Reservist satisfies need for the driver's seat

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Kristin Mack
  • 301st Fighter Wing
Growing up around motorcycles, Staff Sgt. Patrick Tharp has always been fascinated by the magnificence of high-powered machinery. That’s why sitting in the driver’s seat of a super cart, roaring around a race track pushing 2.5 G’s for a living, is like a dream come true for this reservist.
     Now, with a career as a support driver for a formula Mazda testing team and professional full-tail super cart racer, he is always in the driver’s seat -- spending time where his true passion lies.
     For Sergeant Tharp, 73rd Aerial Port Squadron transportation craftsman, his dream began in Brownwood, Texas, where his parents owned a motorcycle dealership. Throughout his childhood years, he witnessed his older brother, Jep, do master motorcycle racing. He took on the sport himself when he turned eight.
     “I was born into racing,” said Sergeant Tharp, “and that’s all there is to it.”
     He spent 30 years racing bikes and won nearly 20 national championships before suffering a traumatic crash resulting in several injuries, and sending Sergeant Tharp to look for another vehicle to race.
     “I got bored (of motorcycle racing) and sold my motorcycle stuff and started to look for something safer and cheaper-- that is where I found my love for cart racing,” Sergeant Tharp said.
     With spending so much time racing bikes, it was a smooth transition to the world of super cart racing for this 42-year-old Texan. The maximum speed of his motorcycles was 180 mph, while his super carts top out at 160 mph.
     It was again the influence of his brother who spurred his new racing career in super carts to full throttle. When others began to see his talent, he soon gained sponsorship and was offered a job as a cart tester through a family connection.
     Now, as a cart racer, Sergeant Tharp travels to Las Vegas, Nev., Daytona Beach, Fla., and other places around the country competing in up to four races a weekend every month. He also is very fortunate to have his wife’s support. She accompanies him to the races and performs mechanical checks on the cart.
     “She checks every part that can go wrong before each race, said Sergeant Tharp. “So I know my cart is completely safe every time I go out.”
     In the three years Sergeant Tharp has been racing, he’s already taken home three championships, one for the Formula Unlimited and two in the Intercontinental Unlimited.                                                                                                                                           
     “My ultimate goal is to win the Sports Car Club of America Championship and Formula Mazda,” said Sergeant Tharp. “Right now I’m working on my SCCA license to eventually qualify for NASCAR-- you have to get your education before you can drive.”
     His Air Force Reserve career with the 73rd APS has an equal priority in his life. He couldn’t continue doing both careers he loves without the unwavering support from his unit -- since both careers involve a one weekend a month commitment.
     “My unit supports me,” said Sergeant Tharp. “I have the cooperation of my commander and unit to ensure the duty is done and I don’t have to stop my cart racing.”
     At one point his Reserve and racing career clashed due to scheduling conflicts. He almost had to separate from the service to continue racing -- his full-time career. But his commander stepped in and allowed him the flexibility to perform his duty and continue racing.
     “You are a part of our family and we want to be part of yours,” said Lt. Col. Robert Skeans, 73rd APS commander. “We are extremely proud of his racing career and want to try to work with him sohe can continue doing what he does best.”
     It was during that time a strong synergy was created between the Reserve and Sergeant Tharp’s racing cart career.
     “My commander has been supportive of my career and this has allowed me to continue my career in the Reserve,” said Sergeant Tharp. “I’m in the Reserve because I love wearing the uniform.”
     Since then, both Sergeant Tharp’s cart and trailer have inherited the 73rd APS logo to convey his support and love for his unit and the Air Force Reserve.
     “My entire racing club knows I’m in the military,” Sergeant Tharp said. “I like having the logo on my cart because now people ask me all of the time about it -- I love getting the chance to tell them about the Reserve.”
     His ultimate goal in life is to own his own 2.2-mile racetrack, where he can continue to be involved in the race long after he retires ... which won’t be any time soon. This will also allow him to spend time training new drivers who may come along the way.
     There is currently one very young, interested driver in his immediate family.
     “Every time I turn around, my daughter, who is 3, is always in my cart,” explained Sergeant Tharp. “I can’t keep her out of it.”
     It seems racing will continue to be a Tharp family tradition.
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