July 11, 2011 - 01:27 PM
Shell Thuet Passes
Legendary dirt track tuner dies
By: Larry Lawrence
Cycle News has learned that legendary race tuner Shell Thuet passed away on Friday, July 8.
He was 98.
Thuet was one of the legendary race tuners and builders in the history of AMA Grand National racing. Thuet, who began tuning racing motorcycles in the 1930s, went on to be the mechanic behind many AMA greats such as Kenny Roberts, Hank Scott, Ted Boody, Eddie Lawson and Wayne Rainey, to name a few. Thuet is perhaps best known for building winning Yamaha 650cc vertical twins during the early-to-mid-1970s that helped Kenny Roberts win two AMA Grand National Championships.
Sheldon Thuet was born in Tulare, California, on August 1, 1912. The oldest of four brothers, Thuet had to go to work to help support his family at an early age after his father died working in the California oil fields in 1923. Thuet became an auto mechanic by practicing on an old Model T Ford as a teenager.
In the late 1930s Southern California racer Jim Kelly was looking for a tuner and Thuet jumped at the chance. His reputation grew, but his racing mechanic career came to a temporary end with the outbreak of World War II.
When racing resumed Thuet built an Indian Scout that various riders raced. "I'd do a 50/50 split with the riders who raced my bikes," Thuet said in a 2003 interview. "I did it that way most of time until I started building bikes for Yamaha. After Yamaha I built bikes for Hank Scott. He wanted 60 percent. I gave him all if he won," Shell added with a laugh.
In 1949, Thuet opened a motorcycle dealership in the Los Angeles suburb of Lynwood. He was an Indian dealer, but that brand was in its last days and Thuet's dealership sold a variety of smaller brands of motorcycles and eventually became a Yamaha dealership in the 1960s.
In the early 1970s Thuet began tuning Yamaha twins for Keith Mashburn in the AMA Grand Nationals. That led to Yamaha contracting Thuet to build its XS650-based flat track racers during the 1973 and '74 seasons. He sold his dealership to concentrate on the Yamaha racing effort. Young Kenny Roberts rode the Yamahas to victory in the AMA Grand National Championship in 1973 and 1974. While Thuet was working with Yamaha, the company published a booklet on competition tuning of Yamaha vertical twins. Thuet provided the technical expertise.
When Yamaha focused its racing budget on road racing in the mid-1970s, Thuet's contract with the company was not renewed. In the late-1970s, Thuet became an independent tuner again and went on the road with Hank Scott and later, Ted Boody. He and his wife, Maggie, traveled the country in a motorhome, following the racing circuit. Maggie was famous for handing out tuna-salad sandwiches to struggling young riders.
Two up-and-coming riders who rode under the Thuet Racing banner in the late 1970s were Eddie Lawson and Wayne Rainey. Thuet's machines helped launch both young riders' racing careers. Lawson and Rainey would eventually go on to become multi-time World Champion road racers.
Rainey smiled when he talked about Thuet. "He was sort of a gruff kind of guy," Rainey said. "As kids, we were maybe a little intimidated at first by him, but under his grizzled exterior he was a person who cared a lot about the guys who raced for him."
In the mid-1980s, Thuet finally retired from following the racing circuit fulltime, but he continued to build racing engines out of his shop near Victorville, California. By that time, vintage racing was becoming very popular and Thuet's expertise in building fast Yamaha vertical twins was once again in demand.
Thuet was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2001. Well into his 90s Thuet was still hoisting engines, splitting motors apart, pressing crankshafts, porting heads, boring cylinders and welding crankcases at his little shop on a gravel road in the high desert at the foot of the San Bernardino Mountain Range.
|I am sad to pass along news that legendary tuner Sheldon "Shell" Thuet has passed away.
If not mistaken, Shell would have been ninety-eight in August.
Though I never met Shell in person I would like to pass along my regards to you Dale and all of Shell's personal friends and family. What a legacy he leaves behind. I have to think of him to motorcycle racing as what Smoky Yunick was to stock car racing. A pure genius.Thank you Mr. Thuet.
That IS some very sad news, Dale. Shell was one of a kind, and a true gentleman. He built some really fast bikes. I spent a lot of time looking at the back of that Royal Enfield that he ran at Ascot with riders like Elliot Schultz, Guy Louis and Sammy Tanner all taking turns on the bike that now sits in Dan Rouit's Flat Track Museum in Clovis, Calif. He will truly be missed, but never forgotten. GOD SPEED, Shell!
Digger has said it well. What a loss to Flattrack. A fine gentleman, great builder/tuner. Was lucky enough to get to witness riders like Elliot Schultz and others on his Royal Enfields. Later the Yamahas. What a loss to our sport and it's history. RIP Shell.
Very well said by all. I did alot of Business with the man and he was the real deal. Always went out of his way to make sure is work was proper. Chewed me out a few times for over reving, or adding to much oil. He is the Man
Shell was indeed one of a kind. Sorry to hear the news.
The engine parts that I got from Shell about 5 years ago are really special now.
Rest In Peace.
My condolences go out to Shell's family and friends. The passing of another of flattrack's greatest tuners is truly a sad day.
THE WHITE PLATE FLAT TRACKER ASSOC. STURGIS,SD.
We were very sorry to receive the news of Mr. Shell Thuet passing away. R. I . P.
George Holter 60k
Field Reporter WPFTA
Shell Thuet, DOB 8/1/12, passed away, yesterday (7/8/11); age 98, he would have been 99 on August 1st. Sally Jones, of Via Posada (760-956-2416), called this morning. His body was taken to Victor Valley Mortuary (760) 245-8164, for Cremation. Shell has two Daughters; Ina Rae (Thuet) Ginos, of Vista CA and me, Ellen (Thuet) Bryant of Eureka CA. Shell also has 9 Grandchildren, 22 G-Grandchildren and 22 G-G-Grandchildren. Yes, I knew him well, he will be missed... Best Regards to everyone involved in the Sport he loved and dedicated his life to. ...... Ellen Bryant
There's a pretty big group of racers needing Shell Thuets fine tuning talents up there..........!!!!
Sail on Sheldon "Shell" Thuet, you have finished the race!!! The race, God had set before you. For the Word says
"Let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus,
on whom our faith depends from start to finish".
Yesterday you were greeted at Heavens gates with "Well done", thou, Good and Faithful servant, you have been faithful
and just over few things, now you'll be made ruler over much...!!!
Enter into the Joy of the Lord.......!!!
For the Word declares, "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord".
Until that great and wonderful day, when the rest of us go to meet the Lord in the Air, Sail on Mr Sheldon Thuet,
we will all see you again soon enough........God Speed....!!!!
Glynn n Holly
Shell was one of the best all time tuners for sure. Thanks Shell, and John Reed, for all you did for me, I really appreciate it. Blessings to the Thuet family.
Shell built my one and only Yamaha 750 motor. It was a fast bike! He also gave me advice on motor maintenance after my Dad passed away. He evn let me ride one of his special bikes at Sacramento. I will always remember Shell and our brief encounters. I always felt in awe while in his presence. Godspeed Shell.
Shell's first words to me?
"Hey kid, GET OFF THAT BIKE!"
Shell touched many, many lives, and many I have spoken to are heartbroken.
Rest in peace, friend.
Certainly a loss to the racing community, and the world in general. RIP
News of Shell Thuet passing bring back memories of the time I spent with him when he lived in Hemet, California. He was a old school guy useing basic principals and wisdom to make power. On the floor of his shop set a OW 750 motor that Kenny had given him. When I ask him why he didn't use it his answer was that it wasn't one of his.His thought was that his customers should have the same motor that he built for his team. Secrets I dont think he had any. If you ask Shell anything he would give you a straight answer.
Good buy old friend and thanks for the memories.
This is one of the times I wish we had a "like" button on this page. I did not have any contact or relationship with Shell Thuet, other than as a fan cheering his Yamaha's on. However I just had to acknowledge his passing by chiming in. He lived a long and productive life. His name and the classic orange and white paint scheme will live on. God bless and enjoy your well deserved rest Mr Thuet.
I got to spend a afternoon talking to shell a couple of years ago when he moved back to southern calif. What a ball to sit and talk to such a legend. He broke out his photo albums and was sharp as a tack, Knew racers and what races of all the pictures also could tell you specs on all his stuff and why they worked. Gods speed shell. A true gentleman
My condolences go out to Shells family and all the friends he had. A true loss.I never had the opportunity to meet the man, but I do have and have always felt extremely privileged to own a Shell built frame & motor 750 twin. I will probably never get rid of it now. Rest In Peace and your work here will live on forever.
So sorry to hear of the passing of Shell.
He devoted his lifes work to flat track and its people. A legend.
Godspeed Shell Thuet
One of the greats of the sport passed away late last week, and Stu's Shots pays tribute to the man that wrenched for The King and many others:
Mike 'Stu' Stuhler
Rider: Del Shoemaker - Mechanic: Shell Thuet......... Building fast Yamahas since 1961!