Dragbike racing journalist and photographer Tom McCarthy gives us his take on the exciting season-sending points battle in Top Fuel Motorcycle.
Coming into the weekend of Nov. 11-13 at the event billed as the 40th annual ManCup, Mann Hill Garage, World Finals, the championship points battle between reigning Pingel Top Fuel motorcycle champion Larry “Spiderman” McBride and the current T/F points leader Sam Wills, is a clash of Top Fuel Titans that takes center stage for this event. Not that the other 16 classes of drag bikes are not of significance, of course they are, but this match-up between Larry and Sam is one we’ve not seen in a dog’s age times 3x, and that’s a while by any measure.
You see Wills last won a Top Fuel Motorcycle drag racing championship back when Ronald Regan was in the White House. That’s around 1984 for you millennial types still wet around the ears. Larry on the other hand is not unfamiliar with number one plates in Top Fuel racing, he has few, more than a dozen in fact. That Wills is leading Larry by 19 points going into this race is significant: It’s the first time McBride and his team have entered the final race of the season not in first place, in championship points, in over a decade.
This is very important for many reasons on many levels; It show parity is achievable in T/F bike, It’s great for the fans, these guys will NOT let up, and it’s great motivation for McBride and his team. The win this weekend will be a team effort, not a win by Larry or Sam and they know this.
While the fans in the stands will be all about the Spiderman Vs Wills, match-up, this clash really has to happen in the pit areas first with no room for mistakes, zero. Not one loose fitting or line, no missed connections can happen nor failure of fatigued components; nothing mechanical or electrical can malfunction. If that happens the driver’s job is negated before then run even starts. Have you ever stopped to consider there are thousands of connections of components on this T/F bikes? I dare say a NASA spacecraft is no less complex than a modern Top Fuel motorcycle.
A Top Fuel motorcycle can go from zero to 100mph in about one second, after two seconds it’s accelerating at a rate that will have it eclipse 200 mph in about 2.5 seconds after that. Five second elapsed times frequently see 200 mph in about 3.9 seconds and can eclipse 250 mph if you add another two seconds of mind numbing acceleration to the equation. There is no room for error by the team or the driver, none.
In years gone past, when McBride was interviewed and asked the question “What does it take to run a five second elapsed time with a Top Fuel motorcycle, Larry replied with dead accuracy what may be the most important element of having a winning T/F bike team “First you have to surround yourself with quality people.” It’s all about the team my friends, he’s right about that. This clash of Titan’s is really all about the battle between the two teams in the pits, not just Larry and Sam out on the race track.
McBride’s 15 national championships are not just a reflection of his decades of Top Fuel motorcycle drag racing. Lord knows McBride and Wills have been looking across the starting line staging beams at one another since 1980. The common denominator for McBride and his success is his crew chief, his brother, Steven McBride. Like Austin Coil was for John Force, Stevie McBride is essential to the career long success of Larry McBride.
“I couldn’t do it without him, I just couldn’t” stated the Spiderman on more than one occasion. That’s how vital Steve is to Larry’s Top Fuel racing program. But Steve is just one man and that’s just the beginning; Roland Stuart and Chuck Stuart are the other major elements in Larry McBride’s fuel bike program. Roland, a former T/F bike champion in his own right, and his son Chuck, who was raised on nitromethane are the core to McBride’s reactor. There’s a few decades of experience here at work.
When Sam was interviewed for that story on what it takes to run a five with a T/F motorcycle, Sam commented on the fact that it takes around $250,000 and more than a few years of your life for openers, but he also mentioned about racing against Spiderman, “That’s the thing about having to race McBride, first you have to work as hard as they do, and that’s not easy.”
It’s not uncommon at any race to see McBride and his crew working past midnight every night. If the bike needs anything or if something is not right, no one goes to bed unless that bike is ready to go down the race track the following morning.
Is Sam’s team, the Nitro Conspiracy, up to the challenge? Absolutely. They are certainly capable, they didn’t gain a 19 point lead over McBride’s team by accident; they earned it. Mike Dryden is central to Sam’s pit crew efforts. It’s a tight knit team lead by Wills who conducts things like a Maestro conducting an orchestra. Bruno, on Sam’s team, has been with Sam and Mike as part of the Nitro Conspiracy team since they formed in 2013 and he goes back with Sam long before that. These men are all ready for the Top Fuel duel of the decade.
And they are NOT alone. The spoilers are ready for the race and they are all proven five second racers. Dave Vantine’s team lead by Greg Pollard is becoming a well-oiled machine that can keep pace with Larry and that keeps the Spiderman on his toes. Chris Hand is a member of the MTC Engineering 5 Second Club, Korry Hogan’s ATF-1 has been in the 5’s, any one of the aforementioned, can take out Sam or Larry in about six heartbeats.
When the teams begin qualifying on Friday evening, it’s anyone’s race, but only one will win the event. Only one of them will be the 2016 Pingel Top Fuel World Champion. One man will win the championship, but it’s his team that will make is possible.