Ed “Iron Man” Kretz was indisputably the greatest motorcycle racer of his day, and the first major star of AMA Class C racing.
Kretz was born in 1911 in San Diego, California. Unlike most highly successful motorcycle racers, Kretz didn’t start riding when he was young when his father gave him a motorcycle, or when he saw some people tearing it up on the hills in the dusty distance. He started riding during the Great Depression when he was 20 years old because it was the only kind of transportation his family could afford, and he and his parents were known to all pile on top of their well-worn motorcycle when they needed to go somewhere. While working as a produce truck delivery driver in Los Angeles, he went to motorcycle field meets as a spectator. Shortly after, he entered into some of the races on his own motorcycle—and started winning. In spite of having an inferior bike, he quickly became one of the region’s best riders.
Kretz was quickly noticed not only for how successful he was, but also for his distinctive riding style. Kretz was a lean 185 pounds at 5’8”, and “bullied” his bike around the track. Where most other riders would get a little rear wheel spin through the turns, Kretz would do full broadsides. On the equivalent of his family’s old beater stationwagon of a motorcycle.
The promoter for many of the races in which Kretz competed also took note of Kretz’s raw talent, and arranged for Kretz to get a brand new motorcycle to compete on. Armed with a new bike, Kretz won regularly across Southern California.
Kretz’s success prompted him to start racing nationally, and his first major win was at the 1936 200 mile road race championship in Savannah, Georgia, where he beat out a number of the nation’s best racers. This victory shot him to stardom, and earned him factory sponsorship to compete, all expenses paid.
The next year, in 1937, Kretz won the inaugural Daytona 200. Even in its first year, the Daytona 200 was recognized as one of the most important races in the country, and Kretz’s victory earned him a spot in motorcycling history.
During World War II, Kretz served as a motorcycle troop instructor, where he taught troops how to ride and maintain their motorcycles. He was also known to be easily provoked to show off his racing skills to his recruits, and would lift spirits by sliding through lap after lap on makeshift dirt tracks on base.
After the war, Kretz continued to race until retiring at the age of 47 in 1959. He was most known for competing in the 200 mile endurance runs, and held the record of miles ran in such endurance races for many years. Kretz earned the nickname “Iron Man” because of how long he successfully competed in what was thought of as a young man’s sport. By his retirement, he had earned nine AMA national wins, held multiple Pacific Coast titles, and had been voted AMA’s “Most Popular Rider” in both 1938 and 1948.
After racing, he opened a motorcycle dealership which he ran until 1986. After retiring from the dealership, he made frequent appearance as a guest of honor at many major motorcycling events, including the 50th anniversary of the Daytona 200, where he did a glory lap on the same bike he won the first race.