Tharpe Takes ’19 Goose Egg Off Board in Topeka

His 2018 rival Doug Vancil won the season opener in Pomona. Beau Layne captured his first win in Arizona and then won again in Gainesville. Team owner Jay Turner won in Houston. Some might have wondered if defending the #1 plate was too much for NHRA Top Fuel Harley champion Tii Tharpe as he trailered early while others claimed Wallys.

As president of transformer vehicle manufacturer Spevco, maybe the busy businessman was too distracted for the demands of professional racing. Maybe the switch off of “Maddy” to the bike that team owner Jay Turner rode last year didn’t suit Tii’s style. Or maybe after winning the championship, his desire had dispersed like the bubbles in so many Coor’s Light cans.

Whatever monkey it was that kept Tharpe out of the winners circle climbed off of his back and disappeared into the Kansas wheat fields as he pulled away from an exploding Bob “Opie” Malloy for the win at the 31st annual Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals presented by Minties at Heartland Motorsports Park in Topeka.

“The first race was encouraging, going to the final against Doug,” corrected Tharpe. “But we paid plenty of dues between there and here this weekend.

“I slept real bad (at the tree) in Gainesville and definitely threw one away against Bob there, then had mechanical failure in Houston. So hopefully we’ve paid our dues and are back on the right path.”

Tharpe sat third in the Topeka qualifying order with a 6.39 at 224 mph behind #1 qualifier Malloy’s 6.34 at 221 and Vancil’s 6.38.

Turner struck with a stout 6.23 on his ProCharged bike to put Vancil out in round 1 on raceday, sending some rumbles through the pits regarding the future legality of power adders in the class. As for now, the rules stand as they are.

Tharpe, Malloy and Rickey “Sharky” House also advanced to the semis.

In E2 it was Tharpe who laid down a pass in the mid-.20s, a 6.25 at 230.96 mph to end teammate Turner’s day. “I kinda expected to hear him come around me at the top end, but it didn’t happen,” said Tii.

Bob “Opie” Malloy

Malloy also went through the traps at 230 mph on his winning, 6.38 pass.

But Malloy put up a highlight reel explosion with a torched head in the right lane during the final, and Tharpe’s 6.313 at 227.38 lit the winlight.

“Hey, winning’s awesome,” said Tii.

Samson Exhaust’s Mike Baverstock and NHRA Top Fuel Harley champion Tii Tharpe in the Gainesville staging lanes.

Someone who never wavered in his support of Tharpe’s title defense is Samson Exhaust’s Mike Baverstock, who added his company’s name alongside Spevco on Tii’s bike in time for the Gatornationals in March. “Everyone here at Samson Exhaust is thrilled to see Tii put the Samson/Spevco Top Fuel Harley in the winners circle,” said Baverstock. “This win is especially meaningful for me because it is not only Samson‘s first Top Fuel Harley win, but also it is my first time being involved in a Top Fuel Harley win.”

“I’ve finally got a Wally to give Mike,” said Tharpe. “But I’d rather win again in Bristol and give him that one! ‘Thank You’ to Samson Exhaust, Spevco, and Jay Turner Racing.”

“Big thanks to Jay Turner Racing and Tii Tharpe for making this possible,” echoed Baverstock. “Now we look forward to chasing the championship with our Spevco and Jay Turner Racing partners.”

Indeed, with four winners so far this year and 2X winner Layne getting parked in E1 at Topeka, the championship that will be decided at Indy is in full play.

Top Fuel Harley — Tii Tharpe, JTR, 6.313, 227.38 def. Bob Malloy, Buell, 7.391, 132.69.

One of my collection of “Gary Pritchett running away from Steve Torrence” photos.

Although with five straight wins it now seems like a distant memory, Top Fuel Car champion Steve Torrence also started this year with a bit of a slump. Torrence raced his Capco Contractors dragster to a run of 3.750-seconds at 326.16 mph to defeat his dad Billy Torrence’s 3.768 at 326. Steve was the No. 1 qualifier, secured his first event victory at Heartland Motorsports Park, and the 32nd of his career.

“There are no losers or winners today,” said Steve. “My dad right there has given me the opportunity to do anything and everything I’ve wanted to do in life, and to be able to come out here and race with him as a family and to do this its pretty unbelievable. My mom, my dad and all of those Capco boys are great guys but we’re going to go home to Capco and brag a little bit. I saw him right beside me when we shut it off, so it was an unbelievable day. This is probably one of the most special ones ever.”

Steve faced Terry Totten and Antron Brown before entering the finals. Billy defeated Lex Joon, Richie Crampton and Austin Prock.

TOP FUEL:

ROUND ONE — Richie Crampton, 3.793, 320.36 def. Terry McMillen, 7.586, 83.77; Brittany Force, 3.690, 332.67 def. Clay Millican, 3.755, 316.97; Antron Brown, 3.740, 329.58 def. Scott Palmer, 3.825, 324.20; Austin Prock, 3.760, 318.32 def. Cameron Ferre, 3.886, 297.29; Billy Torrence, 3.763, 327.35 def. Lex Joon, 4.064, 233.88; Steve Torrence, 3.745, 325.61 def. Terry Totten, 3.972, 270.10; Doug Kalitta, 3.737, 331.69 def. Leah Pritchett, 3.779, 327.98;

QUARTERFINALS — B. Torrence, 3.769, 328.14 def. Crampton, 4.845, 151.29; S. Torrence, 3.721, 329.83 was unopposed; Prock, 4.035, 236.46 def. Force, 4.348, 193.29; Brown, 3.743, 327.98 def. Kalitta, 3.773, 326.16;

SEMIFINALS — B. Torrence, 3.796, 321.81 def. Prock, 5.333, 138.20; S. Torrence, 3.750, 328.94 def. Brown, 5.603, 128.22;

FINAL — S. Torrence, 3.750, 326.16 def. B. Torrence, 3.768, 326.00.

Top Fuel points:

1. Steve Torrence, 949; 2. Doug Kalitta, 628; 3. Brittany Force, 625; 4. Antron Brown, 619; 5. Mike Salinas, 573; 6. Clay Millican, 557; 7. Leah Pritchett, 529; 8. Richie Crampton, 467; 9. Austin Prock, 452; 10. Billy Torrence, 440.

Robert Hight at Joliet

Robert Hight was also victorious in Funny Car at the 10th of 24 events on the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule. Hight locked-in his 49th career victory at the race that started it all for him 25 years ago when he worked on John Force’s Funny Car. He defeated Jack Beckman with a run of 3.895 at 330.88 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS for his fourth victory of the season.

“I think that was the second time this year we’ve qualified in the bottom half of the field,” Hight said. “We just had bad luck. We didn’t miss it or do anything wrong, we just simply had bad luck every run. Finally, we get it together for Q4 and have low ET of the session and then low ET every session on raceday. Once you get going with this team, you just start rolling.”

Hight raced Shawn Langdon, defending world champion J.R. Todd and Tommy Johnson Jr.—all of whom blew the tires off early in their runs—before entering his 77th career final round. Beckman defeated teammate Matt Hagan, Tim Wilkerson and John Force—all of whom raced Beckman all the way to the stripe—en route to his second final round of the season.

Funny Car results:

ROUND ONE — J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 3.906, 323.12 was unopposed; Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.983, 297.35 def. Jack Wyatt, Dodge Charger, 4.368, 235.80; John Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.904, 321.42 def. Dale Creasy Jr., Charger, 4.064, 303.03; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.918, 317.05 def. Terry Haddock, Mustang, 4.174, 286.68; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.974, 317.57 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.165, 274.94; Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.902, 324.20 def. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 4.362, 208.94; Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.912, 326.24 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.925, 326.40; Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.897, 330.88 def. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 4.800, 165.56;

QUARTERFINALS — Beckman, 3.940, 325.45 def. Wilkerson, 3.956, 320.58; Hight, 3.921, 328.70 def. Todd, 9.547, 85.07; Force, 3.951, 323.66 def. Tasca III, 3.940, 317.05; Johnson Jr., 3.941, 320.66 def. Capps, 3.941, 320.13;

SEMIFINALS — Beckman, 3.970, 326.56 def. Force, 4.001, 323.74; Hight, 3.900, 330.63 def. Johnson Jr., Foul – Red Light;

FINAL — Hight, 3.895, 330.88 def. Beckman, 3.969, 323.97.

Funny Car points:

1. Robert Hight, 933; 2. Tommy Johnson Jr., 725; 3. John Force, 681; 4. Ron Capps, 666; 5. J.R. Todd, 656; 6. Jack Beckman, 645; 7. Matt Hagan, 592; 8. Tim Wilkerson, 556; 9. Shawn Langdon, 468; 10. Bob Tasca III, 455.

Stevie “Fast” Jackson at Gainesville

Stevie “Fast” Jackson claimed his second victory of the season in the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service on Sunday. It is the sixth of 12 races during the 2019 season.

Jackson ran a pass of 5.747-seconds at 251.72 mph in his JBRC Chevrolet Camaro, picking up the final round win over Clint Satterfield, who double-bulbed Jackson at the line and ran 5.933 at 251.58.

It marks the sixth career E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod victory and second at the facility for Jackson, who qualified No. 1 and also earned round wins over Michael Biehele II, Erica Enders and Sidnei Frigo.

“This race right here has nothing to do with going rounds or winning,” said an emotional, choked-up Jackson. “It’s got nothing to do with the points or the championship. My crew chief Billy Stocklin lost his dad and I told him we were going to get this for him. Billy, I love you. That’s all I got.”

Pro Modified — Steve Jackson, Chevy Camaro, 5.747, 251.72 def. Clint Satterfield, Camaro, 5.933, 251.58.

Top Alcohol Dragster — Shawn Cowie, 5.213, 279.15 def. Troy Coughlin Jr., 7.406, 118.32.

Top Alcohol Funny Car — Sean Bellemeur, Chevy Camaro, 5.446, 269.29 def. Jay Payne, Camaro, 5.592, 262.79.

Competition Eliminator — Bruno Massel, Dragster, 6.764, 177.95 def. Shaun Vincent, Chevy S-10, 8.404, 158.32.

Super Stock — Gene Mosbek, Plymouth Savoy, 10.234, 126.34 def. Vic Penrod, Chevy Camaro, 9.898, 130.67.

Stock Eliminator — Chris Chaney, Chevy Camaro, 10.215, 129.59 def. Scott Libersher, Camaro, Foul – Red Light.

Super Comp — Kyle Fickler, Dragster, 8.913, 161.63 def. Veron Rowland, Dragster, 8.899, 166.15.

Super Gas — Shawn Carter, Chevy Cavalier, 9.896, 166.31 def. Collin Becker, Chevy Camaro, 9.888, 164.45.

Super Street — Trevor Larson, Chevy Corvette, 10.853, 139.54 def. Mike Campbell, Chevy Malibu, Foul – Red Light.

Factory Stock Showdown — Stephen Bell, Chevy Camaro, 7.908, 174.12 def. Arthur Kohn, Camaro, 7.951, 174.19.

The Mello Yello Drag Racing series continues to NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals June 14-16 at Bristol Dragway in Bristol, Tenn.

story by Tim Hailey and NHRA with photos by Hailey