‘Hogslayer The Unapproachable Legend’ tells the story of the dual Norton engine drag bike that dominated the quarter-mile scene in the 1970s, the team of John Gregory and TC Christenson taking on riders and bikes built with bigger budgets and factory support.
“We went fast for the thrill of it all.”
TC ‘Tom’ Christenson’s testimony sums up the attitude of the Gregory/Christenson Race Team of the ‘70s perfectly. Christenson knows a thing or two about going fast after wreaking havoc on drag strips across the country in the 1970s on a drag bike with twin Norton engines called the ‘Hogslayer.’ Among his accomplishments include being the second motorcycle ever to crack into the sevens with a best time of 7.93 seconds in the quarter-mile and topping the 180 mph barrier. And these records barely touch the surface of the impact ‘Hogslayer’ had on the motorcycle drag racing scene at the time, a scene that director/writer James ‘JC’ Cutting fortunately has immortalized for posterities sake in his documentary “Hogslayer The Unapproachable Legend.”
Piecing together old reel-to-reel, photos, magazine articles, and audio clips into a cohesive piece is a daunting task, but Cutting’s film does justice to this formidable machine. He has made a fitting tribute to an amazing motorcycle which would have otherwise slipped into anonymity, unless you happened to see it at its current residence in Birmingham, England’s National Motorcycle Museum. It pays tribute to the team who made it work, from the mastermind behind the bike’s engineering, John Gregory, to its fearless pilot, TC Christenson, to the community of Kenosha who rallied around the motorcycle as a source of civic pride. It also captures the essence of a scene the likes of which we’ll never see again, back to a time when things were less controlled and the element of danger was high, when riders competed in jumpsuits and high-top lace-up boots and fans stood trackside during the race.
“One thing about that bike, anybody’s ever seen it run, never forgot it. It was such a spectacle in what it did and how it did it,” TC said.
This holds true even in old video. Thanks to Cutting’s efforts, we can see and hear ‘Hogslayer’ once more as it barrels down the drag strip, launching like a rocket off the line, blazing a black streak hundreds of feet long as it disappears in a cloud of spent rubber. It took big cojones to ride this thing, to lay out over the tank and frame and grab its bars before dropping the clutch and unleashing the explosive power of the twin Nortons thundering below you. TC had launching this beast down to an art form, and Gregory always had it prepped and ready to ride at a competitive level.
The documentary sheds light on the high level of competition at the time. Hailing from the state of Wisconsin, the ‘Hogslayer’ team frequently dueled head-to-head against the factory-backed Harley drag bikes of the day which helped the Norton rightly earn its nickname. Numerous other dual engine dragsters entered the fray, from Triumphs to the aforementioned Harleys. But it was the triple-engined Honda piloted by Russ Collins that really stood out, primarily because it was Collins who would steal some of ‘Hogslayer’s’ thunder when it became the first motorcycle to break into the sevens in the quarter-mile, especially when TC would match the feat a couple of runs later. Small consolation is Collins reportedly only beat the ‘Hogslayer’ one time in a National race.
“Hogslayer The Unapproachable Legend” sheds light on the brilliance of Gregory and some of the engineering feats he and his team pulled off. Nobody else at the time had the savvy to get twin Norton engines to work in perfect harmony. They devised a foot-shifted two-speed transmission out of parts from a Borg Warner overdrive and swapped to a bigger rear to improve launches. They helped develop the first fuel injection system for Nortons and won races against teams with factory support and deeper pockets. And they did it on a make few Americans were familiar with at the time. This didn’t prevent them from enjoying almost rock star-like status as they continued to win races, get features in magazines and air time on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. They even had the foresight to sell t-shirts at races long before merchandising became standard practice.
The movie is right at an hour long and includes some great grainy footage of the ‘Hogslayer’ blistering the quarter-mile. The decision to add first person narrative is a novel approach as Cutting lets Gregory and Christenson tell the story. Hearing it directly from the source lends validity to the tale and filming it in the original Sunset Motors garage where ‘Hogslayer’ was designed and built adds intimacy and gives it a low-key feel. The most poignant piece of the film comes when viewers witness the emotional attachment Gregory has for ‘Hogslayer’ who his mixed feelings about it being housed so far away in the National Motorcycle Museum. To him, the Norton was much more than a frame, engines, and wheels as it personifies an achievement of a lifetime.
If you’re a fan of motorcycling, regardless of what or how you ride, you’ll enjoy watching ‘Hogslayer The Unapproachable Motorcycle.’ The film has good pacing as it combines insight, personal testimony, and precious clips from a time and place which will never be duplicated. Most likely, the exploits of Gregory, Christenson, and the “Most Successful Motorcycle Drag Racing Team in History” will never be duplicated either. Thankfully, Cutting has captured these milestone moments for us and future generations to enjoy.
Hogslayer The Unapproachable Legend – Documentary DVD – $18