NHRA’s previously uninitiated have been enthralled by the sight of mostly overgrown men leaning over coffee can-sized pistons, teetering from toe to toe as bombs thunder underneath them, belching huge flames at their feet as their big tire struggles to grip and send them 1320 feet in just over 6 seconds at some 230 miles per hour. It’s Top Fuel Harley’s second season, and it’s only fitting that the two powerhouse teams are battling for the NHRA’s second championship in the class.
Despite missing the first race of the season when Jay Turner Racing (JTR) suffered a trailer crash, JTR rider Tii Tharpe is only 18 points behind Doug Vancil in the championship standings as the class unloads for it’s final race of the year at the Chevrolet U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway just outside of Indianapolis.
After spotting Vancil that first win in Pomona, Tharpe has collected four Wallys this year to Vancil’s three. Rickey House and Jay Turner have one win each.
After Tharpe won his second of the year at Gainesville, Turner said flat out “Tii is our horse for the championship this year,” which is a bold and team leader-like statement from the defending champion Turner.
That Vancil won Pomona—his first race after ten years away from the sport—was no surprise. The always consistently quick New Mexico resident was racing not just with long-time crew chief and wife Julie this time around, but also Mike and Patti Romine. Years ago, Vancil was racing AGAINST Romine and not with him, as the two sparred for AHDRA championships. The team also has strong backing from Vance & Hines.
By comparison, Tharpe is renting his seat (a former Mike Lehman piece) from Turner, along with the Turner team’s tuning and maintenance. And that team is as strong as it gets, with former Ray Price tuner Jeremy Hoy and former Bill Furr electronics wizard Rex Harris pouring over the graphs.
Even though this is NHRA’s first time bringing the Harley’s to Indy, both Tharpe and Vancil have raced there previously with AHDRA. Vancil tested in NHRA’s annual week-before-the-Big-Go session at Indy, but doubted that much of what his team saw there would apply to the Nationals.
“I’m sure the track’s gonna be way different than it is now,” Vancil said during an unseasonably cool test session at Indy the week before the U.S. Nationals.
And truer words were never spoken. While Vancil didn’t make it down the track in a suddenly humid round 1 of qualifying, Tharpe laid down a solid-if-unspectacular 6.51 in the other lane for sixth in the provisional order.
A pass that WAS spectacular was Turner’s 6.22 at 233 miles per hour for number one. Bob Malloy’s 6.30 at 211 was second and Jason Pridemore was absolutely beaming after landing third with a flame-throwing 6.42 at 212.
Pridemore recently received a little nitro knowledge from John Alwine. “We were droppin’ cylinders about 4 or 5 seconds out,” said Jason. “We made a pulley change and he suggested roughly 10%. So we speeded that up and added a little more percentage to the mix. And of course we hopped it up with a little more lead in the timing to make up for the extreme amount of water grains here. And luckily it stuck. We had a brand new tire and we wanted to put some heat in it so it would act right and evidently it did.
“She finally pulled upstairs, and we’ve got something to work with. We’ve got four more qualifying shots to step on it harder or maintain.”
Two things to fully expect on Saturday: Vancil will get down the track and safely in the field, and Tharpe’s performance will pull closer to matching his teammate Turner’s. You you’ll be able to read all about it and much, much more right here at eatmyink.
story and photos by Tim Hailey