When the Winners’ Circle photos were taken, the media interviews complete, the steaks cooked and the beer drank, there was one thing on Tii Tharpe’s mind. “I want that video,” he said to anyone that seemed able to find it.
He was talking about video of his interview with NHRA’s Joe Castello. Tharpe had just won Top Fuel Harley at the National Hot Rod Association’s Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol, Tennessee. With NHRA’s iconic Wally trophy in his hand and his son Marty on the back of the bike, Tharpe told Castello he was proud to win with his father (also named Marty) and son both at the track. Then Castello turned the microphone towards young Marty, and the 14 year-old stepped up and responded as if he’s been winning races, facing the camera, and hearing his voice boom out over the public address system for years.
That’s what Tharpe wanted to see, why he wanted that video. Because at the end of a long, very hot weekend, and racing to the win in NHRA’s gnarliest, craziest and most unforgiving class, family was first in Tharpe’s mind. Not the glory, not the money, not even the Wally.
In fact, in a world where successful people build rooms onto their house to showcase their achievements, Tharpe gives his trophies away. This Wally went to team member and Spevco welder Matt White.
The win was Tharpe’s second straight at Bristol and came at the expense of runner-up and points leader Doug Vancil, who redlit before boiling the tire. Despite missing the first race of the season when Tharpe’s team Jay Turner Racing (JTR) suffered a trailer crash, Tii is now only 15 points behind Vancil in the championship standings. His three wins so far this season have almost completely erased the lead Vancil acquired by winning the event that JTR missed.
Turner faulted himself for putting in a soft tune-up against Vancil in the semi and spoiling a possible all-JTR final. “I’ll never race scared again,” Jay said afterwards.
But Rex Harris plugged a winning tune-up in Tharpe’s bike and Mark Conner lined Tii up in the prefect spot for the win.