For the second straight year, the championship of Mickey Thompson Tires Top Fuel Harley Series came down to the last day of their season at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, and for the second time Tii Tharpe edged Doug Vancil for the championship.
Both drivers won their first-round races at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, with Tharpe dispatching Kevin Boyer and Vancil winning on a 6.34 to 6.33 holeshot count against Mike Scott.
With a two-round points lead, Tharpe needed just to beat Rickey House in the semifinals to lock up the title regardless of what Vancil did behind him. House left on Tharpe, but the power of the Spevco/Jay Turner Racing Harley powered him past House before the finish line, 6.39 to 6.49 to lock up his second title.
Vancil lost behind him, falling to low qualifier Randal Andras, making Tharpe’s win a moot point and the championship a walk-off success.
“I think this championship was harder,” Tharpe admitted. “After I won it last year people told me I’d have a bulls-eye on me, and they were right. There’s a whole other part of the mental game that comes with that. The first one was pretty special and hard to top, but this one is sweet, too.
“I can’t thank Jay Turner enough. I remember just wanting to win an AHDRA race or a Top Fuel Harley race anywhere it would be really big, but to win an NHRA race and then back-to-back NHRA championships … having Jay in your corner just gives you confidence. That and great equipment and all of the people. Obviously Jay and Dorothy, the whole crew, my family, everybody at Spevco, Samson, Mickey Thompson, and NHRA … and the fans, man. They’re just great.”
Even though Tharpe didn’t win the final, losing there to low qualifier Randal Andras, there was still plenty to celebrate.
“Losing the final doesn’t take anything away from today,” he said. “Randal [Andras] has had the bike to beat all year, so I was super happy and proud to see him get his first Wally. The final was super fan for both of us.”
Tharpe’s season started out on a strong note with a runner-up finish behind Vancil at the season-opening Winternationals, but the Spevco machine suffered breakage and first-round losses at the season’s next three events, in Phoenix, Gainesville, and Houston before rebounding with the first of three straight wins, at the tour stop in Topeka.
Tharpe defeated Bob Malloy in the Topeka final as well as in the final round in Bristol, then stopped Rickey House to claim the trophy in Epping.
Tharpe saw his lead begin to evaporate as Vancil fought back with wins in Seattle and Brainerd. Tharpe was a surprising first-round loser in Seattle, where Vancil beat Randal Andras, and Tharpe was then on the losing end of the final-round race in Brainerd, where engines woes slowed him against Vancil, whose win pulled him into striking distance at Indy.