Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Top Fuel Bikes from Around the World Compete in South Georgia

Text and Photos by Bryan Smyth

They came from Canada, England, Germany, Japan, Norway, Sweden, South Africa and all across the United States to take part in one of the biggest all-motorcycle drag races in history.

Headlining the Manufacturers Cup event this past November at South Georgia Motorsports Park (SGMP) were the mighty Top Fuel Motorcycles; 1,000-horsepower, fire-belching, two-wheeled monsters capable of knocking down five-second laps at 240-mph-plus on the all-concrete quarter-mile.

Twelve of the Top Fuel rides were on the grounds for the Haltech World Finals, but the clear dominator was Larry “Spiderman” McBride of Newport News, Virginia, the first man to the fives on two wheels when he turned the trick back in 1999 at Houston.

McBride ran quicker through each of three rounds of qualifying to place first in the eight-bike field with a 5.83 at 237.71-mph pass. Riding for Nitro Harley legend Ray Price, North Carolina’s Tommy Grimes started second with a 6.25/236.26 and third was four-time European Super Twin nitro champion Per Bengtsson with a 6.39/212.73 on The Beast, his screw-blown, 1,700cc ride from Klippan, Sweden.

Bengtsson was the driving force behind bringing five nitro race teams from Sweden and Norway to Cecil, Georgia. He made the decision to enter the Manufacturers Cup a year earlier, and then in the spring of 2012 he began to recruit additional teams to help defray the sizable costs involved.

With DHL Global Solutions handling the logistics, worldwide shipping company Hapag-Lloyd picked up a large, ocean-going container late in September from Bengtsson’s shop in Sweden, stuffed full of each team’s motorcycles, spare parts and tools, all bound for the Port of Savannah on Georgia’s coast before reaching SGMP by truck. Once delivered to the track a little more than a month later, the container was set on the pavement in the pits and served as the Nordic visitors’ garage and home away from home throughout their race weekend.

“We have our trucks at home like you do here, but here all of our things are together, so everyone has to have some discipline about things,” Bengtsson explained. “We are all friends, too, so we work around each other, but it’s a different feeling, that’s for sure.”
Bengtsson and 2008 Super Twin champion Svein Olav Rolfstad from Skreia, Norway, had both raced in the States previously. This trip, they and most others on the visiting teams took the opportunity to include some vacation time with wives, girlfriends, family members and even a few fans from their homelands, enjoying the warm weather and Southern hospitality.
Bengtsson and Rolfstad agreed that everyone in their group was very warmly received by U.S. fans and competitors alike.

“It’s been more than fun, especially because of all the enthusiasm from the spectators. Quite a lot of them are well aware of The Beast and know about us,” Bengtsson said. “We have already said we will be back, and now we have a manual on how to do it, so it should be much easier next year.”

That’s welcome news to McBride, who said he enjoyed the competition and felt encouraged by the international presence.

“I went down there (to the Swede/ Norwegian pits) to thank them all for coming. It’s not the first time, but it’s the first time in a long time,” the American star said. “I hope a lot more foreign teams come over here to race. They’re great people, they bring some great bikes, and they’re a great addition to the show.”

Once racing began, though, the show was all about McBride. He’d already secured his second Manufacturers Cup title when veteran nitro biker Chris Hand, the points leader heading into the World Finals, failed to qualify his Redneck Express machine for eliminations, but Spiderman never faltered. In his only run in the sixes all weekend, McBride went 6.026 at 235.43 to beat Sweden’s Trond Hoiberget in the opening round, and then improved to 5.835 at 227.46 on a second-round single after North Carolina native Tii Tharpe’s bike broke on the launch.

That set up a final-round faceoff for McBride against Rolfstad, who previously dispatched Bengtsson from round one and also made a solo pass in the semis when Texan Rickey House was unable to continue.

Unfortunately, it was Rolfstad’s turn to have trouble in the final, when his team discovered a leak from the engine at the end of his burnout. McBride then ran his best pass of the weekend with a 5.829 at 222.47 mph to take the win and officially wrap up his 11th career championship.

“You hate to see somebody break like that, especially when they came all the way from Europe to race, but at the same time, it does take a lot of the pressure off,” McBride admitted. “We had it hopped up there for the final, but we were having some cylinder-dropping problems, and I actually clicked it off early, but even with that it still was running extremely quick.”

Manufacturers Cup co-managers and promoters Jay Regan and Dave Schnitz were obviously very pleased after more than 800 tech cards were turned in for the third and final event of the 2012 series, but even more so with the trend toward foreign participation.

“It started with several race teams just coming as fans,” Regan explained. “But this year a lot of them wanted to step it up and come race with us, so we helped them with logistics and transportation and just tried to make it as easy and inviting as possible for them to compete.

“We think it adds a tremendous flavor to the event, so we’re actually going to try and further that by working collectively with the FIM/UEM, the European drag race sanctioning body, and see if we can turn this into a true world championship effort,” he added. “That would be the best possible scenario.”

DR-1303-BIKE Photo Captions


Larry McBride dominated: He qualified first, set Low E.T./Top Speed and captured his 11th championship and second Manufacturer’s Cup title.

Swede Trond Hoiberget of Super Twin Top Fueler fame glows eerie green on his launch.

Four-time European champ Per Bengtsson unleashes The Beast, his infamous nitro parallel twin monster.

Tommy Grimes riding for the legendary Ray Price Racing out of his HD dealership in Raleigh, NC.

Rickard Gustafsson, a member of the Swedish Fuel Bike "Mafia"

Chris Hand led the points coming into the race, but his Redneck Express failed to qualify.

Iyo, Ehime, Japan-based Top Fuel rider Takeshi Shigematsu is a regular on the U.S. Nitro Bike scene.

Texan Ricky House won his first round pairing, but got a no-show for round two.

1 comment:

  1. Does anyone have an address for Per Bengtssen's store in Sweden? Thanks.

    Please email me at