Two NHRA Top Fuel Harley wins in eight days is a damn good result for defending champion rider Tii Tharpe, associate sponsor Samson Exhaust, and the Jay Turner Racing team. Maybe an even more impressive result is that Tharpe’s win this past weekend at NHRA’s Thunder Valley Nationals was his third straight Father’s Day victory at Bristol Dragway.
Although Tii was second behind team boss Jay Turner’s 6.319 after Friday qualifying, his 6.393 dropped to fifth in the order on Saturday. The bike either had an ill-handling tire or an ill-handling rider, and success was anything but assured for Tharpe as he went up against last year’s championship rival Doug Vancil in round 1. But as Vancil struggled to keep his bike off the centerline in the right lane, Tharpe cruised to victory in the left.
Tii’s 60 foot time sharpened from 1.15 to a 1.12 in round 2 and he posted his best lap of the weekend with a 6.36 at 222 mph to take out former teammate Tracy Kile.
That set up a rematch of Tharpe’s winning final from the week before in Topeka against the high-gear only bike of Bob “Opie” Malloy. In Topeka, Malloy’s bike suffered a highlight reel explosion at half-track. But in Bristol, his bike was performing better as the weekend wore on and Tharpe’s win streak was in jeopardy.
And never did the threat seem more real than when Malloy threw down a 1.08 60 foot time after putting .005 on Tharpe at the tree. Tii was still slower to 660 feet but his 183 MPH trap speed was trending higher than Bob’s 181. Malloy was STILL quicker to 1000 feet, but that is where he dropped a hole. Tharpe’s bike also put out a cylinder, but just late enough that he was able to cross the finish line about 11 feet ahead of Malloy.
Samson president Mike Baverstock and the whole Jay Turner Racing team were ecstatic. Tharpe was happy, of course, but also emotional. Watch this video interview with Tii, Mike, and JTR’s Maddy:
Baverstock had his own emotional moment on Saturday when Tharpe gave him his Topeka “Wally”—NHRA’s iconic trophy. “I couldn’t believe it,” said Mike. “I’ve been racing all my life, and that was really a treasured moment.”
For Samson Exhaust, it’s “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” time as NHRA’s most edgy and thrilling national event class showcases his company to the world. “Sell all week long,” corrected Baverstock, whose “Loud Pipes Win Races” attitude is translating from strip to street with top quality, American-made, aftermarket exhaust for Harleys and select Indian motorcycles at an affordable price.
The next chance to win for this team and the rest of the Mickey Thompson Top Fuel Harley field is the NHRA New England Nationals at New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire on July 5-7.
Top Fuel Harley — Tii Tharpe, JTR, 6.426, 218.90 def. Bob Malloy, Buell, 6.469, 193.40.
In Top Fuel Car, Mike Salinas snapped the five-race winning streak of points leader and defending world champion Steve Torrence thanks to a final-round pass of 3.836 at 325.69 in his Scrappers Racing dragster. Torrence, who had won 22 straight rounds before Sunday’s loss in the finals, went 3.892 at 287.60, slowing at the finish line. Salinas advanced to the final round in Bristol a year ago.
After winning his first career Top Fuel race earlier this year at Las Vegas, Salinas picked up round wins against Scott Palmer, Antron Brown and No. 1 qualifier Doug Kalitta on Sunday en route to his second career win.
“It’s kind of surreal what is happening,” said Salinas, who jumped to third in Top Fuel points. “The guys are amazing, they’re doing a great job and we’re having a lot of fun. You can’t take anybody lightly out here. I have all the confidence in this team and it’s just amazing to be in the seat with these guys. Alan Johnson and the crew, they just know how to do it and it’s just amazing, it really is.”
Torrence, who maintains a commanding points lead, reached his 48th career final round thanks to wins against Pat Dakin, Clay Millican and Dom Lagana.
TOP FUEL results:
ROUND ONE — Terry McMillen, 4.045, 291.51 def. Richie Crampton, 4.781, 155.99; Clay Millican, 4.331, 251.16 def. Austin Prock, 4.759, 242.76; Mike Salinas, 3.800, 322.11 def. Scott Palmer, 3.902, 319.60; Doug Kalitta, 3.844, 323.27 def. Cameron Ferre, 4.124, 253.99; Lex Joon, 4.536, 205.41 def. Leah Pritchett, 4.972, 162.39; Steve Torrence, 3.798, 324.59 def. Pat Dakin, 4.865, 158.65; Antron Brown, 3.863, 318.24 def. Audrey Worm, 4.082, 279.21; Dom Lagana, 3.820, 321.65 def. Brittany Force, 4.092, 271.79;
QUARTERFINALS — Kalitta, 5.010, 248.02 def. McMillen, 5.103, 147.07; Lagana, 4.072, 292.58 def. Joon, 4.786, 166.44; Salinas, 3.908, 316.97 def. Brown, 6.602, 110.14; Torrence, 3.842, 320.89 def. Millican, 4.720, 167.66;
SEMIFINALS — Salinas, 3.817, 320.20 def. Kalitta, 3.887, 320.66; Torrence, 3.839, 323.97 def. Lagana, 4.037, 277.32;
FINAL — Salinas, 3.836, 325.69 def. Torrence, 3.892, 287.60.
Top Fuel points
1. Steve Torrence, 1,048; 2. Doug Kalitta, 709; 3. Mike Salinas, 691; 4. Antron Brown, 676; 5. Brittany Force, 663; 6. Clay Millican, 611; 7. Leah Pritchett, 571; 8. Richie Crampton, 499; 9. Austin Prock, 486; 10. Terry McMillen, 470.
Despite just slipping into the field as the No. 16 qualifier, Jose Gonzalez raced to his first win of the year on Sunday during E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service action. The series was presented by the Real Pro Mod Association (RPM) in Thunder Valley, and it marked the seventh of 12 races during the 2019 season.
Gonzalez went 5.848-seconds at 256.06 mph in his turbocharged Q80 Racing Camaro to knock off Bob Rahaim, who ran 5.914 at 238.72 in his nitrous-powered Camaro. It is the second career win for Gonzalez, who qualified 16th before picking up round wins against No. 1 qualifier Todd Tutterow, Brandon Snider and Erica Enders to reach his fourth career final round.
“I honestly didn’t think we were going to make it into the field and here we are in the winner’s circle from the No. 16 spot,” said Gonzalez, who moved to fourth in points. “This Q80 Racing team really works their butts off and they have given me this car I have complete trust in every time I go down the track. I knew if I could just get into the field I could make it happen and here we are.”
Rahaim, who qualified 14th, reached his sixth career final round in the class with wins against defending world champion Mike Janis, Khalid AlBalooshi and Sidnei Frigo. Stevie “Fast” Jackson maintains the points lead as the class started the second half of its 2019 season in Bristol.
Pro Modified — Jose Gonzalez, Chevy Camaro, 5.848, 256.06 def. Bob Rahaim, Camaro, 5.914, 238.72.
Bob Tasca III powered to his first Funny Car win in nearly seven years, knocking off John Force in the final round. Like Salinas, Tasca advanced to the final round in Bristol a year ago.
Tasca, who last won late in the 2012 season, denied Force his 150th career win, going 4.008-seconds at 316.23 mph in his Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Shelby Mustang to beat Force’s 4.155 at 287.05 and claim his fifth career win and first in 100 races.
Tasca, who qualified third, beat James Campbell, Robert Hight and back-to-back Bristol winner Ron Capps, who beat Tasca in the final round a year ago, to reach his 13th career final round.
“It was just a hard-fought effort,” said Tasca, who improved to ninth in Funny Car points. “I knew it would be a slugfest against Force, but I love racing John. It was probably one of the biggest wins in my career. We had to build this car from scratch, but the chemistry on this team is good and I’ve never had a race car like this. It’s fast and the guys put me in a position to win. I love racing here. There’s so much history with my family racing in Thunder Valley and I really wanted to win this one. It was just a great day.”
Force knocked off Jack Beckman and Tommy Johnson Jr. to reach his 252nd final round, but he will now have to wait until next weekend in Norwalk to try and get his 150th career win.
FUNNY CAR results:
ROUND ONE — Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.983, 318.47 def. Jim Campbell, Dodge Charger, 5.307, 140.07; John Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.998, 321.65 was unopposed; Shawn Langdon, Toyota Camry, 4.099, 307.93 def. Jeff Diehl, Camry, 6.528, 100.47; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.031, 318.47 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.063, 310.48; J.R. Todd, Camry, 4.048, 311.27 def. Terry Haddock, Mustang, 4.217, 291.76; Robert Hight, Camaro, 4.020, 322.19 def. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 4.077, 298.21; Ron Capps, Charger, 4.005, 314.53 def. Blake Alexander, Mustang, 4.383, 212.16; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.964, 311.92 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.376, 223.50;
QUARTERFINALS — Tasca III, 4.122, 309.49 def. Hight, 4.337, 303.03; Force, 4.044, 318.32 def. Johnson Jr., 8.529, 88.42; Capps, 4.039, 312.28 def. Langdon, 4.080, 309.27; Beckman, 4.076, 315.64 def. Todd, 4.397, 284.81;
SEMIFINALS — Force, 4.125, 316.38 def. Beckman, 7.532, 97.47; Tasca III, 4.048, 317.87 def. Capps, 4.216, 258.86;
FINAL — Tasca III, 4.008, 316.23 def. Force, 4.155, 287.05.
Funny Car points
1. Robert Hight, 990; 2. John Force, 786; 3. Tommy Johnson Jr., 783; 4. Ron Capps, 741; 5.Jack Beckman, 720; 6. J.R. Todd, 711; 7. Matt Hagan, 624; 8. Tim Wilkerson, 587; 9. Bob Tasca III, 574; 10. Shawn Langdon, 528.
Super Stock — Joe Santangelo, Chevy Camaro, 10.282, 127.41 def. Ricky Decker, Camaro, 9.985, 133.17.
Stock Eliminator — Monty Bogan, Chevy Camaro, 11.094, 116.06 def. Mike Cotten, Duster, 11.173, 117.56.
Super Comp — Todd Ewing, Dragster, 14.155, 98.66 def. Ray Miller Jr., Dragster, Broke – No Show.
Super Gas — Ray Sawyer, Chevy Camaro, 9.927, 165.60 def. Michelle Furr, Chevy Corvette, 9.929, 153.54.
Top Sportsman presented by RacingRVs.com — Johnny Brooks, Chevy II, 7.953, 163.79 def. Dylan Stott, Ford Mustang, 6.714, 206.80.
Mountain Motor Pro Stock — Todd Hoerner, Chevy Camaro, 6.425, 219.36 def. Frank Gugliotta, Camaro, 6.998, 156.44.
The Mello Yello Drag Racing series continues at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, June 20-23 at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio.
story, photos and video by Tim Hailey with additional text by NHRA