Savage Roads

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Bonnie Truett Harley Davidson drag racer named to Sturgis Hall of Fame

                               Bonnie Truett prepares for a race on his double-engine Sporster.

Vian’s Bonnie Truett, 78, is well known in the Harley Davidson drag racing world as a mentor, friend and all-around good guy. In August, he and five others will be inducted into the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame in South Dakota.

According to a press release, The Sturgis Motorcycle Hall of Fame is designed to recognize individuals or groups who have made a long-term positive impact on the motorcycle community. And if you ask anyone in the drag racing world about who’s had a broad impact on the sport, Truett’s name will likely come up.

Truett’s History

Truett was born in Havana, Ark. in 1936, the youngest boy of 13 children born to Ezekial “Zeke” and Johnnie Mae Truett. At the age of 6, his family moved to Vian where he attended school until the fourth grade. “My dad built storm cellars out of rock and cut posts out of trees,” Truett said. “Back then there were no chainsaws and it took at least two people to cut with a saw, so I quit school and went to work helping my dad.”

At age 17, he moved to Wichita, Kan. where he found a job at Gold Medal Flour Mill where he worked for the next 12 years until the plant shut down. “It was an easy job with good hours,” he said.  
It was while working there that he saved enough money to buy his first Harley Davidson.
“It was a 1957 Sportster but it wasn’t fast enough for me, and I hated slow things,” Truett said. “Over the next few years I got a lot of speeding tickets, but it didn’t stop me from trying to make it go faster.”

Even with a fourth grade education, Truett has made himself a name as a pioneer in the business, making the fastest Harley bar none. “I didn’t have the kind of education others had, everything I learned was self taught. I would learn by tinkering and figuring it out on my own,” he said.
“The highlight of my teenage years was when my baby brother (Truett) would come home on the weekends,” said Wanda Edwards of Vian. “What other teenager could be seen riding on the back of a big Harley, holding on for dear life to her brother and drawing lots of attention in the 60’s?”

“I had too much Truett stubborn pride to admit that he scared me half to death! He was definitely a speed demon then and he still is to some extent,” Edwards said. Edwards said she could remember riding on the Harley with Truett to their sister’s house in Paris, Ark. “We filled those saddlebags up with fresh, ripe tomatoes from her garden. When we arrived back in Vian, there was mostly tomato juice running out of those bags,” she laughs.

“We’ve shared many trials and tribulations through the years. All those years I spent worrying about him he was fine and burning rubber. I don’t know how fast a speeding bullet is and really don’t care to find out. However, I’m going to compare him to one when he jumped on that racing bike.”

Truett Begins Drag Racing

In 1962, Truett began racing drag bikes but he continued to look for ways to get more speed out of them, and he started by changing the flywheels in his own Sportster. “I changed out the flywheels in an attempt to gain more power,” Truett said. “I also tried a number of unusual additives to increase speed like paint thinner and cleaners, because back in the day, we tested everything in bikes. And believe it or not, it worked.” 
Around 1964, Truett found that using nitro-methane worked the best in powering the bikes.
“I trained with nitro when most people didn’t even know what it was,” he said, “and was the first to go to nitro racing in Wichita.”

Diane Truett

                                          Bonnie Truett, right, with his wife of 40 years, Diane
During this time, Truett also began dating his future wife, Diane.  Diane worked as a licensed beautician but it didn’t stop her from getting involved in the oil and grease to keep up with Bonnie.
“I mixed chemicals for the beauty shop to do hair and it wasn’t long before Bonnie had me mixing the fuel for the drag bike, too. It was the same as work except I was using different additives,” Diane said. Truett said some of the chemicals mixed were literally liquid dynamite. “It took four people to stage and start the bike,” he said. “But it was just me and Diane. She was my pit crew, and would stage the bike until I was on the driver’s seat.” “Not only did I mix the fuel, I learned to change the oil and spark plugs, work the clutch and file it, and a lot of other things,” Diane said.
But Truett’s racing career did not come without sacrifices. The two said they travelled short distances quickly and on a budget so Bonnie could race. “We’d pack a bag and be ready to go in at a moment’s notice,” Diane said. “We had to race on a budget and a lot of times we slept in my van instead of having to pay for a motel room,” Truett said.  
Opens Shop

Truett was working for the railroad in Kansas when he and a racing buddy, Paul Osborn, decided to open their own Harley shop, Truett & Osborn, in 1971. Eventually they started to create and manufacture their own flywheels, cams, cylinders, and rods.

It was also in 1971 when Truett founded the Truett-Osborn Bike Drags, which will commemorate its 43rd year this August.“When we were married in 1973, I gave Bonnie the okay to get back into racing,” Diane laughs.“After a race we would drive non-stop to get home in time for me to go to work at the shop,” Truett said.
He and Osborn continued to run the shop together while Truett raced alongside legends Pete Hill, Jim “The Judge” McClure, Dave Campos, T.C. Christiansen and Marion Owens.
Even daredevil motorcyclist Evel Knievel, who is also a fellow Sturgis Hall of Famer, knows who Truett is.

“Me and Diane used to go to his shows and eventually we got to meet him in person,” Truett said. “About eight years ago in Las Vegas, we ran into him at a Harley shop there where he was making an appearance and when he saw me, he remembered me. We had a good visit.”

Truett Frameworks

Around 1979, Truett started building his own drag bike frames. “I built my first frame in my home’s garage,” he said. “They would cost me anywhere between $800 and $2200 to build them.” His hobby soon turned into a side business, “Truett Frameworks” and it wasn’t long before others began wanting the frames, too. “Back in the day, we didn’t keep records of how many we built,” he said.  “It wasn’t until I got to frame #403 that I started keeping records.”

Truett’s frames had been sold all over the country, including London, Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden, Germany and New Zealand.  But Truett’s frames are now like rare rubies - they’re hard to come by.  

“Today my frames are worth between $4,000 and $5,000 each, and some are even going for higher than that,” he said.  

Following In His Footsteps

Truett retired from racing in 1984 but continued to build drag racing frames. He and Paul also continued to run Truett and Osborn together until his retirement from the shop in 1997. The business is still in operation in Wichita, Kan. today.  

Following his retirement from racing, Bonnie began helping his son Scott race full time. “I had been helping Scott race since 1985 and I always knew he would end up following in my footsteps. Growing up, he was around me and the bikes all the time,” Truett said. “He’s a natural born racer.”  

Diane also helped Scott with his racing, just like she had done with his father years before.
Scott is now a four-time champion in Pro Drag class in AHDRA and retired from racing just this year.

Holloway Makes Nomination

“Bonnie is my mentor and best friend.  He is very deserving of this great honour,” said Ken Holloway, former Truett Racing pit crew member, who also nominated Truett for the honour.
“His frames dominated the track, and still today you see bikes running his frame,” Holloway said. “I find them all the time on the computer.”

Truett and his legacy have been featured in numerous racing and motorcycle magazines and he has also been inducted into the Oklahoma Motorcycle Hall of Fame and Rocky Mountain Motorcycle Hall of Fame as well.  

“Bonnie shares this honour with other inductees like Peter Fonda, Ed “The Ironman” Kretz, Jay Leno and others, who, like him, help pave the way in the motorcycling community,” Holloway said. “In a book put out around 2003 called, The History of Harley Davidson, they say motorcycle racing started in the early 1900’s when motorcycles were the main mode of transportation.  They go on to talk about drag racing and mention Bonnie Truett as one of the legends, while other books and articles mention him as the nicest man in racing and the person who would help any person who asked.”  
“So it looks like I will be going to Sturgis this year!” he said.

Truett Returns To Vian

In 1997, Truett returned to his hometown with Diane and ran a small bike shop out of his home, and it wasn’t unusual to see a flock of bikes pulling off HWY 64 into his driveway to visit or still seek advice.

In 2007, he decided it was time to hang up the bike tools and actually retire. “I knew it would be hard to completely retire because Harley Davidson has always been a way of life for me,” Truett said "and it still is. I had to sell my tools to quit because I couldn’t stop as long as I had them,” he said. “It’s still not unusual for me to still get a call from someone asking about one of my frames or where to buy one; I actually just got a call this morning. I always tell them the same thing, “If you find one, you better latch onto it because I’m no longer building them and no one wants to sell theirs.”

After being diagnosed with leukemia five years ago, Truett is now in remission. He and Diane plan to do some traveling once his extended treatment stops. This week, he will be having surgery to remove his spleen, but it won’t stop him from going to Sturgis. “For now, it looks like we will be traveling to Sturgis in August. We have our room rented and we’ll be ready to go,” Truett said.

Truett will be formally inducted during the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Hall of Fame Induction Breakfast at 9 a.m. on Aug. 6 at The Lodge at Deadwood in Deadwood, SD during the Sturgis Rally, which is also known as Bike Week.

 By Amie Remer

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