Although Jeter Cornett stays within the speed limit while driving his big rig, it’s a different story when he’s on his Harleys. Cornett has two Harley-Davidson motorcycles that he drag races, and each time he flies down the racetrack he’s hoping to set his ultimate time.
In May, Cornett of Nora, Va., qualified his black and silver Top Fuel Harley and his orange and silver Pro Dragster Harley for American Motorcycle Racing Association’s 2001 Harley Blowout Nationals held at the Huntsville Dragway in Huntsville, Ala. He made it to the semifinals on his Pro Dragster. In the semifinals, his opponent lost fire on his motorcycle. Cornett could have raced the round solo, but instead he shut his Harley off, allowing his opponent to fire his bike back up. His opponent won the race but Cornett showed good sportsmanship, which is important on the racing circuit.
“For an opening day it went better than I expected,” Cornett says. “My main objective was to qualify and see how far I could go and come home still running. I met that goal so the weekend was a success. We’ll build on that.”
Last year, Cornett finished in sixth place nationally and presently is third place nationally on his Pro Dragster. His Top Fuel has not placed nationally yet. Cornett hopes that’ll happen in the next race, in October.
Often Cornett races “off the back of [his] truck.” If he is delivering a load close to a race, he’ll break down his bike and carry it on his flatbed pulled by his blue 1997 Peterbilt.
“At those races I only have my semi for support,” Cornett says. “I usually have my Ford dooley and equipment trailer at a race. Getting to a race is a problem for a lot of guys so the semi helps me out. It’s expensive when you travel with your crew.”
Some might think racing is a hobby for Cornett, but he says there’s a different feeling when he puts on his leather and straps on his helmet. Cornett has been racing motorcycles for 20 years and is serious about the sport. When he’s not competing against the other racers, he’s hanging out with them at the track.
“My heart is in this,” he says. “It’s not a hobby. My favorite part of racing is competing against friends and being at the track with people I consider family. We try to do damage to each other in one breath and are eating chili together in the next breath.”
The Harleys run on nitro-methane allowing for greater speed. It provides three times the horsepower of a gas engine. “Nitro is a slow-burning fuel, and a Harley is a low-rpm motor,” Cornett says. “That’s why Harleys are faster than other motorcycles.”
His Top Fuel bike has a two-cylinder engine which is twice the size of a normal street bike’s. The bike can hold a 200-cubic-inch engine and runs at 600 horsepower. There is no tread on either Harley’s tires. The tires are called racing slicks. The rear tires are soft and get sticky when they heat up. Cornett’s Pro Dragster Harley has a 120-cubic-inch engine with a high-gear carburetor.
His fastest time on his Top Fuel Harley was 7.01 seconds at 191 mph on a quarter-mile track. He once qualified his Pro Dragster in Daytona, Fla., at 8.10 seconds at 161 mph. He prefers racing his Top Fuel bike because it’s the faster bike.
His love for racing started in the U.S. Air Force. He couldn’t race in the service, so he waited until his time was up. He started racing at age 21 and is now 42. He also operates a shop where he works on other motorcycles.
Cornett bought his first truck in 1982 and has been leased to Malone Freight Lines for the past seven years. Steve Thomason, Malone’s recruiting supervisor, was at the Huntsville race to help out and lend his support.
“He’s part of our trucking family,” Thomason says. “I wanted to help him in his pursuit of racing.”
Cornett hauls steel on his flatbed trailer and had a load of utility bodies for trucks that he was to deliver to San Antonio after the race.
“When I got out of the service I started racing and also bought my first truck,” Cornett says. “I thought I’d truck until I got tired of traveling, but I haven’t tired of it yet. I’ll probably truck until I retire.”