Billy Harper and that glossy black 2000 Dodge Viper, with its 903 cubic-inch, nitrous-fueled engine, make up one of the most feared entries in the Pro Modified ranks. Harper is quick on the trigger at the starting line, and the car is usually dead reliable through eliminations.
But two weekends ago at Maryland International Raceway, Harper never had a chance to show what he could do against a strong field of Pro Mods from the Northeast Outlaw Pro Mod Association, who were invited to race with the IHRA. Harper set fast time in qualifying, but never even made it to the first round of eliminations – his engine broke, and couldn’t be repaired.
So, with only one week between Maryland and last weekend’s Mopar Canadian Nationals Presented by Williams Racing at Grand Bend Motorplex in Canada, the scramble began: Get a new engine, find a place to bolt it in, head for Canada and hope for the best. Did we mention the transmission went out on Harper’s transporter? More drama the team didn’t need.
And it isn’t as though Harper doesn’t have other responsibilities. The Kentucky native is the president of Harper Industries, Inc., which is a holding company for eight Kentucky, Florida and Tennessee-based construction-related businesses which operate throughout the southeastern United States.
So when they unloaded at Grand Bend, they took a guess at the setup and got it wrong; first-round qualifying had Harper well down the timing sheet.
Then for Saturday qualifying and first-round eliminations, Harper and his crew had it nailed. Lucky for him, because he was paired with Melanie Salemi, and she was gunning for Harper with a solid run of 6.044 seconds at 233.82mph with a holeshot. But Harper laid down a 5.948 at 238.41mph, the quickest run of the weekend to that point.
In the final, Harper faced off against Bruce Boland, the top qualifier, on Sunday. Harper laid down another fast run of 5.980 seconds at 240.19mph, compared to Boland’s 6.034 at 237.15 mph, thus increasing Harper’s already healthy points lead.
“The car was on rails,” Harper said. “My job was the easiest one, just let out the clutch and hold on. The crew won this race for us.”
He’s looking forward to the next half of the IHRA Canadian swing, the Mopar Rocky Mountain Nationals at Castrol Raceway in Edmonton, Alberta. “I love the fans up here. And these Pro Modified guys are girls up here are a fun bunch and they are strong runners – I’m trying to get them to come down to the states to run with us.”