Handstands on Harleys. I know … the idea probably seems reckless, dangerous and maybe even bewildering. But for me, stunts like these are just part of my usual Sunday routine.
When I was 18 years old and a freshly-minted high-school graduate, my mother pulled me out of bed one summer morning, told me to put on some ‘athletic clothes’ and go with her so I could try out for a – wait for it – motorcycle stunt team.
I’m sorry, Mom— a what?! She explained she’d seen the Victor McLaglen Motor Corps perform at numerous events over the years and thought it would be something I would enjoy, given my background in cheerleading and motorcycle riding.
Anyway, when I showed up to stunt practice the team didn’t waste any time, setting me up in an actual stunt just minutes after my arrival. I remember the first stunt I did – a Horse – which is where the climber (the person who goes up in the stunt) stands on the shoulders of the motorman (the person driving the motorcycle) while holding onto a rope connected to the handlebar. I was pretty nervous; I didn’t know any of these people and this stunting stuff seemed to defy all the laws of physics. Still, as the team ran alongside us as I stepped one foot at a time onto the shoulder of the motorman, I quickly began to feel a sense of comfort (and quite a bit of adrenaline) rush over me.
These guys were good, really good, and pretty soon I was absolutely loving it – though I gotta wonder at what point my Mom began regretting her idea to bring me there that day.
Still, there was a major obstacle standing in the way of me joining the team: college. I knew I wasn’t going to have the time to commit to being part of it, and told them that even though I’d had a blast practicing, the fun would have to wait until I graduated. Luckily, the five years went by pretty quickly, and once I got settled into my new job as a teacher it was game on!
It felt as if no time had passed, and the team had me trying all sorts of stunts right from the get-go. It was only at my second practice that I really learned the true meaning of trust. The stunt got wobbly, I lost my footing and quickly came flying down from the top of the pile. Without hesitation, teammate Andrew Fleming caught me before I could hit the ground. From that moment on I knew that my teammates would do everything in their power to keep me safe.
I have grown to love and appreciate each member of the team for unique, individual reasons. Want to learn a new stunt? Ask Mark Frymoyer. Need a good hug? Ask Fred Fleming. Need a good laugh? The whole team is good for that one. Any moment with the Victor McLaglen Motor Corps members is a memorable one. Going on trips with these guys is one of my favorite things to do; we always make the best memories.
Recently we were invited to the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee to perform at its annual Wild Ones Rally. It was an incredible honor to perform for a group of vintage H-D enthusiasts, including members of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America and Knucklehead Company. The audience had a deep understanding and appreciation of our over-84-year history and the fact that we do all of these stunts on old Panheads and Shovelheads. Wild Ones attendee Cathy Drexler made our day with this: “My husband has wanted to see your corps his whole life. It was just mesmerizing!” How incredible is that?! I am so glad we lived up to a lifetime’s worth of expectations. The team’s history is always in the front of my mind.
The VMMC is the oldest stunt motorcycle team in the world. Let that sink in. As a member I feel a huge sense of responsibility to uphold the traditions that entails. To be honest, I didn’t know who Victor McLaglen was when I joined the team, so here’s a brief history lesson: Victor McLaglen was a very famous movie star from the 1920s to the ’50s, winning the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1935, coincidently the same year the team was established. Aside from movies, McLaglen was the passionate sponsor of a Light Horse Drill Team. While on the set of a movie, stuntman Nick DeRush made a proposition to McLaglen. He told him that he and his motorcycle-riding buddies could do anything his horse drill team could do, and maybe even better. If they could pull it off, the deal was for McLaglen to sponsor their motorcycle team. I’m sure you can guess what happened next; DeRush and his friends killed it! McLaglen was so impressed that he purchased the members leather jackets and caps and had his business manager begin booking them for shows. In appreciation for his support, the team was named after McLaglen himself.
Since then, the team has won the World Championship trophy and has set several Guinness World Records, including late member Harry Fisher putting 22 men on his 1964 Panhead and member Mark Frymoyer riding his Harley 14.43 miles backwards! He claims he could have gone longer but was getting bored. Sure, Mark! At my very first practice, Mark gifted me a copy of the book Victor McLaglen Motor Corps Members 1935-2014, written by Ruth Fisher, wife of long-time member Harry Fisher. Not only did he give me the book, he also flipped to the page with his biography and gifted me with his autograph. Just what I always wanted! (Just kidding, love ya, Mark!)
The team has many strong family ties, Mark included. 17-year-old Mark joined the team with his father, Kirby, in 1978. Harry and Ruth’s son, Marty Fisher, joined at the young age of 15. Fernando Camarena and his son Luis; Guillermo Sevilla and his three sons Guillermo Jr., Michael, and Rene; Fred Fleming and his son Andy; Janis Burgin and her son James; Mike Betschart and his son Allen; and the list goes on. I think these deep family roots are what has kept this stunt team alive for so many years. While I may not have blood relatives on the team, these guys are family enough to keep me sticking around.
Besides the love I have for the members and the history, I have truly become addicted to the sport. Over the last three years I have strengthened my stunting skills and tried to become as versatile as possible. From climbing to the top of our famous pyramid stunt, to being Andy’s safety and holding his legs up while he holds a handstand on the handlebars, and now beginning to learn how to do motor stunts, I want to be a well-rounded member of the team. I was recently lent a 1979 HD Shovelhead to ride for the team by my very generous friend and teammate Father Frank Hicks. I am so excited to put a rocker clutch and jockey shift on it so I can begin learning some solo stunts, as well as continuing to learn new motor stunts.
I’m not an adrenaline junkie. I’m not interested in jumping out of a plane or going on the craziest roller coaster. I just happen to like climbing on top of people while on a moving motorcycle. Some call it brave, some call it stupid. I call it fun.
Once again, Mom was right! Thanks, Ma!
To talk to Megan about her stunts and skills, or if you have ever seen McLaglen perform, send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org