Last fall Bruce Thrift was looking for his first win of the season. He’s won at least one event every year since 2004. But in November he rolled in to the World Street Nationals winless and needing to keep his streak alive.
The first wow factor of the weekend came when Thrift ran his first ever sub-four second run. “We went 3.99 Friday night. I turned one system off and went five 4.08 and 4.09s in a row,” Thrift storied in his indicative southern drawl. He picked his way through the rounds and, right on cue, was heading to the finals, one round away from his much needed win. In true Bruce Thrift fashion, he decided if he was going to win, he was going to make it memorable.
“I told Mickey when we won first round, I said, ‘If we make the finals, I’m dialing 3.99.’ We won four cars, he said, ‘What we gonna’ dial?’. I said, ‘Put a 3.99 on it and leave the dial-in paint in the trailer.’”
So two days since he’d run that setup, Thrift dialed 3.99 in the final. “I was .000 when I let go; went 4.002 riding the brakes. Acted like I knowed what I was doing. I got confidence in my car. Me not running a 3.99 never run through my mind. Somebody asked me why I’d do that. I said, ‘Cuz I can.’
“Since 2004 I’ve won at least one race a year. The last two years I had to go to the World Street Nationals to pull it off, but I be dagum if I didn’t go down and pull it off again. You go down there and people think I won’t be very consistent, because I am fast. It just blows them away. Especially when some dummy will dial down nine hundredths in the final.
I’m just going to keep hitting the tree, get everything together and come back. Won’t be no pressure. Who knows, you go out there and win a couple of races, you’re back in the game even though you missed a few.
“It was cool. I had some buddies of mine there with me. He was plumb in tears because we ran our first 3.99 and won the race in that kinda’ fashion. Sometimes a brother gotta’ take a chance. Like I told Mickey, ‘If we go up there and lose, people gonna’ say that’s the dumbest thing we ever done. If we pull it off, they’ll be talking about it for years.’ That’s just how I roll.”
After that impressive win, Thrift tested all winter, improving his quickest ET at the Outlaw Street Nationals in January. He’s been a best of 3.98 with his Buck Racing Engine, and, as Thrift says, “We hadn’t even started picking at it yet.”
The roofing contractor has won in pretty much every series Top Sportsman has been contested: PDRA, ADRL, IHRA and NHRA. He’s racked up the most accolades in IHRA, the birthplace of Top Sportsman and has been a formidable force in recent years as Top Sportsman regained strength and prestige with the PDRA. At the beginning of this year he decided to run NHRA divisionals to get grade points for the Gatornationals so he could take his employees to the event. He got a grade point in Orlando and headed to Gainesville for another divisional, but that’s where things turned south.
“I was spoiled for where we’re used to racing at. [PDRA] prep is from guardrail to guardrail. Where we was running, it’s just ever how wide the tractor is and that’s it. There’s no forgiving.
“When it got out there, I should’ve just quit, but when I turned it back, it started coming so I stayed with it. But then when it shifted, it broke the tires loose again. I had just went a 6.38 in one lane, 6.37 in the other lane, straight as a string; went 217 miles per hour on my race set up, not even my go-fast tune up. ‘Ol Charlie got me going — him and FTI. That new converter I’ve got is unbelievable.
“I’d say it was amazing. When I was in the air, I was really worried about going over the guardrail. The nose hit and then it come around and hit the guardrail up on its side. There ain’t no other way to explain it, I think God and Ronnie just shoved it back down on the track ’cause it should’ve gone over the guardrail, but it just fell back down and started sliding down the race track on the door. It slid on its side a bit and then turned over on its top, slid about 700 foot after that. I pulled the parachute, sliding backwards, upside down. Your mind speeds up when you do what we do. I was driving it the whole time. I never panicked. I had the wheels turned trying to get it to come back. The car totes the front end a long way. It went out about 10 foot and it just started drifting to the left. As soon as the front end set down I cracked it back and it was coming back to the groove; then the car shifted, and then it tried to tuck back into the wall, and I heard the rpm go up. Then when I let off the gas, it just went crazy.”
Fortunately, Thrift was unharmed in the accident. His beloved GTO, however, was not so lucky. “We tested all winter, that’s the sad part of it. I’ve been driving good, making rounds, run career best every time we went out. This here kinda’ put us behind the eight ball now. I was really looking forward to this year. The car was just phenomenal. We got a lot accomplished over the winter.”
Thrift immediately began making plans to repair the engine, chassis, and body. The car, originally built for Pro Stock, was 105-inch wheelbase. Thrift had it lengthened to 110 and moved the engine forward to resemble a Pro Modified chassis.
Since 2004 I’ve won at least one race a year. The last two years I had to go to the World Street Nationals to pull it off, but I be dagum if I didn’t go down and pull it off again.
He was ready to try and make the first PDRA event at GALOT Motorsports Park with a backup car. However, he ran into another setback of an entirely different nature.
“Four years ago I had two stints put in,” Thrift explained. “There was another one that was at 65-percent, and they won’t do it unless you’re over 70-percent. Recently, I kept having a little bit of pressure in my chest. Then it was a little bit worse. Thursday I went and checked myself in to the hospital and Friday at dinner I was on the way back home.”
Making the PDRA event that weekend after having a stint put in was out of the question. Thrift is ready to get back on track for the upcoming North-South Shootout, but he’ll miss the Summer Drags for a family event.
“Best case scenario for me is if somebody different wins each event,” Thrift added. “I’m just going to keep hitting the tree, get everything together and come back. Won’t be no pressure. Who knows, you go out there and win a couple of races, you’re back in the game even though you missed a few.”
Thrift is a self-made man, having been brought up with little and building his business to a level that supports his racing career. This journey made him appreciative, and, despite his recent setbacks, he’s stayed incredibly positive.
“I’ve been blessed beyond my wildest dreams. Back when we was growing up we didn’t have nothing. I’ve been able to do what most people dream about, been able to basically do it out of my pocket all my life. My wife is the backbone that holds it all together. I would be nothing without her.
“There’s a game I’ve been playing a long time: I do something for somebody one time a day every day of my life. It might be paying for a stranger behind me at the convenience store, but some time during the day I do something for somebody.
“Down on the island I did it for an elderly man. It was two or three months later, a guy breaks in front of me in line and says, ‘I got this.’ It was him. He said, ‘You did this for me two or three months ago and I’ve been doing it every day since then.’ Sometimes just the littlest thing picks up somebody’s day.”
Maybe it’s Thrift’s generosity and caring spirit that have endeared him to the racing community or maybe it’s just the nature of racers, but regardless of why support came pouring in immediately following his accident.
“The support was just overwhelming. The PDRA family, it’s unreal. People calling. The list goes on and on of people trying to help and do anything they can. It makes you feel good. In my opinion I’m just an old bracket racer that likes to have fun. I guess a good many people think ‘ol Bruce will do.
“My car was crazy good anyway, but it’ll be even better with the improvements we’re doing. I’ll come out meaner, badder and better than ever.”