It has been over 27 years since, arguably, the most prominent and esteemed motorcycle drag racer tragically lost his life while competing at the 1996 NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, Ind. Today, Elmer Trett’s tremendous influence and legacy is still felt. One can only wonder, what would it be like if the legendary racer were still alive?
“I know there would be a lot more space in my trophy case,” said Larry “Spiderman” McBride, a 20-time world champion and protégée of Trett. “He was the greatest and there will never be another like him.”
Widely respected for his innovation, ingenuity and Top Fuel success, Trett was the first rider over 200, 220, and 230 mph. As a testament to just how ahead of his time he was, amazingly, Trett still remains one of the top fifteen quickest and fastest riders by virtue of his career-best 6.06 at 235 mph.
However, much has changed since Trett’s passing. A weak economy greatly diminished most forms of racing a few years back, and the class Trett loved so much, Top Fuel Motorcycle, nearly became extinct.
“He would have our class in a better place. He had a special type of charisma that no one else had. I’ve tried to match it, but I can’t,” McBride said. “When IDBA (International Drag Bike Association) got rid of Top Fuel, Elmer kept us going by setting up match races all over the country for the next three years.”
“He tried very hard to see the sport grow, even getting the Top Fuelers in with NHRA as an exhibition show,” said Kelly Trett, Elmer’s daughter. “My father would be very disappointed in the way drag racing has seemed to fall through the cracks. He would be disappointed in those running the government and economy that have caused the lack of racing participation and funds.”
Both McBride and Trett agree, Elmer would be busy setting up match races with competitors like McBride, Chris Hand and Korry Hogan. They also believe Trett’s Speed and Custom would be a common household name for any motorcycle drag racer.
“He would have taken Top Fuel and his business to the next level,” McBride said.
McBride’s late mentor would be pleased in how The Spiderman has continued to advance Top Fuel Motorcycle racing. In 1999, McBride became the first motorcycle racer to record a five second run. Eventually The Spiderman would lower the world record to 5.79 at 245.36 mph. During each those record runs, McBride donned an Elmer Trett tee-shirt under his leathers.
“Larry was very special to daddy. He could see that Larry and Steve (McBride, brother and crew chief) would be champions,” Trett said. “I know he is looking down and is very proud of what Larry and Steve have accomplished.”
The Spiderman humbly declares he is certain he wouldn’t have both the elapsed-time and mph records if Trett were still here today.
“He would have been over 250 mph multiple times,” McBride said. “He was the mph king.”
McBride recalls how Elmer deeply respected Steve’s machining ability. He loved to see a race team making its own parts.
“I look at his picture every day,” Steve McBride said. “He’d probably be kicking our butts if he was still here.”
McBride smiles and recalls Trett was the last guy a dishonest promoter would want to cut short at the pay window. Trett was a large man in stature, and deceptively, a skilled enough athlete to dunk a basketball.
“We went to a race and the promoter told us he couldn’t pay. Elmer simply shut the door to the tower and said nobody is leaving until we get paid. We got our money,” laughed McBride. “Another time we went all the way out to California to match race. The promoter took off and didn’t pay anyone. Elmer and I found out where he was staying and went to his hotel. Again, we got paid.”
McBride has countless fond memories from his time with Trett at various dragstrips around the country, but perhaps it’s the long phone conversations McBride misses the most. McBride says Elmer was an incredible storyteller who always made him laugh.
“His stories were the best. He was hilarious,” McBride said. “He used to begin his race weekends by drag racing his dog with his motorhome. On a good day that dog could run 40 mph.”
Kelly’s favorite story involving her father was when they were over in England on a racing trip, amidst the punk rock movement.
“Daddy stopped right in the middle of the sidewalk and stared at a group of punk rockers as they walked past. He turned and said very loudly, why in the hell would anyone want to do that to their head? Momma, Gina and I were like, shh, they heard you. He said I don’t care! I just want to know what would possess someone to do that to themselves. Needless to say that backwoods hillbilly didn’t understand punk rock, but who did really,” laughed Trett.
McBride and Trett concur, by now Elmer would have probably partially retired from riding and assumed a team owner/crew chief role. There’s a very strong possibility McBride would be racing Trett’s bike. As much as McBride relishes that thought, it’s the simple things he misses more than anything.
“I really miss walking through the pits with him,” McBride said. “We’d just talk to people and have a great time.”