Cedar City native Doug Thorley, drag racing pioneer and header manufacturer, leaves storied legacy

CEDAR CITY — The trophy cases that line the main hallway across from the front office at Cedar High School are filled with the memorabilia of various illustrious alumni, but one particular graduate has an entire section devoted to his career and accomplishments.

Doug Thorley, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of Doug Thorley family, St. George News / Cedar City News

Doug Thorley, who died March 10 at his home in New Harmony at age 92, leaves behind a storied legacy as a drag racing pioneer.

Thorley, a 1947 graduate of Cedar High, developed a love for cars as a teenager growing up in Cedar City and began seriously pursuing drag racing in the early 1950s. He eventually developed his own line of specially designed manifold headers. Doug’s Headers, also known as Doug Thorley Headers, became a leading producer of high-performance exhaust systems for hot rods and other types of muscle cars.

Thorley’s popular headers are favored not only among racing enthusiasts but also many regular drivers looking to boost their vehicle’s engine performance.

In 1967, Thorley won the inaugural Funny Car championship at the National Hot Rod Association Nationals at the Indy Raceway in Indianapolis. The NHRA later recognized Thorley with its prestigious Wally award for his contributions to the racing community. The distinctive trophy, designed in the image of NHRA founder Wally Parks, is among the items on display inside the Cedar High School trophy case.

Upon Thorley’s death, the NHRA posted a tribute to him on its website, which outlined several of his career accomplishments, both on and off the asphalt. 

Racing in a modified Corvair, Thorley was the first to break the 200 mph barrier at the historic Lions Drag Strip in the Los Angeles area. He also set numerous speed records, including several on the Bonneville Salt Flats near the Great Salt Lake. One of his more notable cars was a 1964 Chevy II Nova called “Chevy Too Much.” 

Historic photo of Doug Thorley racing in a Javelin | Image courtesy of Doug Thorley family, St. George News / Cedar City News

Thorley died of natural causes incident to age, and his daughter Kerrie Bringhurst said she was glad he was at home at the time.

“Dad wanted to die at home, and home was New Harmony, so he was granted that,” Bringhurst told Cedar City News, who added that she didn’t realize how widely known her father was until some years after he’d already made his mark in the racing industry.

“I just really never realized how much he really accomplished because I was a girl at home raising a family, but he really was so famous and so well-respected and loved in his field,” she said.

Bringhurst called her father “a meticulous man with everything that he did.”

“The cars were always full of gas, perfectly clean and well maintained,” she said.

“With all his hot rods and everything, then he got blessed – or cursed – with four daughters,” she added with a laugh.

Graveside services for Thorley were held March 15 in the Cedar City Cemetery. Survivors include three daughters: Bringhurst, Lynne Harnois of St. George, and Jan DellaVedova of Colville, Washington, along with 14 grandchildren and 31 great-grandchildren. To read his full obituary, click here

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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