AMSOIL Sprints
Friday, 16 June 2023


Tom Harris (Banbury, Oxfordshire, UK) Tom Harris (Banbury, Oxfordshire, UK) Dave Olson


By: Pat Sullivan – USAC Media

Morgantown, Pennsylvania (June 16, 2023)………It is hard enough for British driver Tom Harris to cross the pond and race in America as it is.  What Harris did not need at the cusp of Eastern Storm were more roadblocks in his way.

Nonetheless, with just one hill to climb to get to Grandview Speedway, Harris was suddenly standing atop the engine of his transporter and begging the rig to make one final push to the top.

It had already been an ordeal when the final ascent began.  Things had started out beautifully at Mildenhall Raceway in his home country.  Harris is one of the top stars in the BriSCA Formula 1 series in his homeland.  He is a three-time World Champion and has a list of honors and titles to fill a page.  Tom had just knocked off another victory before his sojourn to America, and with his confidence brimming, he was anxious to get back in the seat of a sprint car.

It is true that he races in the open wheel ranks in the UK and beyond, but the cars and the racetracks are decidedly different.

“The cars weigh about 3000 pounds,” he notes, “and we are at 700 to 800 horsepower.  The tires are very skinny, and we use a very hard compound.  They have lots of power but no grip.  We run a sloping wing on them for going sideways because we do not get enough forward speed for the wing to work properly.  The wing is really for side bites and good advertising for sponsors.  It is an open wheel car but there is full contact with big bumpers on the side.  The wheels are covered although they are open.  If you look at the car from the front, the tires are completely covered front and back.  If you look from the side, the rails taper to the front, so it is quite easy to get tangled up and climb over things.  There are a quite a few upsets.”

His most recent triumph came in conditions that many of his peers in the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship would find intolerable.

“Mildenhall is a shale track,” he says, “It is an oval that is like a mini roundabout.  It is really small, and the track is so hard. You don’t have the depth of material you have here, so they wet the track as you go out and it changes a lot.  At first, it is like going through flood water, so it is very heavy for the first three or four laps.  Then the track goes through the grippy phase and then it is slick at the end.”

On the Sunday before he was set to leave, temperatures reached the high 80s, which made conditions even more challenging.  The race was the European championship and was stretched over two days.  After qualifications, Harris earned a front row starting position.  It all started well.

“I got to the lead,” he says with a laugh, “but then I half spun out, but managed to hold on to second.”  Then, employing a saying more familiar to his mates at home, Harris adds, “I pulled my finger out and managed to get the job done.”

Now it was time for the Tom Harris personal version of the old film, Planes, Trains & Automobiles.  When asked to recount his tale, Harris remarked, “So you want to remind me of that again?  Okay.  So, we left Manchester, and the plane was held at the gate for an hour, so we arrived at JFK late.  Because we left JFK late, we got to Indy late and our luggage was not there.”

Harris keeps his car at Robert Ballou’s shop, but he knew that his friend was already in Pennsylvania.  Still, there was a chance this could all work out.

“Robert had already got the car down for me and started working on it,” Tom says, “So huge thanks to him.  We got working on it about half 12 (12:30) and then it became daylight, and we were still working on it.  We got it loaded up about 8:45, took a shower and hit the road.  We were rolling pretty good and then the traffic started.  We got within 11 miles of the track and the fuel gauge on the truck said we only had about 20 miles left in the tank.  We stopped and put about five gallons of fuel in it and started back down the road.  We felt we were going to make it and then we got to the bottom of the hill by the racetrack and blew a turbo pipe off.  We could not get up the hill, so we had to stop and figure something out.  I ended up standing on the engine with my foot holding the turbo pipe on.  It was so hot, I could not hold it with my hand.  We finally made it up the hill as the B was starting to stage.  It would have been too much of a rush to get it all figured out.  Not a great day but we are here now.”

Then the rain fell at Bridgeport. Such is the Tom Harris Eastern Storm saga.  Sure, he could have left early but he has obligations to consider.

“I wanted to do that for my car owners and sponsors at home,” he notes, “But it is a tough one because I want to come here.”

Spending more time in America has always been a goal since he first raced with Bob East at Gas City I-69 Speedway in 2016.  It is complicated.

“I am building cars and running my business and trying to raise money to come here and do it properly,” he says, “It seems that the more I come here, the more I get comfortable in the car, but then it is time to come home again.  I said, this year, I was going to do as much as we could, and I had a good start in Florida.  You try to do everything, but you cannot be in two places at once.  It is especially hard with the time difference and the weekends kind of clash.  I wanted to do all of Indiana Sprint Week this year, but unfortunately, it is the British championship at home and one of our World semifinals, so I am going to miss the first half of sprint week.”

With each trip, the pull to race more in America is strong, but as a business owner, he knows he must listen to his head as well as his heart.

“I would love to come over and do a whole season,” he admits, “but finances just do not allow me to do that.  I am fortunate to be able to race my cars at home.  I am pretty much an arrive and drive racer.  I set them up, but I don’t own anything back home.  This is where I put my money so I can live my childhood dream.”