By Tom McCarthy
The NHRA Mickey Thompson Tires Top Fuel Harley 2018 season was the strongest yet for the nitromethane-burning monsters that thunder down 1,320 feet of racing surface at speeds often in excess of 220 MPH. With the front wheel dangling in the air and flames belching from the exhaust pipes, pass after pass, the Top Fuel Harleys never fail to impress fans and racers alike.
Ten events were on the schedule and all ten were completed between the months of February and September, which is a normal season of NHRA Mello Yello drag racing for the TFH teams. They logged thousands of miles with their transport haulers going from Pomona, California, starting in February at the NHRA Winternationals, to Epping, NH, for the New England Nationals, then all the way back west to Seattle, Washington, for the NHRA Northwest Nationals. They wrapped up with the season finale in Indianapolis, Indiana, the home of the prestigious US Nationals. There were also stops at Phoenix, Las Vegas and in Texas, Kansas, Florida, and Tennessee during the course of the 2018 season.
It is an enormous commitment for a TFH team to race the full schedule of ten events. Consider this: if a Top Fuel Harley team were based in central Indiana, and they hit all ten NHRA events and stayed over at each one until the next event; then at a bare minimum they would travel 13,481 miles to the races while spending about $7,500 dollars on just fuel for travel. For Beau Layne, who resides in Redding, California, this meant he traveled over 30,000 miles this year.
While the cost of racing is up there, so too is the competition. The Mickey Thompson Tires NHRA Mello Yello series is the pinnacle of drag racing. For ten weekends a year, the TFH teams are seen on FS-1 Fox Sports TV and they race in the presence of close to 40,000 fans each race weekend. The teams are warmly welcomed by the fans everywhere they go. TFH racer Bob Malloy, sponsored in part by Boninfante Friction Clutches said, “Fans have mentioned to me in the pits that they come just to see us – the Top Fuel Harleys.” There is no doubt that the class is loved by the fans. Mike Scott commented, “We have an established following for the Top Fuel Harleys and the best part is, we see new ones every race.”
While some might think a racer would need to race all ten events to win the points championship, such is not the case. In 2018 Tii Tharpe and Jay Turner finished numbers one and three respectively in championship points and only raced in nine of the ten events. They race as a team and had a trailer incident while driving to the first race of the year, which caused them to miss the season opener. But they sure made good on the next nine events.
After missing the first race, Jay Turner won race number two and Tii Tharpe won the next one. After that Tharpe went on a tear and won four more of the remaining seven races and locked horns with Doug Vancil at every event. Vancil, after a ten year hiatus from fuel racing, won three national events, took the runner-up spot two times and was low qualifier four times. He led the NHRA points championship for nine of ten events – then he met up with Tii Tharpe in the final round of the final race of the season, at the biggest race of the year, the 64th running of the NHRA US Nationals.
In the final round, they left the starting line glued together with identical reaction times of .043 to the starting line tree, then it happened; Doug Vancil’s Top Fuel bike faltered. About 180 feet from the starting line, Doug’s bike just started to slow and Tii Tharpe stormed away to victory with a 6.44-second elapsed time at 224 MPH to win the US Nationals and the Mickey Thompson Tires Top Fuel Harley championship in the process.
It was a huge victory for Tii Tharpe and Jay Turner Racing. Tii was trailing in points all year and came into the US Nationals behind Doug Vancil by eighteen points. By qualifying deeper than Vancil and winning the event, Tii snatched the championship from Doug by seven points.
Tii commented after this, the biggest win of his drag racing career, “It was an unbelievable year, I’m still humbled, it still hasn’t fully set it yet. I can’t thank Team SPEVCO and our sponsors enough – to be the 2018 NHRA Top Fuel Harley champion is a dream come true.”
Overall the Top Fuel Harley community performed great with the NHRA in 2018. At all ten events, they had a full field each race, with as many as twenty entries fighting to get onto an eight-bike ladder. 26 different TFH teams entered national events this season. Four different teams won races and six different teams were the low qualifier of the event. This exhibits some very even, competitive racing for all the Top Fuel Harley teams.
Next year, the Mickey Thompson Tires Top Fuel Harley teams will return, as the National Hot Rod Association announced its 2019 schedule in September, and once again the big thunder bikes will be back with ten more events next season. Please see NHRA.COM for details.