Tuesday, July 25th, 2017

Still Influential and Greatly Missed – Elmer Trett

Published on September 4, 2015 by   ·   8 Comments

It has been over 19 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 14-time world champion and protégée of Trett. “He was the greatest and there will never be another like him.”

Elmer Trett

Elmer Trett, along with his wife Jackie and daughter Gina, accepting one of his many top qualifier awards


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.

Kelly Trett sitting proudly on her father’s double engine Harley

“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.

The Spiderman wears an Elmer Trett tee-shirt every time he makes a run, as a tribute to his late mentor

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.”

Trett’s spectacular burnouts were always a hit with fans

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.”

Elmer Trett is still influential, and still greatly missed

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.”



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Readers Comments (8)

  1. Kelly Trett Thomason says:

    Thanks Jack… Great job.. That pic of daddy on the bed of the pickup truck was taken at Tom Schweitzer’s after taking the bike body to be painted. (FYI) I miss Daddy soo much, things like this help..Thanks again!!

  2. gary smrtic says:

    I never met Elmer, but have the deepest resepct for him. I have a picture of him, in of all places, our master bath, which my wife has several of my funnybike pics framed as well. I also have Youngblood’s Gleecee of Elmer. He was a giant, just like “Big Daddy”. I look at Elmer every day too…

  3. Aaron Green says:

    Elmer Trett was certianly one of the greatest drag racers I ever saw, and I’ve seen a lot of them over the years. He was one of the greatest of all time, regardless of the machine involved. Elmer was to motorcycle drag racing what Don Garlits is to car drag racing.

    Elmer Trett was a master machinist and bike builder. I heard one time many years ago at an NHRA race I was working at that Jim Head was running some new type connecting rods Elmer had built for Head’s Funny Car. Elmer’s bikes were works of art. You could have parked his last bike in your living room and never gotten tired of looking at it!! The longer you looked at that bike the more craftsmanship and trick machine work you would notice.

    On Elmer’s last race weekend, I was supposed to fly to Indy to hang out at the races with a car racing buddy of mine that was there racing at the Nationals. He had called the night before and told me about Blaine Johnson’s deal. I knew Blaine from working car races, that was a depressing deal. The next day I had an early flight to Indy, but I was running late and missed my plane. I have flown over a million miles in my life I have only ever missed a plane a couple of times, it is almost like it was meant to happen. Later that night, my buddy called from Indy, when we talked on the phone he told me about Elmer’s deal. What a downer!! Man, I am glad I missed that plane, I would not have wanted to see Elmer’s last pass, it is nice to be able to remember Elmer for all of the great runs I saw him make back in the day. I have seen too many fatalities at race tracks over the years.

    Kelly’s story about Elmer meets the punk rockers is TOO FUNNY!! Elmer always seemed so down to earth when I talked to him at the bike races at different tracks around the country. Some nitro guys turn into super ego types that are impressed with themselves, I never saw Elmer act that way.

    Muhammad Ali used to brag he was “the greatest” during his boxing days, and I believe Ali was right on the money, he was “the greatest”. Elmer Trett never bragged that he was “the greatest” in motorcycle drag racing. He did’nt need to. All you had to do was watch the races, anybody that could see could tell Elmer was “the greatest”!! Man, I am glad I did get to see him race many times back in the day!!

    R.I.P. Elmer,
    Aaron Green

  4. Kelly Trett Thomason says:

    Aaron, from the bottom of my heart I thank you for such a wonderful comment. No, Daddy was never one to claim he was the ‘Best’ at anything…but he did say on several occasions, and I quote “Damn I’m Good…” LOL!! But it was always done in a joke’n matter. He was always humble. Thanks again Cycle Drag for such a great article!!!

  5. Frank Miller says:

    Mrs Trett and Kelly while never personal met your husband and father He was reason i became a motorcycle mechanic.He was and still is the best drag racer and master mechanic period.What everbody does today he already had already thought of back then. All of drag racing will always be forever grateful for what he gave to the sport

  6. Billy Turner says:

    I knew Elmer Tritt, From the time when he worked as a mechanac at Harley Davidson, In Fairfield Ohio, He was at my home in Fairfield many times, Elmer was the best down to earth friend I ever had, He made fun of me for riding a BMW, I miss him more than any friend that I have ever lost. I missed his last race because, I was a long distance over the road truck trailer driver, and the dispatcher would not let me off work that day. In a way I’m happy I wasn’t there, Then again I’m sad at the same time. R.I.P Elmer, You will never be forgotten by your friend Cornbread as you called me,(my CB Radio nick name) I live in KY now,and ran into some biker drag racers that knew you at our local,London Ky. drag way who were from Indianapolis Ind. They just couldn’t believe that you were a friend of mine. What a wonderful time we had reminiscing things from the past. Will never forget what one of them said about Elmer, He said “Elmer would help you tune your bike to the best that it could be tuned, then beat your Butt” I said “yep, that was the Elmer I knew. R.I.P. My friend until we meet on the other side…..

  7. Bobby Martell says:

    I’m proud to say I met Elmer back in the 1980’s at Farmington dragstrip in N.C. close to my home. He was a mountain of a man as I looked up to him (literally) in the pits and asked him “how much of the motor is stock”? Elmer grinned at me and said, “the valve cover”. I was blown away just knowing I had talked to “THE MAN”! I still have my pictures I took of Elmer sitting with Larry Mcbride and the late,great Jim McClure in the pits joking and laughing it up. These guys were my heros when I was growing up and I still wear everyone’s ears out telling them about Top Fuel bikes and how awesome Elmer was. I’m 54 years old now and still crave Top Fuel bikes. If Elmer was here today, maybe N.H.R.A. would have a Top Fuel bike class as well. I mean, WHY NOT,they have Pro stock bikes. On a closing note, I would like to talk to the Trett family and share my pictures with them. God Bless!

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