ROCKINGHAM — At the rate she’s going, Janette Thornley may soon have to change the name of her motorcycle drag racing team from Dream Chaser Racing to Dream Catcher Racing.
When she is crowned the 2017 American Motorcycle Racing Association Pro Fuel champion this weekend at Rockingham Dragway, it will be the third major title in three years for the Statesville grandmother — whose end game is one day to race in the Ray Pro Fuel portion of the Jim McClure All-Harley World Finals, which will be contested this weekend for the 26th time.
In the meantime, she has become the most feared rider in a Pro Fuel class in which nitromethane-burning motorcycles reach speeds of up to 185 miles per hour in just 1,320 feet of concrete and asphalt.
Thornley, who grew up in Oregon, got a late start on her unlikely career as a motorcycle drag racer. This is just her sixth season as a pro racer and already she has won two championships in the NHRA Harley-Davidson Drag Racing Series (2015 and 2016) and is on the verge of winning her first AMRA title.
The first woman to win a championship of any kind on a nitro motorcycle, she has done so racing against the best in her profession including fellow Carolinian Johnny Vickers (Millers Creek), whom she succeeded as champion in the NHRA series.
Vickers, a legend in motorcycle drag racing, is the two-time defending Pro Fuel champion at the McClure Finals, as well as the AMRA national record holder. He is one of those who mentored Thornley early in her career.
Another who offered encouragement was the late Ray Price himself. In fact, Price’s Raleigh-based Top Fuel team maintained and transported Thornley’s original fuel bike. That makes her quest to compete in the Nitro Pro Fuel class all the more compelling.
While Thornley and Vickers battle Gary Stroud (Valparaiso, Ind), Rocky Jackson (Youngsville, La.) and others for the Pro Fuel title, another Carolinian, Jay “Bulldog” Turner (Julian), is favored to win the Ray Price Top Fuel Challenge.
Turner, coming off a championship in the NHRA series, is a five-time former IHRA Nitro Harley Champion.
He’ll be opposed by a strong Top Fuel lineup that includes AMRA point leader Jake Stordeur (Goshen, Ohio), Ricky House (Humble, Texas), former Rockingham winners Bill “Billy Jack” Jackson (Honeybrooke, Pa.) and Randal Andras (Amelia, La.), Jim Doyle (Chicopee, Mass.) and fellow Carolinians Tii Tharpe (East Bend) and Tracy Kile (Asheville).
There will also be champions crowned in Nitro Funny Bike, Pro Gas, Open Gas, Pro Mod and a full complement of sportsman bike categories.
The three-day Harley festival will begin with a test-and-tune session on Friday — although the track will be open Thursday for early parking. Pro qualifying begins Saturday at 10 a.m. with single elimination finals Sunday beginning at 11 a.m.
Adult admission is $45 for all three days or $20 per day. Children six and under are free when accompanied by a ticketed adult and parking is free in Rockingham’s main lot.
Janette Thornley, of Statesville, has won two championships in the NHRA Harley-Davidson Drag Racing Series and is on the verge of winning her first AMRA title. She will be in action at the 2017 AMRA Jim McClure Memorial Nitro World Finals this weekend at Rockingham Dragway.