nicholas hopkins

Carl's Speed Shop

In the wide, wide world of motorcycles, sometimes it’s hard to tell the real deal, from the folks who talk a good game, but can’t back it up. That’s not a problem at Carl’s Speed Shop; make no mistake about it, Carl Morrow is the real deal. All you have to do is look on the walls of his family-owned shop in Daytona. You’ll find, among other things, 166 World Land Speed Records. (That’s right. 166.) You’ll also see pictures of Carl with some of the other founders of the modern motorcycle industry, including the likes of George Smith, Leo Payne and Arlen Ness (who’s been a good friend of Carl’s since 1972). And then there are the bikes they’ve built and raced at speeds up to 209 MPH.

They’re the real deal all right, but don’t expect Carl and his son Doug to be blowing their own horn. That’s not their style. They just try to do the best work they can do, and let the final product do the talking. Carl say’s, “If you boast, it’s like a jinx.” When it comes to racing, he’s always let the other guy shoot his mouth off. Carl let his racing do the talking. “Every now and again, you run into some big-mouthed blowhard. The best way to shut him up is to beat him.” As you can imagine, Carl doesn’t like to lose and as a result, he hasn’t done it very much.

Carl’s interest in two-wheeled speed all started in the early ‘60’s. He bought a couple bikes, but wasn’t happy with the performance. Then he bought his first Harley; a ’65 Sportster that he still owns to this very day. He ran it in a street race against another bike and lost. He didn’t like that, so he did some tinkering and fitted it with a carburetor from a Jaguar. The next time he raced, he won. He liked that much better. He liked it so much, he kept on doing it. He eventually decided that as much fun as it was, street racing had its downside, mainly because it’s dangerous and the police inSouthern Californiadidn’t much care for it. That’s when he headed to the drag strip. “I had a lot to learn, but it wasn’t long before I started winning.” 

But it wasn’t all racing, all the time. He still had to support his budding family, so he drove a truck during the day and worked on his bikes at night, heading out to the track three times a week for practice, qualifying and racing. It was a non-stop pace that he’s maintained for close to 50 years.

Back in the early days, it wasn’t enough to be working a full time job and racing on the side. He also helped his friends tweak their rides. As he gained a reputation for squeezing more speed out of just about anything on two wheels, it was time to go into business. His buddy, the famous car designer and artist Big Daddy Roth (creator of the original Rat Fink) rented him some store space for $50 a month, and Carl’s Speed Shop was born. He later moved to a Harley shop before getting a place of his own and firmly establishing himself as a major player in the world of motorcycles and engines. In 1995, he had a choice to move to Nevada, Ohio or Florida. Mike Corbin (yes, that Mike Corbin) brought him to Daytona, and the rest, as they say, is history. He opened his Daytona shop in January of ’96 and he’s been going strong there ever since.

Along the way, he’s had a few interesting adventures. He actually toured with soul singer Wayne Cochran and his group, CC Rider as sort of a hired gun for Harley Davidson. During the concert, Wayne would throw out the challenge to any racers in the audience and pit them against Carl. Little did they know, they didn’t stand a chance.

Carl and his family have spent a lot of blistering hot days at the Bonneville Salt Flats, shattering one land speed record after another. He produced the nitro-methane engine for the first conventional motorcycle to break the 200 MPH mark.  He also produced a gas powered, record-breaking bike that’s so innovative, it’s on loan to the National Motorcycle Hall of Fame. (It’s coming back to Daytona in six months though, and you’ll be able to see the Carl’s Speed Shop / Corbin 2001 right here in Daytona.)

Another highlight: Carl once built a bike for the King of Malaysia. How many bike builders can make that claim? In this country, he’s also inspired some of the best and brightest builders around and a few years ago, participated in a bike build on Jesse James’ Monster Garage show. (For that, Carl took a stock Harley engine, with 64 horsepower and doubled it into a 115 horsepower muscle machine that could top out near 170 MPH.)

When it comes to the giants of the motorcycle world, Carl’s met them all and worked with most. Eventually though, he quit racing. “I finally built a bike that could go faster than I wanted to go, so I stopped racing.” He picked up a couple professional riders, including his son, Doug, who’s been working in the family business for just about 20 years.

Being the son of a famous motorcycle man has its advantages. “Dad always had a lot of bikes around, and I could take a different one to school, every day.” But for Doug, motorcycles meant more than recreational riding. He started racing at a young age and at just sixteen years old, he achieved his first world speed record. He didn’t stop there and now holds sixty-six World Land Speed records himself and has spent a more than a few days at the Salt Flats. What’s it like to run at Bonneville? “Even though they rake it out, the cars still produce ruts in the salt. It’s a little tricky. You just have to pick a rut and ride it.” At over 180 MPH? Yeah. Tricky is an understatement. Another of Doug’s favorite tracks is at a place called the Maxton Monster Mile, in North Carolina. From a standing start, he raced to a record-breaking 209+ MPH on an old, bumpy concrete runway. Wow.

While they’re deciding on their next racing move, Doug is a big part of daily operations at Carl’s Speed Shop. “It’s a father-son business,” the obviously-proud Carl will tell you. Doug runs the (very well equipped) shop and is an outstanding fuel-injection specialist according to his dad.

And the shop really is very well equipped. They’ve got a state-of-the art 250 I Dynojet that’s the latest and greatest available. They’ve also got every bit of machining equipment you can imagine. Carl says, “The only thing we have to send out for, is lunch.”

But things don’t stand still in the motorcycle world and neither do Carl and Doug. They’ve completely remodeled their original digs on Beach Street in Daytona and have just completed putting the finishing touches on it. If you walk in the shop, you’ll not only see museum-worthy pictures and artwork, along with about a zillion speed record certificates, you’ll also see some eye-popping motorcycles. Carl’s Speed Shop is one of the top selling Big Dog dealerships in the country and they’ve got a showroom floor that’ll make your mouth water. (Bring a handkerchief; you don’t want to make a mess.)

With all of the motorcycles in the world to choose, why did they decide to become a Big Dog dealership? “We wanted a quality product and so we researched it. They’re the leader. Sheldon Coleman is the owner and they’ve produced over twenty-five thousand quality bikes.” Since Carl is such a perfectionist when it comes to his own work, you’ve got to believe he chose a motorcycle brand that meets his standards. From the bikes you can see on these pages, it’s obvious the Big Dog’s do not disappoint.

Even though times aren’t exactly booming, Big Dog has recently come out with four new, well-developed models; the Woof, the Bagger (with an aerodynamic faring that went through extensive wind-tunnel testing and is equipped with an Alpine stereo system) the Coyote and of course, the Pitbull. In addition to the Big Dog’s, Carl’s shop will also be selling some of the quality bikes they’ve received in trade, so you’ll have a wide variety of bikes from which to choose.

The shop also has all kinds of motorcycle accessories, apparel, jewelry, shades; everything you could possibly need. And you’ll be able to check out some record-breaking racing bikes as well as Carl’s own custom-built, 130 HP machine that he still rides on a regular basis. But in addition to outstanding motorcycles and accessories, fantastic modification, maintenance and repair services and a friendly staff, there’s yet another reason to stop by the shop; Carl Morrow, the real deal himself. It’s not often you can meet and chat with a legend in the motorcycle world and we’ve got one, right here in our own back yard, at Carl’s Speed Shop on Beach Street in Daytona.

Copyright © 2018, Nicholas Hopkins. All Rights Reserved.