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John Mancuso became IHRA's first Nitro Harley season champion in 1998 with his mid-six-second H-D. (Jeff Burk photo)

A brief conversation with former IHRA Nitro Harley World Champ John Mancuso revealed what constitutes the modern Nitro Harley motorcycle. Mancuso, with the exception of elapsed times and speeds, delivered the information on what he thought was the average make-up of one of these IHRA beasts.

In general, the wheelbase is 90 inches with the Harley engine ranging in size from 157 cubic inches to 175, the 700+ horsepower brought to earth by high gear only or a two-speed transmision. The nitro fuel floats right around 96% and the rear-tire size is 14x31.

Mancuso stated that the bikes are hauling ass, even at the half-way mark. His best eighth-mile elapsed time is a 4.17 at 178-mph with his best quarter-mile elapsed time being a sport's best 6.41. His teammate, Steve Stordeur, has the class' second best elapsed time with a 6.42.

There are pro Harley chassis builders. Mancuso and Stordeur's bikes were built by John Storace's Weekend Frame Company in Mineola, Texas. He also said that Bill Furr's Orangeburg Cycle in South Carolina will build you a turnkey Top Fuel Harley as will Race Visions in Buffalo, New York. - Chris Martin

Despite this excitement, though, the fuel motorcycle has always been drag racing's leather-jacketed, closeted step-child. For so many years, they just showed up, fewer than a half-dozen in most cases, and did their magic. Little was known about them, other than the fact that, even then, they were one of drag racing's wildest rides, right up there with the fuel altereds and the primitive early jets.

Drag racing was nearly 20 years old, before they got any type of big time recognition.

In 1974, the American Motorcycle Drag Racing Association (AMDRA), a regional East Coast bike organization, moved from its small Hyattsville, Md., headquarters and linked up with NHRA to run bike drags at national events, and for the first time the nitro two-wheelers got a small part of the big-time spotlight. However, that relationship soon splintered so NHRA and certain members of the old AMDRA formed the National Motor Racing Association (NMRA) in 1980.

The International Drag Bike Association (IDBA) came into the picture in 1976; the AMA ProStar organization was founded in 1989, but it was later with IHRA's Nitro Harley class in 1998 that the fuel burners got any consistent exposure.

Of all the classes that complain they don't get enough respect, the fuel-burning motorcycles have the most legitimate beef. Last year, Larry "the Spiderman" McBride ran the first five on a motorcycle with a 5.99 at the class' best speed of 243.68-mph at Houston Raceway Park on Oct. 31. A motorcycle making a pass that will whip 99-percent of the Nostalgia Front-motor Top Fuelers? Damn right, that's impressive. And yet, most drag race fans probably only know that the event happened and not who did it or what the exact numbers were.

T.C. Christenson's "Hog Slayer" Norton was the 1975-76 NHRA Top Fuel Motorcycle World Champion. The all-time great was reportedly the first in the seven-second zone. (Jeff Burk photo)

Fuel motorcycle racing has produced jaw-dropping efforts like that from the earliest days of the sport. The rare breed of drag racer who enjoys seeing the world like a front fender on a speeding bike can trace his roots back to 1950 and the drag races at Orange County Airport in Santa Ana, Calif.



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