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With September 1st passing on our calendars, motorcycle drag racers world wide are reminded it was 20 years ago the motorcycle drag racing community lost its greatest superstar, Mr. Elmer Trett. Elmer lost his life while exhibition racing at the NHRA US Nationals on September 1, 1996. Elmer lost his life that day when he came off his T/F bike at 232 MPH.
Rather than recite to you the many achievements Trett accomplished during his 20 years of T/F bike racing, 1976 – 1996, I’d like to point out to racers how Elmer the motorcycle drag racer evolved into the American legend we all know him as: the greatest motorcycle drag racer of all time.
Before Trett entered the ranks of Top Fuel motorcycle drag racing in 1976 as a sportsman racer, he started off as a bracket bike racer, racing his hopped-up street bike in 1970. In 1969, Elmer bought a new XLCH Harley Davidson Sportster and from the family photo archive, which the family was generous enough to share with me during my research on Elmer’s biography, we know in 1970, Elmer was racing his 69 XLCH (a kick-start Harley-Davidson Sporty) as a street/strip bike.
The point is this, in 1970 Elmer started off in the bracket ranks much like 99% of motorcycle drag racers today. During a span from 1970 through 1975 he evolved from bracket bike racer to advanced sportsman racer, then turned Pro during the 1976 season.
History teaches us he won his first race in 1978 and by the end of the 1979 season he had his first national #1 plate and from there, as they say, the rest is history. Until his tragic death, Trett was either the fastest or quickest T/F bike on the track or he was about to be. Yes, Terry, Bo, Larry and Mo, Tony too, as well as well as others, pushed him and beat him on occasion - no matter. Trett always accelerated past all of them and became the fastest man on a drag bike for the better part of two decades. In the end, they all had to chase him.
Trett started off as a young man with an eighth grade education, but he learned to relate to all things mechanical, and he was determined to be the fastest man in the world on two wheels. He started off with just his hands and his stubborn nature, determined to succeed. He began hot rodding motorcycles for his friends, built his business, Trett Speed and Custom, from the basement up, surrounded himself with the best and brightest he could find, then he did it his way.
Every motorcycle drag racer today has that same chance, that same opportunity. Remember this about the life and times of Elmer Trett: “It’s not what you have in life that matters, it’s what you do with it.”
Russ Collins was fond of saying he started RC Engineering with $100 in his pocket and a tool box. I’m sure this is true. Two young kids fresh out of high school who worked for Russ did alright too -- I think most motorcycle drag racers know the names Vance & Hines. Terry and Byron both worked for Russ and they learned the lesson as well: It’s not what you have in life, it’s what you do with it that defines you.
So when you see or encounter the name Elmer Trett, know this, he was a motorcycle drag racer that made the most of his time in the sport. He never stopped learning new things and trying different things. Racers today would do well to follow this model.
NEWS NOTES: At the IDBL, WPGC Bike Fest, held July 20-31 at MDIR in Budds Creek, MD, the International Drag Bike League conducted race number four of its six-race season. In advance of the event, it was touted as being run with a dedication to the late Elmer Trett.
The IDBL sought to promote an “Import Vs Harley Shoot Out” by Top Fuel motorcycles for the event but racing commitments by teams to various sanctions precluded the participation IDBL would have liked to have seen. Three T/F bikes attended the event.
Larry “Spiderman” McBride did attend as did Dave Vantine, but the Alwine T/F bike team suffered a motorhome crash on the way to the race, eliminating their participation. All members of the Alwine team are fine, including their T/F bike, but the motor home was a total loss.
In T/F bike racing action, Vantine thrilled the IDBL fans with three passes in the 5-second elapsed time zone while the Cycle Specialist team struggled with new bike teething problems. The team worked their butts off throughout the event to put on a good show, but Dave’s 5’s were the only bright spot for the T/F bikes. One nitro Harley of Peter Geiss tuned by Bobby Spina did attend the event.
The Gadsons, Rickey and Richard, both won during the IDBL event. Richard in the Top Sportsman class and his uncle Rickey won the Vance & Hine 4.60 class. Announcer Fabian Brown noted this is the fifth time the Gadson’s have shared the winner’s circle at an event.