The first time I met Billy Lane (left) he wasn’t exactly in any danger of being mobbed by autograph hounds. He was riding a wooden stool in a 10×10 booth at the ’99 Dealer Expo, directly facing Pro One’s transporter and island display. What caught my eye then was the meticulous 16″ spoke rear he was showing off. That, and the whack straight pipes exiting directly over the 3-inch belt drive that surely wouldn’t get five blocks before hitting the self-destructo button.
He returned in 2000, this time with a build that drew the eye of pal Keith Ball (far left), former Easyriders editor on his first trip east to check out the Expo crowd and on the verge of launching bikernet.com. What I most remember is that Keith didn’t know Billy. Neither did good buddy and IronWorks magazine founder Dennis Stemp. And the two to this day most knowledgeable v-twin editors to ever commit ink to paper didn’t know each other. So there we all were, and I was able to make the introductions. Just weeks later Dennis would succumb to the miserably ugly esophageal cancer he’d battled. Talk about irony.
I grew up in Cocoa, just a few miles up the road from Billy’s Melbourne shop, and would visit Chopper Inc. headquarters at his request a couple of times to discuss marketing, coming away with only a half-dozen t-shirts and a handful of clipped bomber nose art inspired stickers. We’d talk on the phone once more, about public relations, just as the cable show celeb arc was in full swing and that was that. Talk about irony.
Jesse James was about five minutes ahead of Billy career wise and is now a bona fide Hollywood “A” list minus celeb. Today a Brevard County judge wrote finis to the reality chopper build as entertainment fad, when he sentenced Billy to six years in prison followed by three years probation for his vehicular homicide conviction. Talk about irony.
As a University of Florida grad, what always struck me was Billy’s education: Florida State engineering grad, just up the road from Gainesville. Not often found in the pedigrees of hot rod bike builders, for sure.
Talk about irony. Talk about fate. Talk about paths taken. Talk about life’s turns.