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NHRA's 50 Greatest Drivers: Elmer Trett, Number 50

Posted By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel
Elmer Trett was to Top Fuel Motorcycle racing what Jimi Hendrix was to the electric guitar - a virtuoso, a pioneer, a genius and an innovator. For the better part of 30 years, no one could match Trett's knack for innovation or his ability to make a fuel-burning motorcycle perform. Trett wasn't just the driving force behind Top Fuel Motorcycle racing, he was Top Fuel Motorcycle racing.

A motorcycle fanatic since childhood, the Keavey, Ky., native began racing seriously in the mid-1960s and built his first fuel bike, a twin engine Harley-Davidson in 1976. In the years that followed, until his untimely death in 1996, Trett captured eight national championships in several different racing associations, including AMA/ProStar, where he was the top points earner in 1990, 1993, and 1994.

More often than not, Trett's homebuilt machines, which were constructed almost entirely of hand-built parts and featured many of his own innovations, were recognized as the quickest bikes on the planet. Trett set or broke the Top Fuel motorcycle record an amazing 15 times during his career. One mark, a 7.67 set on his Harley in 1979, wasn't bettered for more than a decade.

On Sept. 5, 1983, Trett made what was arguably the most significant pass of his career when he rode his nitro-burning Kawasaki to a 7.16, 201.30, recording the first 200-mph motorcycle run. Trett was also the first to 210, 220, and 230 mph.

A mechanical genius, Trett's influence on the sport extended far beyond the tight-knit bike-racing community. Four-wheel racers including Top Fuel's Jim Head and Pro Stock ace Warren Johnson and a number of others often came to him for advice, and to fellow motorcycle racers like Terry Vance and Byron Hines, George Bryce, Greg Cope, and rival fuel teams, he was an icon, and his log-cabin home in Demorest, Ga., was a Mecca of high performance. During the latter part of his life, Trett, along with his wife, Jackie, and daughter, Gina, remained focused on a single goal: to be the first two-wheel racer to posses a five-second time slip. He nearly broke that barrier during the ProStar event at Indianapolis Raceway Park in August 1996 when he recorded a 6.06.

At the time, no one had run quicker than Larry "Spiderman" McBride's two-year-old record of 6.19.

Two weeks after his historic 6.06-second blast, Trett's pursuit of the magic five-second barrier came to a tragic end on Sept. 1, 1996 when he suffered fatal injuries following an exhibition run at Indianapolis Raceway Park. At the time of his death, Trett had run nearly a tenth-and-a-half quicker than any of his peers, and he had recorded the 10 fastest speeds on a motorcycle, including eight runs over 230-mph, a milestone that had yet to be achieved by another rider.

In his absence, other Top Fuel Motorcycle racers eventually hit the mark, including McBride, Tony Lang, Chris Hand, Tommy Smith, Ron Webb, and European's Brian Johnson and Peter Svensson, among others became the torch-bearers for the class.

McBride was first to reach the historic 5.99, 243-mph pass at the 1999 Matco Tools SuperNationals at Houston Raceway Park.

NHRA's Top 50 Drivers will be unveiled on NHRA Online and through the pages of National Dragster, in reverse order throughout the 2001 season, with a schedule leading up to the naming of the top driver at the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Pomona Raceway on Nov. 11.

As NHRA celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2001, it has emerged as one of the most popular spectator sports, highlighted by a $50 million, 24-event, nationally televised tour. The NHRA has developed into the world's largest motorsports sanctioning body, with more than 80,000 members nationwide, and more than 140 member tracks.

Text Provided By Anthony Vestal

Editors Note: To view hundreds of hot racing photos and art, visit The Racing Photo Museum and the Visions of Speed Art Gallery.