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NHRA: Mullen Continues to Improve in Pro Stock Motorcycle Ranks

29 October 1998

BAYTOWN, Texas -- At the beginning of the Pro Stock Motorcycle season, Harry Lartigue took his newly hired rider out to the starting line when there wasn't a single fan in the grandstands. There were no cheers, no cameras flashing in the background. He wanted to show his new kid that despite the awesome theater historic Gainesville Raceway is capable of producing on a jam-packed weekend, basic drag racing rules still apply: the track measures 1,320 feet and the first rider to cross the finish line wins.

While the exciting atmosphere of NHRA Winston Drag Racing is like nothing Tony Mullen had experienced in his early days racing motorcycles at his hometown Bradenton, Fla. quarter-mile and later with the AMA Pro Star circuit, Lartigue wanted to try and squelch the arena's intimidation factor.

Still, when Mullen rolled into the staging lanes for his first qualifying pass at the Mac Tools Gatornationals in early March, he experienced a rush of chills he had only dreamed of.

"All of those fans were screaming, the place was going mad," Mullen remembered. "I had never been to an NHRA race before and I had never raced in conditions like that. It was incredible. I can remember thinking, 'Well, this is pretty big.'"

Mullen qualified ninth and lost a close second round meeting with Matt Hines that weekend, and he's been on cloud nine ever since.

Mullen will try to give Houston-based team owner Lartigue a victory at the second annual Matco Tools Supernationals, Oct. 29-Nov. 1 at Houston Raceway Park. The $1.7-million race is the 21st of 22 events in the $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

He figures it's the least he can do.

"I'm looking at this as a home race because I want to do well for Harry in his hometown," Mullen said. "I'm going to keep my same game face on that I've had on all year long. If there was a race that I could win this season, it would be Houston for Harry and his family. I just want to do everything I can to make them proud. He took a chance by hiring me this year and I'd like to repay him with a win."

Mullen has done quite a bit to make Lartigue very proud this season in Pro Stock Motorcycle. In his first season, Mullen has qualified for every race, posted a semifinal appearance at the VisionAire NorthStar Nationals and sits sixth in the Winston point standings. For a rookie, he's been a quick learner.

"When I started, my goal was just to qualify and make the field for all of the races," Mullen said. "To qualify in the top half of the field at each event and have a shot at going as high as fourth in points by season's end, I'm walking on air. I'm having a ball."

Mullen began his racing career at DeSoto Memorial Dragway in the bike category, then progressed to AMA where he won championships in Super Gas and Top Gas. Taking some advice from Byron Hines, Lartigue hired Mullen during the last off-season.

"I think I've paid my dues to get here," Mullen said. "I started at the bottom and worked my way up the ladder. My personal goal when I first started racing motorcycles was that some day I wanted to be on a Pro Stock bike. It's took a lot of hard work, but I'm finally here. I'm as happy as I can be."

It's truly a dream come true.

"When I look at the points and see my name next to Dave Schultz' in the standings, that's totally awesome," Mullen said. "I mean, I've watched all of the competitors in this class for a lot of years and just to think that I'm in the same group just blows my mind and puts a big smile on my face."