Since the age of 7, Michael Harper has been driving a race vehicle. He first raced in national WKA karting events, then pavement late models in the Southern All Stars Series throughout the southeast, and in dirt late models for several years.
And, since age 18, he has been driving Monster Trucks across the world.
The 42 year-old Texan participated in January’s ARCA Menards Series test at Daytona International Speedway with Andy Hillenburg’s Fast Track Racing team. Hillenburg was impressed with Harper’s progress and speed, and the car owner convinced the driver to sign on to race at Talladega Superspeedway in Saturday’s General Tire 200.
Harper is entered in Fast Track Racing’s No. 01 Ford. He is scheduled to be paired with veteran NASCAR spotter Andy Houston.
“Making laps at Daytona was about the most fun I’ve ever had in a race car,” Harper said. “I’m doing this for fun and to gain experience to run some more races. I’ve always wanted to race in the ARCA Menards Series at Talladega, and the race fits into my Monster Truck schedule.”
Last weekend, Harper raced his own monster truck named “Outlaw” in Fredricksburg, Texas, and will compete May 1-2 just outside of Houston. In addition to driving, Harper owns and manages the “Monster Truck Wars” tour with his wife Nancy, and the tour consumes 40 weekends a year. It’s a hectic schedule managing 14 trucks and seven employees, but Harper notes it has been thriving since last July as one of the few entertainment options open to socially distanced spectators in the cities they visit.
Harper has been nurturing aspiring racers through Legends cars he has owned and operated over the last two decades. It started with a karting connection to former ARCA and NASCAR driver Ken Ragan, who placed Harper in his early 20s at Atlanta Motor Speedway working with Ragan and the Legends car series held on the track’s frontstretch quarter-mile.
Harper has mentored drivers in his equipment that have gone on to national notoriety. The short list includes NASCAR drivers David Ragan (Ken’s son), Chris Buescher, Kyle Weatherman and Bayley Currey. Add ARCA part-timer Kaden Honeycutt and three-time Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series national champion Jonathan Davenport to that list.
Harper’s close ties to Buescher began as the NASCAR Cup Series star was turning 12.
“I let him warm up the Legends car by driving it down the road a quarter mile at our shop,” Harper said of Buescher. “He turned it around and we loaded it to go compete in our first race together at Texas Motor Speedway. Chris won the race that night, and right then I knew he was a special talent.”
Harper mentored Buescher as he transitioned from Legends cars to a late model at age 14, and through his signing with Jack Roush as a development driver at age 15. The two have remained close friends. Chris will be the mentor for his former crew chief at Talladega.
Buescher has won championships in the ARCA Menards Series (2012) and the NASCAR Xfinity Series (2015). Harper guarantees he will have Buescher helping him prepare for his ARCA debut at Talladega.
Harper bought ARCA cars and equipment from Team Penske in 2013 to field Weatherman at age 15 in a partial season. That season, Weatherman, with Harper as his crew chief, recorded four top-five finishes and won the first Sioux Chief Short Track Challenge championship.
Now it’s time for the mentor to become a first-time ARCA driver.
“All of the young guys I helped through the years that are now racing in NASCAR are eager to get on my radio at Talladega,” Harper chuckled. “I probably demanded more out of them as drivers than most owners or mentors, and they want their turn to get me back.”