Hot wheels: El Jebel man hopes to break speed record
If you go
What: West Star Aviation Air Show
When: Saturday and Sunday; gates open at 9:30 a.m.
Where: Grand Junction
How much: $30 adults, $10 children
This weekend, the king of motorized skateboarding will shoot for another world record at the West Star Aviation Air Show in Grand Junction.
Vaughn Shafer, a 53-year-old blacksmith and former stuntman, hopes to top his previous speed record on a motorized skateboard.
In 2010, Shafer hit 61.8 mph in a one-eighth mile on the Sturgis drag strip. He also holds the quarter-mile record at 78 mph. This weekend, he’s going further than ever before — he’ll be racing a half-mile on his 70-pound, four-foot custom skateboard.
Shafer will perform alongside the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds Aerial Demonstration Team and other daredevils who share his passion for speed.
After spending his youth as a skateboarder and going pro in 1982, Shafer made the pilgrimage to Hollywood to start a career as a stuntman in movies. At Universal Studios, he jumped his skateboard over five cars, clearing 37 feet, 10 inches and coming off the ramp at about 52 mph. Then he moved on to performing at monster truck rallies and other events.
“That was a good day’s work,” he said.
When an aerial stunt finally went wrong — resulting in a broken tailbone and more than a couple bruises — Shafer got out of the stuntman gig and started going for speed instead.
It’s a lot safer, he says, since he’s wearing a plastic-and-Kevlar “Storm Trooper” suit with a motorcycle helmet when he’s racing his skateboard down air strips.
So far, Shafer has taken three high-speed spills. The key to surviving, he told the Aspen Times earlier this summer, is to avoid rolling. That way he won’t break any bones. Instead, he slides along the ground on his suit until he grinds to a halt.
Shafer built and designed his first board by himself. But then he teamed up with his friend Kit Axelson, owner of Hell Roaring Cycles in New Castle, to soup up his ride.
“He’s the only mechanic who touches my skateboard,” Shafer said.
Axelson installed a new motor and carburetor system and added new tires.
The 45-horsepower engine has been boosted above 50 horsepower with a new expansion chamber on the back of the engine. It runs off jet fuel. Shafer controls the speed with a handheld throttle.
“We don’t need brakes,” Shafer said with a laugh.
The specialized skateboard weighs about 70 pounds. It’s about 4 feet long and 8 inches wide in the rear, where the engine sits. The deck is made of aircraft aluminum. There are no bindings to keep Shafer strapped in, but there’s what he calls a “sky hook” where he can wedge his front foot. The beefy back tires came off a go-cart. The front tires are speciality skateboard tires which can hold speeds of 80 to 100 mph.
Soon, Axelson said, they’ll scrap the original board and start fresh with a more modern design.
Somewhat surprisingly, Shafer seems to be the only person setting speed records on a motorized skateboard.
“I’d love to turn this into a sport,” he said, “so we compete against each other and put on a better performance.”
Shafer had hoped to set the record at the Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota this August. But they had some mechanical issues, so they’re trying again this weekend.
Shafer’s ultimate goal is to hit over 100 mph on his board.
“I might not make it this weekend,” Shafer said. “But we’ll just continue doing what we can.”
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