motorcycle memo's w/Tom McCarthy

AHDRA: Resurrection or Redemption?

Photos by Tom McCarthy

The “All Harley Drag Racing Association” or AHDRA as it was once known, is evidently returning to action. I’m not sure if this is the resurrection of the AHDRA or an attempt at redemption for the sanction. But either way, according to multiple sources, in 2020, be it through hindsight or legal hell, one way or the other, two “All Harley” drag racing sanctions have active plans to host races next year.

Bill Rowe


In September of 2019 one of the new management team members of the AMRA (American Motorcycle Racing Association), Bill Rowe, broke away from the AMRA and announced he had bought the naming rights from the old AHDRA and was in the process of bringing back the old sanction that went under after the end of the 2012 racing season. Some are thrilled to see this happening, others, not so much, but be that as it may, Harley motorcycle drag racers will have choices of where and when to race in 2020 and their decisions will decide more than just race outcomes when they make those choices.

Bert Baker

Greg Baugh

John “JT” Toth and Marianne Miller


At the start of the 2019 calendar year, the oldest active sanction for the two-cylinder crowd, the lone survivor of the Harley drag bike sanction wars, the AMRA, also technically known as the American Motorcycle Racing Association, began with new leadership after the purchase of the AMRA by a foursome: Bert Baker, Greg Baugh, Bill Rowe and John “JT” Toth. The four racers/businessmen struck a deal with the previous sanction owners, Marty and Jane VandenHeuvel, in late 2018 to buy the sanction and begin running it in 2019. Marty and his wife ran AMRA for 18 years before they agreed to sell it to the foursome. The deal was finalized in December of 2018.


A deal is a deal and Jan. 6, 2019, the formal announcement was made that AMRA was now under new management and thus a new era dawned. A seven-race season was announced and, indeed, all seven events did happen. On occasions, as previously agreed upon, Marty and Jane were on hand to help out, other times they were not and let the fledgling new owners struggle to work things out amongst themselves.


In August of this year a rumor began going around that one new owner was dropping out and would start his own sanction. Then on September 25th, the rumor became an official announcement by Bill Rowe that he was bringing back the AHDRA. Bill bought the naming rights from the previous owner Craig Tharpe and he immediately began signing series class sponsors. Bill has also been networking with big-name racers in various classes to see if they would come to his events and he was assured that as long as his dates didn’t conflict with key events already slated for 2020, he could count on their participation in the AHDRA.


This being indicated, one has to ask the most important obvious question: are there enough racers and series sponsors to support one “All Harley” sanction, let alone two of them? During the 2019 season, while the Man Cup, XDA and NHDRO sanctions all hosted events with hundreds of drag bikes -- in fact, sometimes bike counts in excess of 700 motorcycles -- this can’t be said for AMRA events. And it’s been a dog’s age and then some since the AHDRA had a bike count in excess of 500 motorcycles. There are simply not as many Harley drag bike racers as there are import bike racers. There were insufficient racers in 2012; the historical proof is inescapable.


At the end of the 2012 racing season, the AHDRA lead man, owner Craig Tharpe, had a six-event schedule set for 2013 and he lost two key sponsors prior to the beginning of the season. He was then forced to announce that after four consecutive years of negative cash flow, the AHDRA was ceasing operations. Craig cited not only the loss of two major sponsors, Harley-Davidson and Rush Racing Products, but “declining sponsorship, racer and fan participation.” AHDRA could not survive a fifth consecutive year of negative cash flow, so he halted operations.


With 2020 ahead of us, have things improved in the Harley motorcycle drag racing realm to support two H-D sanctions with a positive cash flow? I doubt it. I for one have not seen sufficient racer and spectator attendance to support two sanctions “in my opinion” and I must make it clear that this is my opinion and mine alone.


If the racers, sponsors and fans who are about to embark on the support of AHDRA were there en masse for the AMRA, the “All Harley” drag racing world would already be a stronger better place, but it’s not, it’s fragmented. And herein lies the crux of this matter: racers are going to have to choose what they want, the more laid-back AMRA style of racing or the more formal, regimented AHDRA style of racing.


Some racers thought of one as the big leagues and the other akin to AAA baseball. What’s going to happen here is the racers are going to decide who survives and who goes sadly away. Winter may be ugly for some folks as we cross over from 2019 into 2020. Let’s just hope 2020 brings a clearer vision of what Harley drag racers can come to expect before the new racing season starts.

Congratulations to Larry McBride, new world record in Pingel Top Fuel. At the Man Cup MTC Nationals, October 26-27, held at Rockingham Dragway, Larry “Spiderman” McBride stopped the clocks with a stunning 5.60 @ 263 MPH to establish a new mark for the class. He set the previous record at 5.611 @ 258 MPH in 2017 at the Man Cup Mann Hill Garage World Finals. With the latest incantation of the World Finals coming up Nov. 21-24, one has to wonder: Just how fast and quick the Spiderman will go this time?



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