Sean Jackson’s life has arguably been a whirlwind the last few years. Putting his knowledge of engineering, passion for history, and love of antique motorcycles into motion, Jackson turned his ambitions to the Biltwell People’s Champ competition. His success within the demanding corporate world of engineering gave him more than just a mere foundation of knowledge, he had the proven dedication to ultimately transcend challenges.
“I’ve been following the competition for years and felt it was a great opportunity to showcase my abilities. I had actually built a bike before, for the Virginia City Roundup but the way it ended kind of left a sour taste. I wanted Biltwell to be a chance to change that and further push boundaries,” said Jackson.
Jackson’s previous build utilized a 1987 FXR chassis coupled with a 2021 Pan America motor, but his build stalled after he discovered the factory failed to incorporate pertinent cam tensioner hardware.
“The motor blew on me and needed a rebuild and to make it worse, the factory that sponsored my build axed the warranty! After a lot of headaches, towing, and even more work than anticipated, I was able to fix everything and get things running right. It was such a humbling experience and it turned me off to custom building for a bit,” shared Jackson.
Jackson’s ambitions had him returning to custom build challenges, and he turned his focus to Biltwell, confident in his engineering knowledge and determined to turn previous frustration into triumph. Many builders have the conviction that the heart of a custom build lies within its motor. Jackson disagreed with his Inertia Panhead build.
“My tastes always ran with antiques and classics and I am passionate about history. I wanted to incorporate a World War II aviation inertia motor, commonly used in P40 fighters. I had the design in my head to celebrate Americana while linking aviation and moto culture. The inertia motor is unique because it relies on kinetic energy in the output shaft. My idea was to incorporate both designs of American craftsmanship within aviation and motorcycles,” stated Jackson.
After sourcing the rare inertia motor, Jackson and his friend Kevin put it through a battery of tests, only to learn within stress testing that it needed customized gearing work. After successfully reconditioning the inertia motor, Jackson and Kevin utilized CAD modeling programs for frame design and to determine the best configuration.
“I was going to do a traditional tube frame but felt it would be too common. I would search online, photo after photo to jump-start my ideas but once I stumbled upon this Viper chair design I knew I wanted to do a laser cut plate frame,” shared Jackson.
With the frame’s design idea put into motion, it was time to learn if the antique inertia motor could spark and consistently run, to ultimately put the ’48 Panhead motor in motion.
“Research proves that 340 RPM is ideal for a magneto or electronic ignition to fire. Even after working on the inertia motor, it was running at 96 RPM so we had to go back to address it and gear it correctly. There was a lot of math involved to make up the difference and of course, the inertia motor wasn’t even turning in the correct direction,” laughed Jackson.
After successfully solving the inertia motor mystery, Jackson segued to working on having all the bike’s mechanicals visible.
“We wanted an accurate, classic look and for everything to function reliably. I also love mid-century Gothic and industrial aesthetics so to achieve that I had to machine all the hardware, I bent and shaped the frame, made all the spacers, and polished them by hand. It’s hard to calculate just how much time was spent polishing, let alone how much time and effort spent on the bike itself,” laughed Jackson.
After accepting the ambitious Biltwell People’s Champ deadline, Jackson’s Inertia Panhead made its debut, ultimately earning the prestigious award.
“One major part of the competition is you’re required to ride your build 50 miles up 1,000ft. elevation out in California where the event takes place. Words like ‘stressed’ don’t do the experience justice. I worked 12-15 hours daily on this build and nothing came easy, but I am certainly proud of the result,” stated Jackson.
Jackson’s whirlwind of change did not end with earning the prestigious Biltwell People’s Champ competition. After carefully reevaluating his career as an engineer for locomotive parts, Jackson accepted his friend’s proposal to purchase and be co-owner of Competition Distributing Inc., making his passion for antique motorcycles his new career.
“The transition, in theory, was easy. I did very well within engineering but it really took a toll because I was always away on business and it impacted my friendships and put some stress on my marriage. My friend Tom informed me that Competition, a well-known distributor for classic and antique parts was available for sale and asked if I was interested. I felt it was the light in the tunnel for me and even though I knew there would be a whole new set of challenges, I went for it. I wanted to take my passion to the next level and I felt my engineering job was no longer worth the toll it was taking on me,” reflected Jackson.
Jackson worked diligently to coordinate moving the business from South Dakota to Pennsylvania, confident teamwork, a collective wealth of knowledge, and unrelenting dedication was more than sufficient to successfully re-launch Competition Distributing in December 2021.
“Any big life decision will be nerve-wracking. Working on your own company does not guarantee income but I am in love with it, this is where I needed to be. Sure, there is stress but I feel if I always put in my best effort things will work out at the end of the day. Motorcycles are one thing, but we work in antique motorcycles, making things even more challenging. I want to be an avenue for people to gain more knowledge, source quality parts for builds and restorations, and bridge the gap for people that keep thinking you have to be rich to enjoy antique motorcycles. That’s not always true,” stated Jackson.
He added, “I was once on the outside looking in, but met the right people at the right time that were willing to help me. I am willing to help others because dreams can be attainable and you can pull off the seemingly impossible.”