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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Former FFA Member Spotlight: NHRA driver Brian Thiel

By Geoffrey Miller

You can complement the FFA emblem in numerous ways, from traditional to timeless. Combined with the trademark national blue corduoroy jackets, the emblem is just that -- emblematic of the storied National FFA Organization.

But what about fast? Do you really associate agricultural education's most-recognized symbol with speed?

That's just what former FFA member Brian Thiel is doing these days -- and he's not talking about simply breaking your local highway speed limit. Instead, Thiel is racing in the top ranks of drag racing as a 300-mph funny car pilot in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. He's got the FFA emblem on board as a way to pay tribute to an organization that helped him get where is he today.

Last week, I got a chance to catch up with Thiel and his drag racing outfit at the Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Ga. The NHRA's premier series was in town for the annual Southern Nationals and Thiel, competing in first full season, was trying to put his Lucas Cattle Company/FFA Dodge Charger in the field.

But before we get to the racing side of it, here's a bit more on the driver that can cover a quarter mile in just over four seconds. Thiel, as I said, is a former FFA member currently living Pleasant Grove, Calif. There, he and his wife Randi own R&B Farms, a 3,000 acre rice operation -- far from just a simple hobby farmer.

The 36-year-old's 2011 season has seen its ups and downs that any start-up team can expect. The NHRA format affords two days of qualifications in a three-day event, with the top 16 teams advancing to eliminations on the final day. So far, Thiel has made two of the six elimination rounds -- including a first round matchup in Houston, Tex., against legendary NHRA funny car champion John Force.

Thiel looked ready to firmly make the field in Atlanta last weekend after a solid, career-best run in the first round of qualifications. Standing near the start line with his crew, we watched as Thiel's 8,000-hp machine blasted down the 1000-foot track in 4.19 seconds at 296.96 mph. The run put Thiel seventh overall after the round.

Following the round, I followed Thiel and his Brian Thiel Racing team back to his pit area where they thrashed to get the Charger's engine torn down and built back up -- a 45-minute marvel in mechanic work -- in time for the next run. In the mean time? Thiel made a call back to California to order more rice seed for some spare acres he was able to plant.

Thiel dropped down the standings a bit in the remaining qualifying rounds, and the team had trouble getting the car traction for another quick run and the BTR team missed the field by a slim three-thousandths of a second. Thiel was actually faster than three other drivers in the field, but NHRA qualifying rules left him on the outside looking in.

BTR is back in actionJune 2-5 for the NHRA SuperNationals in Englishtown, N.J. As always, every ticket into an NHRA event is a pit pass and Thiel and his BTR pit is extremely accessible for fans to meet Brian and get an autograph.

Be sure to stop by and say hello, and check out Brian as he races on ESPN2!


Geoffrey Miller is a former state FFA officer from Indiana. He currently works at the National FFA Organization as a Communication Specialist.

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