From concept to development to winning its debut race in just 60 days.
Harley-Davidson is celebrating its 120th corporate birthday in 2023 — but the 81st running of the Daytona 200 on March 11 also marked the 40th anniversary of one of the Motor Company’s most legendary victories ever at the banked Florida speedway.
Lucifer’s Hammer, says an old Irish legend, was a comet sent by the Devil to destroy a village that had been invaded by foreigners so evil they made Lucifer himself jealous. How apt, therefore, that the bike bearing the hellfire orange and black colours of the Harley-Davidson factory, which upended the Italian domination of the AMA’s Battle of the Twins (BOTT) series in 1983, should have been so named — christened by the wife of legendary Harley race manager Dick O’Brien, long-time chief of the Milwaukee firm’s racing department.
Off to a Winning Start
The first Milwaukee-built V-twin to carry the factory’s colours at Daytona in ten years, Lucifer’s Hammer scored a convincing victory on its debut appearance there in March 1983 in the hands of dirt-track great Jay (Springer) Springsteen, a legend in his own lifetime as the winner of more AMA dirt track Nationals than anyone else ever, en route to three Grand National titles by the age of 25. Springer was a God-given expert road racer, if only at that stage with just four such races under his belt in the previous seven years.
Springer dominated the 1973 Cycle Week 50-miler, defeating a field including the Ducati-mounted reigning TT F2 World champion Tony Rutter and defending AMA BOTT champion Jimmy Adamo by 24 seconds. A week later at Talladega, Springer was half a minute in front of Adamo when he unloaded on someone else’s oil on the final lap. The engine seized on his next race at Elkhart Lake, WI, sending him crashing into retirement again. But at Loudon, NH, in June, Springer rode Lucifer to an excellent 13th place overall in the AMA National Formula 1 race against the Honda, Suzuki and Kawasaki fours and all the TZ750 Yamahas.
But although Springer’s oval-track commitments precluded his racing the bike thereafter, Dave Emde took it over to register a couple of second place finishes behind Adamo that summer, before Carolina dirt-tracker Gene Church was entrusted with it for the final race of the season at Daytona in October, which he won after a thrilling three-way battle with the Ducatis of Adamo and Joey Mills. In bookending…