Tharpe Eyes Jim Mcclure All-Harley Nitro Title
Carolina Native and Reigning NHRA Champion Favored at Rockingham Dragway
On the surface, Tii Tharpe might not seem like the kind of guy who would spend his weekends splayed out on top of a 2,000 horsepower, nitromethane-burning Harley-Davidson motorcycle capable of reaching speeds of 240 miles per hour in just 1,320 feet.
After all, the 1999 graduate of Appalachian State spends the majority of his time at the helm of SPEVCO, the family-owned, Pffaftown-based designer, builder and operator of specialty vehicles, simulators and interactive displays whose client list includes the U.S. Army, sports apparel manufacturer Under Armor, the Auto Club of Southern California, the NHRA and the Dallas Cowboys, among others.
Nevertheless, when qualifying begins Saturday in the Ray Price Top Fuel Challenge portion of the 27th annual Jim McClure All-Harley Nitro Finals at Rockingham Dragway, Tharpe will be the rider against whom all others are measured.
Even though he missed the opening race in the NHRA’s Mickey Thompson Performance Tires Top Fuel Harley drag series, because of a problem with the team’s hauler, Tharpe won five of the next eight events including the 64th annual NHRA U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind., and, with one race remaining at Las Vegas, already has succeeded teammate Jay “Bulldog” Turner as champion.
Now, the East Bend resident’s focus is on winning the premier title in Rockingham’s biggest bike race.
He’s come close before, notably in 2016 when, just seven days after coming off his bike at 217 miles per hour in a race at Memphis, Tenn., he was runner-up to New Yorker Peter Geiss.
Although he has been around motorcycle racing all his life, the son of SPEVCO founder and former All-Harley Drag Racing Association president Marty Tharpe and nephew of Craig Tharpe, another former AHDRA president, Tii’s Top Fuel career didn’t take off until he partnered with Turner in alliance that, quite frankly, defied all the odds.
“I’ve known Jay for quite some time,” Tharpe joked, “but we really didn’t like each other. He thought I was a brat and I thought he was an a-hole. Both of those things are still true, but we get along much better now.”
Tharpe’s links to both the track and the event are extensive. The late Jim McClure, in whose memory the race is contested, assembled his very first Top Fuel bike back in 2000. Moreover, it was during the time that Rockingham Dragway played host to the old Winston Invitational that SPEVCO (acronym for Specialty Vehicle Company) grew to prominence providing specialty vehicles for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.
Whether it’s business or biking, Tharpe is driven by a simple creed: “fight for what you want. Be patient. Never stop practicing. Never, ever give up.”
While Tharpe will be the favorite Sunday, he won’t be without challengers. They include Turner, the former NHRA and IHRA champion who is debuting a new supercharged fuel bike, defending event champion Armon Furr of Orangeburg, S.C., veteran Tracy Kile of Ashland, winner of the most recent AMRA event at Beech Bend, Ky., Massachusetts transplant and point leader Mike Beland, who now is living in Maiden, and Jake Stordeur of Goshen, Ohio.
The three-day event also will crown champions in Nitro Funny Bike, Pro Fuel, Pro Modified, Pro Gas, Open Gas and a host of sportsman categories including Super Comp, Super Gas, Super Pro and Street.
Adult admission is $20 per day although two, three and four-day passes are available at discount rates. Moreover, tickets purchased in advance at www.rockinghamdragway.com are $5 off. Children six and under are free when accompanied by a ticketed adult and parking is free in Rockingham’s main lot.