Ed Kretz, Jr. was an AMA Grand National Championship competitor of the 1950s and 1960s. Kretz was known primarily as a TT and roadracing specialist, but he also was a leading off-road rider in the 1950s. He won a class at the Catalina Grand Prix in 1956. His biggest career win came in 1955, when he rode a Triumph to victory in the prestigious Peoria TT. He was the son of Ed Kretz, winner of the inaugural Daytona 200 in 1937.
Kretz was born in Pomona, California, in 1932. Motorcycling was always a part of Kretz’s life. He grew up going to races with his famous father and worked in the family-owned motorcycle dealership in Monterey Park, California, from an early age. Kretz Jr. rode bikes as a child and began racing at the age of 16 on one of his father’s Indian Scouts.
It might have been tough coming through the racing ranks with the Kretz name. His father was the most popular motorcycle racer of the 1930s and ‘40s and everyone wanted to beat Kretz’s kid. However, Kretz Jr. said he never felt the pressure of following in the footsteps of his father.
"My dad never pushed me into racing," Kretz, Jr. said. "It was always something I wanted to do. My dad coached me, but I don’t think I had it any easier or harder than anyone else out there. We were all trying to do the best we could. I never felt that my fellow riders looked at me any different just because my name happened to be Kretz."
Kretz Jr. had an illustrious amateur career. In the 1950 Daytona amateur event, Kretz led all but the final half mile of the 100-mile race, riding the same Indian on which his father won the Daytona 200 in 1937. The bike’s engine seized with half a mile to go on the Daytona beach course and he coasted and then pushed the bike to the checkered flag, ending up in 12th. He then went on to beat a field of top experts in a 50-mile road race at the Santa Ana Naval Blimp Station, riding a Triumph. Kretz battled with established AMA national star Johnny Gibson and edged Gibson at the finish, again showing enormous potential.
Kretz came into his own in June by winning the amateur portion of the 1950 Laconia (New Hampshire) Classic. In the process he set a new track record. Later that year Joe Leonard nipped Kretz in a photo finish in the amateur race at the Springfield (Illinois) Mile. During his amateur racing career, Kretz wore the number 38 to honor his father, who wore that number during his racing career.
By 1951, Kretz was a rookie expert and became national No. 33. He scored his first podium result that year, finishing third in the Peoria TT National. It was a preview of things to come for the young Southern California rider.
Kretz missed a few seasons of racing while serving in the Armed Forces in Europe. He returned to full time racing in 1955 and came back stronger than ever. He scored his one and only national victory in the Peoria TT in September of that year riding a Triumph and winning over eventual AMA Grand National Champion Brad Andres.
"I was near the front of the pack early in that year’s race," Kretz recalled. "I took over the lead on about the fourth or fifth lap and at the checkered flag I had about 10 bike lengths on second place."
Kretz had his best years as a pro in 1956 and ’57. In 1956, he scored a pair of top-five national finishes (both at Peoria) and finished tied for sixth in the final AMA Grand National Championship standings. He was again a top-10 rider in 1957 and scored his fourth career podium finish at Peoria.
In 1956, Kretz also took victory in the 200cc class at the popular Catalina Grand Prix riding a Triumph Cub. He was crowned Northwest Motorcycle TT Champion by virtue of his victory in Great Falls, Montana. In addition Kretz earned the Pacific Coast TT Championship three times during the 1950s.
While not racing the national circuit, Kretz was a leading off-road rider and once scored a top-10 finish in the famous Big Bear Endurance Run. He also won numerous early club road racing events on the West Coast. He was one of the first in America to race the Honda 250cc, four-cylinder Grand Prix machine in the early 1960s. Kretz scored wins on the then practically unknown Honda and wrote a review of the racing machine for Cycle World in 1962.
By the early 1960s, Kretz and his wife, Elaine, had a daughter and he began to wind down his racing career. His continued to compete in West Coast off-road races, but retired from racing AMA nationals after the 1962 season. When his father retired, Kretz took over running the family’s successful motorcycle dealership. He sold the dealership in 1985 and later he and his wife moved to Colorado to be close to his daughter and grandchildren.
When inducted in 2002, Kretz continued to be involved in motorcycling. He served as Grand Marshal at the Pikes Peak Motorcycle Hillclimb and the Laconia Vintage Road race in the early 2000s. He occasionally rode his old Indian and Triumph racers in parade laps of racing events, toured on a Honda Gold Wing and was a regular in the popular Colorado 500 off-road ride.
Edward Lawrence Kretz Jr. died on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2013, while on a short motorcycle ride.