race reports

Top Fuel Harleys at U.S. Nationals

Tharpe Repeats as Champion

Words by Chicago Jon Hoffman

Photos by Ron Lewis, Chicago Jon and Chris Haverly

Tii Tharpe 


It would be an understatement to say that topping last year’s Top Fuel Harley season-ending race presented by Mickey Thompson Tires would be tough. When the championship is decided on the last pass of the season, how do you beat that? Well, for starters the exact same thing almost happened AGAIN! All the racers at the finale for the Top Fuel Harleys at the U.S. Nationals really laid it out there -- but we are getting ahead of ourselves here so let’s head it on back to the pits, shall we?


I for one am always drawn to showmanship and 'flash and pizzazz' and that's what had me in the pits of Canadian Andy Beauchemin, driver of the Joker bike. When asked if the wild, eye catching scheme and leathers were an attempt to draw sponsors, Andy replied in a way I did not expect. He said that he simply desired to have a nice, clean professional looking race team. However, as a fan he felt that there were "too many black motorcycles" and it was hard to distinguish essentially who was whom.



The Joker scheme was just something he liked personally, and as the old phrase mandates, “Go big or go home!” And in terms of potential sponsors, Andy said they have had to experiment with 'scaled back' looks on the Joker bike, to show possible backers that they are more than willing to be flexible with the look. Some people have indeed come forward with interest (spell that CASH) but were concerned that their signage would be lost in all the color and artwork.


Qualifying was a show in its own right, with the field within 35-hundredths of each other. Low qualifier Randal Andras dropped a bomb on Saturday afternoon, moving to the number one position, and putting 6 hundredths between himself and Bob Malloy.

Randal Andras (near lane) and Doug Vancil during qualifying. 

Andras was No. 1 qualifier at 6.158 seconds. (Chicago Jon photo)


Defending Champion Tii Tharpe held down the number three spot with a 6.26 at 219+ mph, ahead of Doug Vancil’s 6.28 for the fourth spot. Vancil had the best shot at Tharpe in terms of taking the championship, and the man from Albuquerque, NM, definitely came to play. The field was balanced out with Mike Scott, Kevin Boyer, Rickey House and Beauchemin anchoring the eighth spot. Among the non-qualifiers was a surprise in the form of Jay Turner, who could not do better than an 8.12 -- an off-weekend for him to say the least.


Round one action kicked off in grand fashion with Rickey House and the “Nitro Shark” against the man from Media, PA, Bob Malloy. Both were even at half-track, but something gave way on Malloy’s ride and House moved on.

That’s Rickey House in the far lane racing Bob Malloy. Are they wrestling those bikes or are they giving each other the stink-eye? You decide! 

Hmm... What’s that doing on the pavement? 

Well, can’t leave it on the track, we might need it later. 


Next up Vancil needed a holeshot to dispose of Mike Scott, 6.33 to Scott’s 6.32. Tharpe held off a game Kevin Boyer, but the man from Edmonton, Alberta, aboard the Ace Manufacturing Special could not get to the defending champion. The round closed out with Randal Andras running a 6.35 against a breaking Andy Beauchemin. All this was on Sunday afternoon, mind you, with the semis and finals scheduled for Monday, but funny story about Monday, and schedules....


Because of the wet weather during the weekend and the seemingly endless oil-down delays, the script for Monday was thrown out the window, into a blender and then under the bus just for good measure. With the title battle still at stake, the last thing Doug Vancil needed was to be told by the NHRA that the Harleys must leave the lanes and return to the pits, because FOX TV was running behind schedule. I for one would not have needed that kind of pressure at that moment.

The perils of live TV. Doug Vancil had to leave the staging lanes because of the TV schedule. 


When the semis eventually were contested, Tharpe, with three wins already this season aboard the Spevco Racing Special covered House by a tenth, 6.39 to a 6.49. Vancil and the Vance & Hines ride needed Tharpe to lose and he had to go all the way, so the title ended up in Mister Tharpe’s hands for the second year in a row.


Low qualifier Randal Andras ended Vancil’s weekend, because he wanted that Wally pretty darn bad! And he proved it in the final, sending the freshly crowned champion packing with a 6.32 to Tharpe’s 6.42.


This whole Top Fuel Harley show was just awesome for me to see. As a kid I remember seeing TC Christensen at Great Lakes Dragaway, doing these burnouts with the front wheel of his bike against the bumper of the tow vehicle, an old road-warrior of a station wagon. That the class has evolved and gotten onto the national stage is a testimony to the desire and perseverance of these great racers.


My favorite metaphor regarding the type of individual who'll pilot these beasts down the quarter mile comes from our own DRO editor, Jeff Burk, who once told me that "these guys are a bunch of Frank Bradley CLONES." I can't wait ‘til next year; I am sure it will be amazing.  



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