Historic Harley Drag Bike at AutoFair
Click here for more details about the Food Lion AutoFair.
They are the wildest, scariest rides in racing: Top Fuel motorcycles so powerful one can burn rubber the length of a quarter-mile drag strip with a single rider holding on for dear life.
One of the most famous of these "terrors on two wheels," the Freight Train, will be among the featured attractions during the April 6-9 Food Lion AutoFair at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Elmer Trett was to motorcycle drag racing what Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt were to NASCAR-an innovator, promoter, ambassador and, above all else, one of the sport's most prolific winners. He was the first man to cover a standing quarter mile on a motorcycle at 200, 210, 220 and 230 mph. Before his death during a 1996 exhibition run, Trett won eight national Top Fuel championships under three different sanctioning bodies.
He began his racing career in the early 1970s and built a twin-engine Harley-Davidson Sportster after reading about a similar bike in a magazine. In 1976, Trett moved into the field of Top Fuel, where competitors use volatile nitromethane in their engines, and won his first championship with the dual V-twin Harley. Sponsorship dollars from Harley-Davidson dried up in 1980, which forced Trett to accept an offer from Kawasaki to pilot one of its Top Fuel bikes.
Frank Spittle, who raced drag bikes for more than 20 years, purchased the Harley-Davidson from Trett in 1983 and named it Freight Train for its locomotive-like amounts of pulling power. Spittle's best times on the Harley were 7.63 seconds in the quarter-mile at 191.27 mph and 5.19 seconds on an eighth-mile strip at 147.56 mph. In 1985, Spittle wrecked at 145 mph, retired from racing and sold Freight Train to his crew chief, Jimmy "T-Bird" Yelton, who rebuilt it in 1990 in his Gastonia, N.C., shop for Randy Milling to race.
Other than the name change and lettering, Freight Train is still very similar to the bike Trett rode in the 1970s. The two 96-cubic-inch Harley-Davidson V-twin engines funnel their combined power through a two-speed transmission shifted by a button on the left handlebar. Fuel is a mixture of 92 percent nitromethane and eight percent methanol. The giant rear tire is a 14-inch wide racing slick mounted on an alloy wheel. The large rear spoiler, wheelie bar and a lot of skill are all that kept the bike on the ground during its drag strip blasts.
Freight Train was brought out of a decade-long retirement last year as Yelton and Spittle showed the bike at several National Hot Rod Association events, giving thousands of nostalgic Top Fuel fans the opportunity to view what was once the "Fastest Harley-Davidson in the World."
Spittle, who now lives in Cornelius, N.C., and collects rare muscle cars and race cars, appreciates the history behind the Freight Train, but has no plans to get back in the saddle.
"T-Bird did a great job rebuilding the bike," said Spittle. "It's nice to see that it's race-ready again after so many years, but it's not what you would call competitive today because Top Fuel motorcycles are so much lighter now.
"We're just honored to have the Freight Train featured at the AutoFair."
Other special attractions coming to the Food Lion AutoFair include the "Monster Garage" flying car, the Tornado Attack Vehicle, a Navy Osprey airplane capable of vertical takeoffs and landings, crazy motorcycle stunts in the Globe of Death, a race car that runs on renewable biodiesel fuel, unusual vehicles from the Lane Motor Museum, a Century of Turbochargers and the amazing Amphicar.
Food Lion AutoFair hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., on Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults. Children under 12 are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking for the event is $5.
For information, contact the speedway events department at 704-455-3205 or click here.