Top Fuel motorcycles return to the NHRA national-event stage this weekend in Joliet, Ill., after an absence of 19 months.

But it won’t look anything like the 2022 NHRA Texas Nationals in Dallas, when Harley-Davidson riders comprised the field. In fact, from 2015 through the ’22 Dallas race, the action was limited to Harleys; hence, the name of the class then, Top Fuel Harley.

This weekend marks the NHRA debut of Top Fuel Motorcycle – open to all manufacturers, not just Harleys. 

But here’s one stipulation in the NHRA rulebook that’s going to deter former champions Jay Turner, Randal Andras and Tii Tharpe, as well as other well-known riders, from participating: A supercharged engine is mandatory.

Supercharged Harleys are a rarity for a litany of technical reasons. That’s part of the issue that will keep most Harleys away from Joliet, though among the half-dozen riders expected, Finland’s Jaska Salakari reportedly will attend on his blown V-Twin.

But just as much of an issue is that three of the four NHRA Top Fuel Motorcycle events, sponsored by Pingel, take place on the same weekend as American Motorcycle Racing Association (AMRA) shows. While NHRA is in Joliet this weekend, AMRA will be at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk for the Ohio Nitro Nationals.

Those sanctioning bodies will clash again in August, when NHRA is in Brainerd, Minn., and AMRA is in Bristol, Tenn. In September, while NHRA’s Top Fuel Motorcycle class tackles zMAX Dragway in Charlotte, AMRA will be hosted by Beech Bend Raceway Park in Bowling Green, Ky.  The only date the sanctioning bodies don’t butt heads is June 22-23 at Virginia Motorsports Park.

So, as interesting as it would be to see Turner, Andras, Tharpe, Ryan Peery and other Harley racers face the likes of Larry McBride, Dave Vantine, Micah Fenwick, and Bob Malloy, it’s unlikely to happen this year.

Peery is the three-time reigning AMRA Top Fuel champion, and he doubled-up as AHDRA Top Fuel titleist in 2021 and ’23. The Milford, Ohio, rider said he had already blocked off the AMRA dates before NHRA released its schedule.   

“When the schedule came out for Top Fuel Motorcycle, I decided to stick with AMRA,” Peery said. “I’m going to wait and see what comes out next year, and if they’ve got more than four or five races, I’ll probably look at it a little more just to go after an NHRA championship.”



On the technical side, the supercharged bikes such as McBride’s are powered by inline four-cylinder engines. The two-cylinder Harleys are, to date, more than half a second behind McBride’s best. McBride has covered a quarter-mile distance in 5.50 seconds, while the NHRA’s record – on a Harley – is 6.096, set by Malloy at Indianapolis in 2020.
Both engine choices generate in excess of 1,000 horsepower, but the difficulty in strong-arming a Harley to reach its potential via a supercharger is a puzzle that Turner has struggled with for five years. Bikes like McBride’s “run a screw supercharger kinda like they do in Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car. They make lots of boost and they turn lots of RPM,” Turner said.

“I’ve had a little bit of success. I’d have thought we’d have had it better by now, but we don’t,” said Turner, who fields bikes for himself, Andras, Tharpe and AMRA owner John Toth. “A Harley motor is a 45-degree engine, and the firing order is odd. It’s not an ‘even’ fire, it’s an ‘odd’ fire, and that just creates problems.

“The Harley motor fires and fires, like, boom-boom,” he added, “but then it’s got to go all the way around and do it again. Instead of just a steady boom, boom, boom, boom, it goes boom-boom, then a pause, then boom-boom. That odd-fire also makes it hard on the clutch because it doesn’t get a steady pulse. It’s like hitting them with a hammer. We’re working on a project that’s going to be completely different, and I’m hoping there’s a better schedule next year and maybe we’ll participate in it.” 

Three weeks ago, Turner notched an AMRA victory at Cecil County (MD) Dragway. He’s been racing a nitromethane-fueled bike since 1989, and in addition to capturing multiple NHRA and IHRA crowns, he fielded the bikes that Tharpe rode to the 2018-19 NHRA titles, as well as Andras’ 2020 championship Harley. (Andras also eked out an “unofficial” NHRA title over Peery in 2021 when the sanctioning body didn’t award a championship.)



“NHRA is for hire, basically, and Larry McBride had sponsorship for the class and that’s what he runs,” Turner said. “We’re not going (to Joliet). We don’t have but the one supercharged motorcycle and it hasn’t really proven itself yet. My business is maintaining and tuning motorcycles for Randal Andras, Tii Tharpe and John Toth, and they do not have supercharged motorcycles.

“The AMRA schedule was out well in advance of this schedule with NHRA, and there’s three races that conflict. I was hoping that the schedule was going to be better, and I was going to try to participate in it. Initially, I was going to go to Virginia Motorsports Park, but when [NHRA] announced it was going to make that a two-day race instead of a three-day race, I just lost a lot of interest. I just know how they move the schedule around to keep the pro show on time, but with losing a day and [the NHRA pro classes are] going to make three runs, I just don’t know when we’re going to run.” 

NHRA’s online event schedule for Dinwiddie shows two qualifying runs that Saturday afternoon for Top Fuel Motorcycle, followed by the first round of eliminations at 7 o’clock that night.

Turner said it’s disappointing that NHRA couldn’t have selected races for Top Fuel Motorcycle that didn’t conflict with other sanctioning bodies’ schedules. NHRA, he said, ”had 24 races to pick four, and three of them, there were already motorcycle races that weekend. There should’ve been more thought process in that.”

McBride, who saddles up on a Suzuki, would like to take on all comers, but he hasn’t forgotten that bikes like his weren’t allowed to compete in NHRA for many years.

“Good for the goose, good for the gander. They wouldn’t let us play,” he said of the Harley-only era in NHRA Top Fuel bike racing. “They wouldn’t let a [Japanese] bike run, even if it was injected. I love my Harleys; rode Harleys for years. But it’s been since 1984 since we’ve run as a class. It’s gonna be awesome to go out there, as we call it, on the big stage – the biggest stage we have, which is really good for us.

“For motorcycles to get out there in a car world, it’s an awesome accomplishment. We’ve been working with NHRA on this since 2019. We met in 2020 and then COVD screwed up everything, and then we did a coupla shows in both ‘22 and ‘23. A four-race series this year, you’ve got to walk before you can run. NHRA’s tough, you have to bring your money. We brought the money to pay the purses and all that, and NHRA takes their percentage, which I understand. Racing’s a business.”