Third-generation blacksmith and career stuntman Vaughn Shafer is aiming to redefine the limits of snowboarding. This is precisely what he did with skateboarding nearly two decades ago, earning the title the “grandfather of dragboarding.”
According to the Indiana native, dragboarding is a sport that combines the speed and showmanship of drag racing with the physical dynamics of a skateboard.
Shafer, who owns and operates Iron Arts in El Jebel, holds the record for the world’s fastest motorized skateboard. In September 2000, he exceeded 70 miles per hour at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah — a proving ground for mechanized speed demons of all stripes — and never looked back, ever increasing his velocity since then.
With decades of engineering experience, Shafer, 57, has modified one his dragboards to function on snow and ice.
The modified dragboard is handcrafted out of three-eighth-inch aircraft aluminum, has a five-speed, 265cc Yamaha jet-fueled engine and dual snowmobile skids attached on the trucks where the wheels normally would be.
The rear wheels of the board provide the thrust and are fitted with 1 3/8-inch snow spikes. An innovative hand-operated clutch and throttle complete the system. As far as I could tell, there are no brakes, just an engine kill switch on the left-hand grip welded to the board.
As with any stunt, safety is a prime concern. Considering he could achieve interstate highway velocity if the board were to get away from him, it could become a missile before the automatic safety cutoff systems went into effect.
“I ain’t got any plans of falling off,” Shafer says matter-of-factly.
Shafer’s snow-specific dragboard will undergo its final tweaking in the next couple weeks. This is being done in anticipation of exhibiting at some of the major ice races in Georgetown and Granby. These shows feature ice motorcycles, snowmobiles and occasionally go-karts modified for high-speed travel on ice. Shafer sees no reason why a dragboard couldn’t be included in the mechanical mix.
Shafer, who moved to the Roaring Fork Valley 35 years ago, has a storied career in the stunt field. Highlights from his adrenaline-field curriculum vitae include being the fight double for Billy the Kid in the movie, “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” and performing in the 1992 World’s Fair in Seville, Spain. For the World’s Fair, Shafer created a spectacle dubbed “Superman Face Grinder,” where he skateboarded down the street wearing a helmet outfitted with a titanium nub on his cheek. Once achieving speed, Shafer did a handstand and dragged his face along the ground, creating a dazzling array of sparks.
When attempting his faster stunts, Shafer doesn’t use a speedometer. He shifts all his gears by sound and instinct alone.
“You’ve gotta know your machine,” says Shafer, who cites Evel Knievel as a major inspiration to get into stunt work.
“Never did he have a speedometer on his bikes,” Shafer says of the world-famous Knievel. “It’s like getting on a horse you’ve known for 20 years.”
As fate would have it, Shafer eventually made a connection with Knievel’s son Robbie at the famed Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota. They formed a friendship and occasionally worked together in a few stunt shows over the years.
The inspiration for Shafer’s newest stunt is drawn from his background traveling with the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA). During these displays of motorized bravery, he functioned as “halftime show monkey,” filling in gaps between the races with dragboarding and skateboard long jumps.
When asked why he loves to go fast, he says, “I like living on the edge and competition. A lot of people think I’m nuts.”
Shafer pointed out that there is a major difference between a daredevil and stuntman. He often relies on the mantra of one his first stuntmen mentors, Ron Nix, to distinguish the two.
“There’s old stuntmen,” he says. “There’s bold stuntmen. But there ain’t no old, bold stuntmen.”
According to Shafer, there isn’t as much money to be made in stunt work since computer-generated images have come into prominence in movie-making. He earns equal income from artwork and welding, as well as continuing to perform stunts.
“I just can’t jump out of as many helicopters anymore,” he says.
For those wanting to witness Vaughn Shafer dragboard in person, you won’t have to wait too long. He is confirmed back on the NHRA circuit this summer and will be performing shows in Grand Junction.
He hoped to participate in an exhibition in the upcoming X Games in Aspen, but missed the application deadline.