ROCKINGHAM — This weekend at Rockingham Dragway, Vance and Hines — the biggest name in motorcycle drag racing — presents the MTC Engineering Nationals, which is round four of the 2016 Manufacturers Cup.
The fourth round will feature point leaders Sam Wills of Edmond, Oklahoma, Paul Gast of Grand Island, New York and Joey Gladstone of Lewes, Delaware.
Wills, a master fabricator who owns Innovative Frameworks and manages the adjacent OKC Thunder Cycles outside Oklahoma City, already was a Top Fuel bike legend when he hung up his leathers in 1991 to focus his energies on designing and building bikes for others.
Now, the 62-year-old veteran is hoping to write a storybook ending to his return to competition by claiming the Man Cup title in the featured Pingel Top Fuel division. With this week’s event and one more remaining, he leads close friend, rival and defending Man Cup champ Larry “Spiderman” McBride of Newport News, Virginia by 38 points.
Although he won several Top Fuel races on the NHRA national circuit including the 1984 U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Wills had not won a major race in 30 years until he claimed the Man Cup Series opener this year at Valdosta, Georgia.
A contemporary of Russ Collins, McBride, the late Elmer Trett, Chris Hand, the late Jim McClure and Terry Vance, Wills also was a running buddy of Bo O’Brochta — who made a name for himself on the NHRA tour as rider of the Terminal Van Lines Top Fuel bike.
That bike, originally built by Wills, carried O’Brochta to victory in the 1980 U.S. Nationals, a race in which McBride was the runner-up. As restored by Wills, that bike now has a permanent home in the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in Florida.
“There’s so much history among these Top Fuel guys,” Rockingham owner Steve Earwood said. “To see Sam Wills and Chris Hand and Larry McBride racing at more than 240 miles-an-hour, it doesn’t get much better than that. Sam Wills was winning NHRA races back when I worked for the sanctioning body and here he is still at the top of his game. Amazing.”
Riders from 20 states, including a host of regulars from the old MIRock Superbike Series, will vie for cash and bragging rights in six pro and nine sportsman categories.
In addition to Top Fuel, pro winners will be crowned in Hawaya Racing Pro Fuel — where former champion Rocky Jackson of Youngsville, Louisiana and veteran Johnny Vickers of Millers Creek will try to overtake current point leader Tyler Wilson.
Gladstone, a past MiRock Series Champion, comes in as the point leader in both Pro Street and Real Street and could lock up both those titles with a strong performance.
A weekend pass, which costs $40, will be good for Friday’s test-and-tune (from 2-8 p.m.), as well as Saturday’s qualifying and Sunday’s eliminations. Daily admission is $20 on Friday, $25 on Saturday and $15 on Sunday. Kids 12 and under are free when accompanied by a ticketed adult.