It looked like it was going to be some great Top Fuel Harley semifinals on Sunday at AHDRA‘s D.J. Memorial Nationals at North Florida Motorplex. The first pair was Bad Apple Racing teammates Tracy Kile and Jimmy McMillan.
Kile thundered away to an advantage that he held to the stripe for a 4.25 to 4.38 win on the eighth mile track. The North Florida shutdown is downhill, and invisible from the starting line. But when track workers jumped on scooters and mules and headed downtrack, we all knew something had happened. Pro Fuel rider “Bad Apple Mary” Dangrow jumped on a scooter herself and went to check on her man Tracy.
It turned out that it wasn’t Kile that warranted concern but McMillan. “I was getting slowed down in my lane and all of a sudden, Jimmy just flew by me,” said Kile. “I got to the end of the track and his bike was upside down in a creek and Jimmy was up against a tree!”
A harrowing sight for sure, but even more frightening as McMillan tells the story. “Clicked it off at the stripe, dumped the fuel and chute, got on the brakes like normal, but the engine was still running and running faster than idle like something hung partially open,” McMillan told me. “It was pushing through the brakes and when I started to make a move to grab the fuel valve itself, I realized I was out of track and needed to direct away from that barricade.”
The barricade is a chain link fence fronted by a pile of tires. There really is no good way to stop a bike other than infinite run-off, but when faced with that fence, McMillan instinctively veered clear. But then again, creeks and forests aren’t great either. “I bailed at the sand and tumbled into the woods, hitting a tree and the embankment. The stop hurt.
“I didn’t know I was in the water but I knew I was in pain. Told myself just just remain calm and breathe. See what I can move….toes, feet, legs…good…fingers, hands…did pretty good but couldn’t get up.
“Tracy was there in an instant. Then EMS and Josh, the track manager. They didn’t want me to move but I wanted out of that spot. They helped me up and got me out of there.”
The damage to Jimmy is currently listed as two broken vertebrae and broken ribs. Painful indeed, but could have been so much worse.
Here is a video from Bad Apple Racing:
Waiting back at the starting line was Ryan Peery, who dug his own bike deep into the sand on Saturday when his front tire popped as soon as he touched the brake and his chute failed to deploy. Peery had a bye to the final but never ran as the finals of both remaining nitro classes were postponed until the next AHDRA‘ event at Rockingham Dragway April 28-30.
While some (notably Jay Turner) complained that the North Florida shutdown was too short, there were no such problems when AHDRA‘ ran there last year. Kile ran even quicker then with a 4.14, and was able to stop in this year’s race against McMillan despite having no chute himself. “It’s not a track issue but a mechanical issue,” claims Kile.
“It’s confusing when you get down there,” noted Tii Tharpe, pointing to the banners on either side of the track. “Those banners are a little further down than the finishline line.”
The track measure the distance from finishline to sand as 1900 feet.
Last year’s October race was chilly, but this year’s race was downright cold, with high tailwinds and overcast skies for most of the event. While some speculated that the carbon fiber brake disks might have been too cold to function properly, Kile’s bike had carbon fiber while McMillan’s sported steel.
So there is no agreement about why these sand trap incidents happened, but all agree that it’s a good thing that Peery was uninjured and McMillan wasn’t hurt worse.
story and photos (except where noted) by Tim Hailey