Ray Price, Top Fuel Motorcycle Champion 1937-2015
Smoke, flames and thunder, Ray Price’s Top Fuel Harley-Davidson motorcycles were amazing for their craftsmanship as well as their brute power. Ray’s skills as a racer were known and respected across the drag racing world.
Ray Price and his wife of 57 years, Jean pose with Ray’s plaque after being inducted into the 2012 East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame, at Henderson, NC.
During his long career as a Top Fuel Harley racer Ray Price set numerous records and won 46 national events. He set the IHRA Top Fuel record at 6.36-224.21 mph and was always happiest when he was back home in his shop, tinkering with his race bikes.
Story by Jim Hill
Ray Price, 2012 inductee into the East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame and iconic motorcycle drag racing figure died at home, in his sleep, December 16, 2015, in Raleigh, North Carolina. Price’s passing, at 78, was marked by a unanimous and fitting compliment from all those people who knew him, raced against him or did business with Ray: “He was a really nice guy”.
Ray Price’s quiet and peaceful passing was an ironic end to a long drag racing career spent primarily wheeling Top Fuel Harley-Davidson motorcycles. The Top Fuel bikes are perhaps the most violent and thunderous machines in all of drag racing. Ray Price’s quiet, respectful demeanor seemed in strange contrast to his favorite racing vehicles.
Price began his two-wheel career at age 30, and never looked back. During his lifetime he was a prolific motorcycle drag racer and championship rider. He was credited with having won 46 national events including being national points champion in 1979 and 1980. He also set 51 bike speed records including the IHRA Nitro Fuel records of 6.36 seconds at 224.21 mph. An untimely crash and injuries in 2003 led Ray to retire from riding. That didn’t deter him from racing, and even after he abandoned piloting the 200 mph groundshakers Price continued to lead his fuel Harley racing team.
At his 2012 induction into the East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame, Ray Price brought his Top Fuel Harley-Davidson for display at the annual HOF car show. Ray’s race crew also fired the radical, nitro-fueled bike to the huge delight of the spectators crowding the streets of Henderson, NC.
Ray Price was born on a North Carolina tobacco farm. He grew into a young man that later joined the U.S. Air Force, serving for several years. It was in 1967 that he bought his first motorcycle and quickly became an avid rider. Soon after, he tried his hand at drag racing and found that he greatly enjoyed the sensation of going fast and competing on two wheels.
His motorcycle business career began with his Raleigh, NC bike repair shop. Ray’s shop became a center for other enthusiasts, and its success with area Harley-Davidson bikes and their owners led him to acquire a Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company franchise in 1981. Ray’s entry into the H-D dealer network continues with Ray Price Harley-Davidson, in Raleigh, North Carolina, one of the Southeast’s most successful Harley dealers. He later acquired a Triumph Motorcycles dealership franchise when that famous marque of British bikes returned to the marketplace.
During his racing career Ray took his mechanical knowledge and created several notable products for motorcycle drag racing. Among those were the now widely used two-speed transmission and a design for wheelie bars that improved starting line launch safety for fuel bike racers.
Ray’s racing career was a lifetime commitment which led him to create the Ray Price Legends of Harley Drag Racing Museum. His museum occupies its own space there at Ray’s H-D dealership and has an extensive collection of bikes and memorabilia saluting the role Harley-Davidson motorcycles have played in drag racing.
Ray’s lengthy and storied career led him to be named to several Hall of Fames. These include: The North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame; Sturgis Motorcycle Hall of Fame; North Carolina Drag Racing Hall of Fame; The American Motorcycle Hall of Fame; and in 2012, The East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame, at Henderson, NC.
Price was always involved in local charities and organizations, and had scores of friends in the business and civic community. A memorial service held in Ray’s honor drew thousands of bikers and others who knew and admired him.
Nancy Wilson, Executive Director of the Vance County NC Tourism Department and Event Director for the Hall of Fame Weekend, remembered Ray Price: “Ray was one of the truly, genuinely nice guys in drag racing. Ray never knew a stranger, and always had a smile and greeting for everyone. His contributions to the sport of motorcycle drag racing, and especially the Top Fuel bikes, were instrumental in launching the sport and growing it to its current status. Fans of drag racing, and especially motorcycle drag racing owe a great debt to Ray Price.”
Ray is survived by his wife of 57 years Jean.