It’s been a long time since Jason Harris was a rookie drag racer.
In truth, he’s only a rookie in 2020 in the sense that after a decade-and-a-half as a nitrous aficionado and two-world PDRA champion, he’s moved on to another method of boost; Pro Boost, to be exact.
And while he’s still in search of his first Pro Boost victory entering this weekend’s finale at Virginia Motorsports Park, he’s a serious championship contender.
In fact, when the tour rolled into GALOT Motorsports Park for its Oct. 9-10 event, Harris held a narrow lead in the standings over John Strickland.
A second-round loss to Strickland turned the tables, though. Harris now trails Strickland by 94 and is only 10 points ahead of third-place driver and former champ Kevin Rivenbark. With a maximum of 591 points at stake, including those for qualifying position, every trip down the track is crucial.
“It’s been a big change,” said Harris, who was PDRA’s Pro Nitrous king in 2014 and ’18. “The 60-foot is a lot harder than the nitrous car even though the increments are pretty much the same, the sheer feeling is different. The nitrous car is kind of out of horsepower at about 330 (feet). I mean, you’re making good back-half numbers, but these things here (Pro Boost) just pull the whole route.
“These things are … it’s basically a small Top Fuel motor, that’s what it boils down to.”
Harris, whose father Bob was among the PDRA founders after a highly successful career in multiple classes, was “on nitrous from the beginning” when he hit the track.
He competed in ADRL action for “about three years” before PDRA was formed. He earned the inaugural Pro Nitrous crown by reaching the finals of all eight national events and winning six.
“That was a magical year — kind of like catching a 10-pound bass the first time you go fishing,” Harris said. “It kind of spoils you a little bit. We had struggled years prior to that and just got our program together. So, ’14 was great.
“Then’ 15-16 were just rebuilding years, trying different things, looking for that extra edge. It’s kind of like a team winning the Super Bowl and the next year, they’re not so great. We had some wins here and there, but we didn’t have any close championship battles.
“Then in ’18, it seemed like everything clicked again. We were just onboard and had our program ready to go and won again. We finished second last year, and then it was just time for a change. I wanted something different.”
Pro Boost, he said, seemed to be the logical answer. The under-hood ProCharger supercharger was still relatively new — Strickland and Rivenbark had made that switch prior to the 2019 season — “and we wanted to be on the leading edge of that” despite the learning curve.
“I really respect and admire a lot of the nitrous racers, it’s just I had won two championships. I wanted to branch out and try something different,” he said. “Pro Boost seemed to be the next logical answer. We had looked at different combinations and it looked like ProCharger was the newest thing coming up.”
Harris won his 2018 championship as part of the Boone Harris Racing team. When they collectively decided to make the switch to Pro Boost for ’20, they purchased a turbocharger-boosted car and had RK Racecraft in Cartersville, Ga., convert it to their needs. They teamed up with ProLine Racing for an engine package, and FuelTech USA for EFI management.
Boone Harris Racing took part in “three or four tests” during the late winter/early spring. With all sanctioning bodies’ schedules revamped time and again by the COVID-19 pandemic, Harris didn’t get to compete in PDRA action until a GALOT race at the end of May.
So far, the combination has produced a pair of runner-up showings. Harris put the car in the finals at PDRA events at Virginia Motorsports Park in July and August.
The biggest difference between engines boosted by nitrous and superchargers, the 40-year-old Harris said, “is just the noise, the sheer noise.”
“These are a lot more power, a lot noisier,” he said. “We’re shifting nitrous cars at 6,500-7,000 RPMs and shifting this one at 9,000. These things have so much power, and you’re trying to manage that power and get it down the racetrack. They both have their difficulties in driving, and they’re both easier to drive in some ways, too. It took me, oh, gosh, three or four outings to just get used to it. It was just very, very different.”
Harris has driven one of the more recognizable entries in drag racing the past four years. In 2017, PDRA encouraged its teams to give their cars an identity to help connect with fans. Harris had grown up watching cars such as Scotty Cannon’s OnSat-sponsored entries, Raymond Beadle’s “Blue Max” and others, including the “Party Time” Pro Stocker piloted by a fellow North Carolinian, Harold Denton. Harris reached out to Denton when he thought of applying that moniker to his own racecars.
“I said, ‘Look, Harold, I really want to name my car ‘Party Time,’ but I don’t want to feel like I took it from you because I feel like it’s a legacy, not just a name,'” Harris said. “He said he’d be honored, and I said ‘I’ll try to do the best I can.’… I did it as a tribute to Harold. He was a big factor in racing.
“It kind of just stuck and we kept on doing it. When we went to Pro Boost, we decided to carry ‘Party Time’ with us. I feel like I’m as much ‘Party Time’ as Harold, I’m just the next generation. It’s been a great honor to race under his name. I hope it makes him feel like he’s still a part of racing even though he’s not.”
It would no doubt please Denton if Harris captured another title with “Party Time” on the doors of his 2018 Camaro. Whichever driver emerges this weekend as champion, he will have beaten many of the best in PDRA Pro Mod, which pits supercharged cars against each other and those with turbo boosts. No Pro Boost driver has won more than once in PDRA competition this season.
Strickland was the victor at Darlington, S.C., and his GALOT teammate, Rivenbark, captured the season’s first stop at Virginia. Pro Boost rookie Johnny Camp came out on top earlier this month in the return visit to GALOT Motorsports Park after Melanie Salemi had downed Strickland in the late-May finale there. Kurt Steding defeated Harris in the last round of Virginia’s second race.
“I don’t look at the points,” Harris said. “I look at it race by race, round by round. You race rounds, you’ll win rounds. You win rounds, championships will follow.
“This will be a nail biter. Hey, it’s drag racing, anything can happen.”
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— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) October 22, 2020