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


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.

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