is very simple. We wanted to have something to remind us why we got into this business in the first place because we all, whether it’s a vendor or a dealer that participates in them or company staff, we all get way too damn busy and involved with day-to-day business and forget to take
that ride on Sunday afternoon or forget that we got into this in the first place because we all love motorcycling.”
Last year, the 12th annual Drag Specialties Dealers Ride was held in Las Vegas. It was three entertaining days of riding to different destinations in the scenic Mojave Desert, topped off by a farewell dinner where awards were handed out on the final night.
“It isn’t about money, it isn’t about doing business, it’s about the camaraderie of it and ultimately forging new friendships and business relationships. It’s a fun deal,” says Motzko.
But it’s not all fun and games at Drag Specialties. You don’t stay in business for 50 years by not having acute business acumen. Twice a year, Drag hosts its National Vendor Presentations (NVP) Product Expo, one in Madison near its home base in Janesville, Wisconsin, and another in Indianapolis. The NVP allows sales reps and dealers to get their first glimpse at the hottest new products from leading brands. The event is jam-packed with vendors, product presentations, and both dealer and sales training sessions. Drag Specialties has also organized a Helmet and Apparel Tour, where they take products from the top brands they distribute on the road to the benefit of those who might not be able to attend the NVP. Dealers get to inspect products firsthand and see them installed on motorcycles so they can make an educated choice about the products they want to carry based on the wants of their particular consumer base.
As if it didn’t have enough projects going on already, Drag Specialties is also moving all Harley Evolution parts to the Oldbook in 2018 to make way for the Milwaukee-eight in the Fatbook, the Evo joining the ranks of Knuckles, Pans, Shovels and Ironhead XLS. This is a massive new addition to the Oldbook, which will now be adopting the same format as the Fatbook.
Fortunately, Drag Specialties has five warehouses in the United States, two in Canada, and one in Germany to help it fulfill all those orders that will be flowing out of its big books. This strategic network is instrumental in maintaining its claim to fame as being able to get products to dealers within one or two days.
Expediency has helped Drag be a force in the industry for 50 years. Motzko has a couple of other ideas why the company has been successful for so long.
“Ethics and karma. We believe in appropriate, correct ethics in doing business, and shaking hands and looking people in the eye and telling the truth. And I believe in karma. I believe good begets good. I honestly believe that.”
Emde also provides some solid insight about Drag’s sustainability.
“They have great reps; they have great vendors. They’re very selective about what brands they carry. Another point I think is really important is they’re all motorcycle guys.”
While it’s good to be golden, no doubt Drag already has its enterprising sights set on diamond and platinum celebrations further on down the road. HB
Tom Rudd circa 1973. The man who started it all.
Tom Motzko (above left) has been with Drag Specialties since 1974, and continues to be one of Drag’s key players as the director of purchasing for Drag Specialties. Fred Fox (above right) helped turn Drag Specialties into the global giant it is today after purchasing Drag Specialties in 1988, joining Parts Unlimited under the Lemans Corp. umbrella.