Her father James told her to keep on the throttle even if she was drifting toward the centerline.
“There is plenty of real estate on the other side,” he said.
A bit of focus and a good launch was all she needed.
She clicked off a 6.975 at 189 mph, which put her 15th in the field. She simultaneously ran her first six-second run and qualified for her first-ever national event at her home track in her last qualifying attempt.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the Surber camp
Melissa Surber is a second-generation motorcycle drag racer. Her father James started racing Harleys in the old AHDRA series in 2001 eventually garnering a #3 plate in Pro Stock and #2 plate in Super Gas.
He debuted in NHRA Pro Stock in Las Vegas in 2008. In 2011 he was sponsored by Kosman Specialties, the company that developed the Buell Pro Stock Motorcycle.
He ran a limited NHRA schedule with his breakthrough race coming in Pomona in 2012 were he ran his first six-second run and made the field for the first time. He lost to Andrew Hines in round one.
James brought Melissa into racing at the age of 9. He purchased an ex-Hillary Will Jr Dragster and she ascended quickly, scoring her share of final round appearances and wins.
James wanted to get Melissa out of a car and onto a bike so he put wheelie bars on a Buell Blast. The problem was the Buell wasn’t as quick as the Jr Dragster.
He upped the game by purchasing the ex-Joker Machine 120ci AHDRA-legal Pro Stock bike, which Melissa rode at the Harley-Davison Drag Race Series at the Las Vegas divisional race in 2014.
In 2015 Melissa graduated to dad’s NHRA Pro Stock Kosman Buell. With the increase in power they needed a world-class track for training so Sonoma became their home track. Sonoma bracket days became their Pro Stock Motorcycle test sessions.
Knowing that power is the name of the game, James enlisted Junior Pippen Racing to provide power and tuning. James has been a long-time client of JPR.
Melissa’s first NHRA national event was Denver in 2015 where she failed to qualify. The next week she headed home to Sonoma.
“I love going to Sonoma,” she said. “It’s the track where I learned ride so I have good feelings when I go there. I feel more confident. It’s home.”
It was there where she put it all together in the final qualifying session and qualified for her first NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle field.
“It was really emotional,” she said. “It was indescribable. I thought about my grandfather who took such pride in my father’s racing efforts. What would he think if he could see me here?”
Like her father’s first NHRA opponent, Melissa met Andrew Hines in the first round of competition. She put a holeshot on the champ but could not hold him off at the big end. Still, the young rider accomplished something great and things were only looking up.
She finished the 2015 season in Las Vegas and Pomona, garnering the “Best Appearing Vehicle” award in Vegas.
2016 started with a bang with Melissa qualifying 7th in Gainesville. She competed in all sixteen NHRA Mello Yello National Events in 2016 qualifying at eleven of them, including a 7-straight-race qualifying streak to finish the season. She scored her first career round win in Atlanta and ended up 13th in the championship points out of 39 competitors.
She was also a finalist in the NHRA’s prestigious “Auto Club Road to the Future Award” given to NHRA’s top professional rookie.
• 2015: Made professional debut at Denver
• Marital status: Single
• Height/weight: 5’5″, 115 lbs
• Social Media: @msurbernhrapsm, Twitter
Article and Photos by Matt Polito