MONROVIA - The Ford brothers are well-known in drag racing at the 75-80 Dragway in this Frederick County town.
But they don't race cars. They drag race motorcycles and are among the best in the area.
Marvin, Malcolm and Marion Ford began drag racing with cars and had acceptable results but could not afford to do the type of racing they wanted. They switched to bikes and have no desire to race cars again.
The brothers ran their first serious races on two-wheels in 1986. The following year, Malcolm won his first title.
For the first two years, they raced their street bikes. Always having the urge to go faster, they switched to drag bikes.
"Motorcycles are faster," said Marvin. "You definitely feel the speed.
It's neat; it feels like you are sitting on top of it all."
Added Marion: "The drag bikes are not only faster but a lot more safe than street bikes. They have a wider rear tire, are more stable and have a long sling arm to keep them from flipping over."
In addition to the bigger slicks and sling arm, drag bikes have a lower frame longer wheelbase for easier handling.
To keep an edge on the competition, Marion and Marvin added an automatic shifter to their transmission. It gives more consistent performance --important in bracket racing -- and is also easier on the engine.
Malcolm still has to shift through his gears five times manually, but after one ride on Marion's bike plans to go automatic next year. Three other bikes are expected to be equipped with the automatic next year.
One of the main reasons the Ford's switched from cars to bikes is the expense.
"You can go a lot faster for a lot less money," said Marion. "And the bikes will last longer."
Motorcycles not only cost less to start with, but there are fewer parts to repair or replace. Although parts cost about the same as a car, the quality is better. The Ford's estimate they have invested just over $5,000 per bike.
Malcolm, who works at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Columbia as a machinist, does the machine work. Marvin, who works at Russell Motor Cars in Catonsville, does the painting and body work. Marion, a mechanic at LMT Auto in Columbia, puts it all together.
"It doesn't cost as much to make them go as fast," explained Marion about the difference between bikes and cars. "The motors run for four years before any work needs to be done. Then, only the rings need replacing and the values adjusted."
Added Malcolm, "The bikes are pretty dependable. We ride the bikes on the weekend and put them away in the trailer until the following week."
Marvin, 28, resides in Randallstown, Baltimore County, and is the fastest in the family. His Kawasaki 1200 can cover a quarter-mile in under 9.16 seconds and averages 144 miles per hour.
"I want to get a little faster," explained Marvin, still not satisfied with his speed. "I want to get in the eight-second bracket. I have been trying for two years."
To attain that goal, Marvin plans on getting a larger 1325 Kawasaki motor for his bike next year.
In July, Marvin won the Central Maryland Motorcycle Nationals at 75-80 over 32 other riders. In September, he was second in the motorcycle nationals at Maryland International Raceway in Budds Creek.
Marvin has come on strong after missing two weeks early in the year with a broken crank shaft.
Marion, 31, lives in Hampstead and rides a Suzuki 1260. Marion is running about 137 miles per hour and feels he is going fast enough.
Malcolm lives in Westminster and also likes the excitement that a bike delivers. He has a 1168 Suzuki that tops 138 miles per hour in the quarter-mile.
Malcolm won the Maryland Southern Nationals at the Maryland International Raceway at Budd's Creek in 1986 and has been the track champion at 75-80 the last three years, but dropped off this year to sixth.
Malcolm is the only married brother, and his wife, Karen, helps the Fords every week.
Drag racing with bikes has shown considerable growth in recent years.
When the Ford's first began racing motorcycles, there were only 10 in competition.
This year, there were 30 bikes competing for points and next year they expect five more at 75-80. With the growth has come better competition.
"It's a lot tougher now," said Marion. "The riders are better, more consistent now. 75-80 has more fast bikes than any other track."
The Ford's had their worst finish in the point standings in five years this year and attribute some of that to the increase in competition.
Malcolm finished sixth, Marion was ninth and Marvin was right behind in 10th.
This summer, they traveled to Canada on their street bikes and are looking to compete with four-wheel bikes this winter.
"If it has motor and wheels on it, we are going to have to race it," said Marvin.