Elmer Trett Remembered : Who are you?

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Who are you?

Who are you? What do you stand for, what defines you and your existence?

Humor me please. Play a song and listen to the words while you read this story. Queue up the song from your music service of choice and play “Who are you,” the title track off the classic rock band The Who’s, 1978 studio album, “Who are you.” Play that song, listen along, and I’ll tell you a story.

Our lives are expressed as basically born on…fill in the date, then add the dash here, then died on…have someone fill in your ending date. This is the numerical sequential expression of the days of our lives as bland as dry toast. It seems a simple enough expression but know this my friends; it’s the dash that counts most. It’s the dash and what you do with it that tells the world – who YOU are.

You will be remembered by and defined by, what you did with your dash while you had the chance. So tell me, who are you? Better yet, let me tell you about a man whose dash left a mark on the motorcycle drag racing world that will forever be remembered; his name was Elmer Trett.

On this day, September 1st, 2016, it was twenty years ago the racing world lost a true American Legend, Mr. Elmer Trett, to a racing incident. How he died that day is not nearly as important as how he lived.

It’s the dash that counts in life, remember that.

Elmer Trett was born March 14th, 1943 in Corbin, Kentucky, the youngest of nine children. He grew up in the woods of Kentucky, attended local school, walked there mostly, and he quit school after his eighth-grade year. Elmer had places to go and a whole world to explore and in his young mind, school just got in the way at the time. So he entered the school of hard knocks and left home after his 17th birthday.

Elmer Trett

Little did he know he would spend the rest of his life studying at the Blessed Mother of Acceleration, 1320 Divinity Lane, Broke Parts Everywherehego, CH3NO2.

Mr. Trett never had an engineering degree nor a fancy school diploma hanging on his wall during his life time. But he did have an abundance of national records and number one plates hanging from his walls as time unfolded. In fact he was the fastest man in the world on two wheels for the better part of two decades. Not bad for a kid with an eighth grade education.

Elmer was the first Top Fuel motorcycle drag racer in competition to cross the 200 MPH, the 210, 220, 230 and the 235 MPH barriers. His numerous number 1 plates, track, sanction and national records attested to his higher education. He may not have owned a diploma but he certainly attained a Master’s Degree level of practical education in nitromethane based drag racing.

At the height of Elmer’s racing career, top NHRA drag racing minds like Warren Johnson, Jim Head and George Bryce would call Elmer from time to time and say, “Elmer, what do you think about this?” That’s right, some of the biggest names in NHRA drag racing called Elmer to ask his opinion on matters of high horsepower. This speaks volumes that some of the greatest minds in the sport sought his council.

So who was Elmer Trett? Elmer Trett was a very smart, highly motivated, laser focused man. He was determined to become the fastest man in the world on two wheels. History has shown he achieved that mark more than once. During his two decades of Top Fuel motorcycle drag racing he was easily the most closely watched motorcycle drag racer in the world. Everyone knew his name throughout the 1980’s and well into the 90’s world-wide. Trett was the man to beat, the one to watch.

With his wife and his daughters as his crew, Elmer won all there was to win in motorcycle drag racing for his 20 years of Top Fuel motorcycle drag racing between the years 1976-1996. Elmer made the most of his dash in Spades.

Trett rose from a bracket bike racer off the streets, to drag racer during the 1969/70 time frame. He entered the Top Fuel motorcycle drag racing class in 1976. He won his first T/F motorcycle drag race during the 1978 season and by 1979 he’d won his first T/F #1 plate. From there stardom was his home.

Elmer switched from double engine, nitro Harley Top Fuel bikes, to single engine blown injected nitro Harley in the spring of 1980. But by the end of the 1980 season, Elmer switched again to 4-cylinder-inline, Top Fuel bike racing.
In 1983, Elmer Trett piloted the first Top Fuel motorcycle to cross the 200 MPH barrier in competition at the NHRA US Nationals that year. Throughout the 1980’s Trett led the class of Top Fuel motorcycle drag racing like a symphony conductor. The Maestro of Top Fuel motorcycle drag racing, yes, that’s who Elmer Trett became at the pinnacle of his career.

He stunned the world on September 11th, 1994, when Trett clocked a 234 MPH run at Atco, NJ. He then crossed in the 235 MPH barrier in August of 1996. Let that sink in for a moment. Today some two decades after his death, there are still only a handful of motorcycles, world-wide, that can produce a 235 MPH pass in quarter mile drag racing. Trett had that power in 1994. Some 22 years later 98% of the motorcycle drag racing community still can’t catch Elmer.

Elmer was a soft-spoken man who let his motorcycle performance do the talking for him. He was also a kind and generous man with fellow racers. Whoever needed advice or tune-up information, his phone was always ringing. He disliked ask-holes intensely, but he was as quick with advice as he was with a right-cross if you were inappropriate around his ladies. Elmer commanded respect and he earned it the good old fashioned way. Elmer lived his life by a code steeped in honor, respect and dignity.

Who was Elmer Trett? That’s easy, he’s one of the greatest American motorcycle racing legends ever to throw a leg over a race bike. He grew up in the woods of Kentucky, learned to be a great mechanic and fix anything. He started hot rodding bikes and cars for friends, turned that into a living, opened his own garage: Trett Speed and Custom. He built some of the world’s fastest and quickest motorcycles during his dash for life.

Trett started off with as little as a man can have and built the greatest career any motorcycle drag racer could ever hope to achieve.

So who are you, what do you stand for and what will you achieve?

Tom McCarthy

Article by Tom McCarthy

Until Next time…


– Tom McCarthy

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