By Tom McCarthy
The NHRA Mickey Thompson Tires, Top Fuel Harley (TFH) season kicked off on Sunday February 11, 2018, at the Auto Club Raceway, in Pomona, California with the NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals. Racing began with two qualifying sessions on Friday, February 9, under sunny skies.
Eight Top Fuel (T/F) motorcycles were in attendance on Friday, with two big names missing from the roster. Jay Turner Racing, which would have added Jay Turner and Tii Tharpe to the competition roster, were headed to the Winternationals, but they were sidelined by difficulties of life on the road. Jay and his racing team had everything prepared, loaded up and hit the road on time, but the road hit him back. He was about twenty miles from his shop when the trailer broke loose from the coach and it veered off onto the median strip of the highway, due to a frame failure. Road vibration takes a toll on us all, one way or another, and the frame just let go.
Fortunately for all concerned the damage to the trailer and its very valuable contents was minor and more importantly, no one was hurt. It took a few days to get the trailer properly repaired and thoroughly checked out. Because of this, Jay opted to not try and rush repairs to get out to California for the season opener. The team stayed home and made sure the repairs were done right, then prepared for the next race in Phoenix, February 23-24.
At Pomona AAA Raceway, with eight T/F bikes ready to rumble on Friday, Doug Vancil of AZ was the man to lead things off with a fine 6.45 elapsed time pass at 191 MPH. TFH rookie Beau Lane was not far behind him with a 6.68 @ 198 MPH run, to let Doug know he was not alone up front. The thundering nitromethane-powered Harleys put on a great show and they were well received by the fans at Pomona. The racers were busy all weekend signing autographs and catching up with supporters from across the land.
On Saturday evening, when the smoke cleared, the eight qualifiers were Doug Vancil, 6.30 @ 231 MPH, Mike Scott 6.47 @ 223 MPH, Rickey House 6.49 @ 190 MPH, Beau Layne 6.68 @ 198 MPH, Kevin Boyer 7.25 @ 190 MPH, Mike Beland 7.52 @ 188 MPH, Tak Shigematsu 8.0 @ 186 MPH, and Randal Andras 11.78. Doug Vancil had quite the first outing after a near ten year absence from racing in TFH. Doug is a former TFH champion of both IHRA and AHDRA sanctions and will be a championship contender for sponsor Vance & Hines Racing (VHR), within the 2018 NHRA series.
In Round One racing action, Kevin Boyer and Beau Layne matched up. Beau Layne took a hole-shot win, with a starting line advantage, right out of the gate. Beau’s .058 reaction to the tree, compared to Kevin’s .093, was a head start of .035 seconds when the tree turned green. Then for 1,320 feet of race track, Beau stayed side-by-side with Kevin Boyer, for the win on the big end with a margin of victory of only .0098 seconds. This was Beau’s first round-win, as a T/F motorcycle pilot.
The Nitro Gremlins were out in force at Pomona, haunting the T/F teams. Number two qualifier Mike Scott had a competition solo for round one, due to Tak Shigematsu being a no-show, as his bike was broken from qualifying. Mike had an easy win within his grasp, but upon fire-up, Mike’s bike just abruptly lost fire and quit. One cannot just “re-fire” a bike that runs nitromethane, it must be flushed clean, with the plugs out of the motor, then and only then it can be re-fired. BUT with TV cameras rolling, and no time for maintenance, Mike could not restart. Due to this he was disqualified from the run, thus Tak and Mike Scott went out in Round One.
The next pair out was Mike Beland and Rickey “Sharkey” House on the Nitro Shark/Cat Spot machine. Rickey House got out first and stayed there, defeating Mike Beland, with a 6.43 elapsed time to Mike’s 7.73 effort. Rickey had his hands full trying to get his 196 CID bike to perform during four rounds of qualifying. Normally Sharkey runs 6.30’s or better, but the bike was giving him fits, right from the start.
In the final pair of the round, Doug Vancil eliminated Randal Andras whose machine was plagued by problems all weekend. Doug’s 6.33 elapsed time was the quickest run of the round, signaling he was ready for all during eliminations.
The semi-final round opened up with Rickey House on a solo shot, due to the unbalanced ladder, and Rookie Beau Layne was facing veteran Doug Vancil. Ricky completed his solo run without incident, then Layne and Vancil brought the bikes into the water boxes. After solid burnouts by the bikes, they staged to do battle. Beau again did a great job driving by getting a jump on Doug with a starting line advantage of .068 to Doug’s .071 reaction time. Yet it takes more than a good RT to beat VHR horsepower, tuned by Mike Romine. Doug beat Beau handily with a 6.63 elapsed time, to Beau’s off-pace 7.83 effort. This set up Sharkey and Doug Vancil for the final round of the weekend.
When the tree flickered green for the racers, Doug Vancil was out first with a .095 and Sharkey responded with a .097, so they were wheel-to-wheel at the launch, front ends instantly in the air. Rickey’s big rear tire lost traction early in the run and Doug Vancil motored on to a 6.33 @ 220 MPH pass that secured his first victory of the 2018 NHRA racing season, in his first race back after a decade out of the saddle.
After the event, Doug’s crew chief Mike Romine made a trip to Texas to the chassis shop of John Storce, of “Weekend Frame” fame, to pick up two new T/F bike chassis. One of these will be Doug’s new VHR bike and will surface some time later during the 2018 season. All of the NHRA Mickey Thompson Tires Top Fuel bikes are seeking major sponsorship. Anyone interested in going racing with the bike teams, please contact the Top Fuel Harley Racers Association and they will put you in touch with any team you wish.