‘SMUDGY’-LOVING SAVOIE SCORES SECOND STRAIGHT VICTORY TO SHAKE UP BIKE CLASS
Jerry Savoie tossed to the ground his 6.774-second, 198.66-mph winning time slip Sunday, as if it didn’t matter.
It does. However, the Pro Stock Motorcycle’s hottest racer at the outset of this year’s Countdown to the Championship is not caught up in possessions. He has the 2016 championship. He has “things,” including a loving family, a successful alligator-farming business in Louisiana, a cattle ranch in Mexico, and an outstanding drag-racing bike team.
For Savoie, the emotion is in the journey.
And right now, the journey has delivered him right to the top of his class.
With his victory Sunday over Steve Johnson at the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals near Reading, Pa., Savoie earned a second consecutive victory for the first time in his career and gained the No. 1 position in the standings.
He’s six points ahead of Andrew Hines, with the second race of the Countdown set for two weekends from now at Madison, Ill., near St. Louis.
“To win two in a row is amazing,” he said as he accepted his 11th overall Wally trophy at the end of the racetrack. “I never take it for granted.”
Savoie used a dazzling .011 reaction time to launch himself past Johnson’s 6.805-second, 196.59-mph challenge in what he called “smudgy” conditions.
It was Johnson’s first final-round opportunity in nearly five years, since the Charlotte Countdown race in the fall of 2014.
The joy for Johnson was that the final showcased a pair of Suzukis – in a world that has been dominated by the Vance & Hines Harley-Davidsons and the Buell bikes. So for the Birmingham, Ala.-based runner-up, finishing second had its silver lining. Besides, it was his third time to run for the money on the Maple Grove Raceway quarter-mile. And along the way, he ousted current champion Matt Smith, with whom he has been exchanging verbal jabs and provoking on social media for most of the year.
But Savoie relied on his quickest pass of the weekend to join Richie Crampton (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), and Jason Line (Pro Stock) in the winners circle – and thanked the Vance & Hines organization for its prep work on his engine.
The winner said it was “just a great, great day for my whole team. I don’t take any of this credit. Tim [crew chief Kulungian] and Rick [Elmore] and Freddie [Camarena] and my brother Cory and everybody on the team, they just worked their butts off. And here we are.”
Savoie, 60, has talked about retiring from the sport and said Sunday, “At my age, I can still do it. If you’d see me working at the farm at home, I’m still 25 years old. Reactions are good. You know, you always want to go out on top. And I was wondering for awhile there, If I do retire [at year’s end], will I ever win another one [during the remainder of this season]?’ I really wanted one more [victory]. Then making the run for the championship, I took three races off . . . and said, ‘If we do well in Indy, we could be No. 6.’”
Savoie won the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis on his White Alligator Racing Suzuki to secure the No. 5 spot to start the Countdown. The Cutoff, La., racer remains fifth in the standings, 34 points off Andrew Hines’ lead.
“We ended up at No. 5 – and today was just a dream day, because we had three Harleys in the second round, and they all went out. That means you can step up two more rounds, gain a lot of points. Matt Smith went out to a spoiler [Johnson], and Hector Jr. went out,” he said of the Nos. 3 and 4 playoff seeds. “And bam! Here we are! No one, not even myself, expected this. It’s a great accomplishment, and all the glory goes to God.”
Savoir reflected on his “dream day” that saw him eliminate Hector Arana, Hines, and teammate Karen Stoffer to reach his 27th final round and third this year.
“In the first round, you never take anybody lightly, especially Hector Sr. He’s the wild card [as the No. 10 Countdown starter], so you’ve got to be on your game. We had a good run. Unfortunately for him, he red-lit.”
The second round featured some starting-line funny business, with neither racer eager to stage his bike. Hines got the jump, but Savoie prevailed, and afterward, Savoie said, “Andrew and I have been going back and forth, and he has been going in first. I didn’t look over at him and notice that he was sitting up [on his bike], but I could feel it. I saw him do that before, and Andrew’s kind of relaxed. So I said, ‘I’m going to be a nice guy today and go in after a long wait.’ But it’s good for our fans and good for the sport and good for the bike class. Everybody loved it. And we came out on top.”
Against Stoffer, he said he knew “Karen’s bike is fast. We all know. She outqualified me. I had to be on my game.”
In the final against Johnson, a non-qualifier for the Countdown, Savoie said, “We stepped it up. I think not that we actually stepped it up. I think conditions changed. They dried out a little bit. The bike just performed better [than it had].”
Savoie and Johnson were teammates for one race a couple of years ago. The union didn’t last past the season-opening Gatornationals. And Savoie indicated he wasn’t sure about racing Johnson Sunday.
“Steve and I have battled it out quite a few times. I don’t like running Steve, because you never know what you’re going to get. Look, he went .80 [seconds] in the finals. He hadn’t been .80 all weekend. He’s a wild card. You never know what to expect out of him,” Savoie said. “And he’s a great racer. He’s been out here many years. I feel for him, because he could use a win. He’s a great guy, and he’s great for our sport. My hat goes off to him.”
Johnson, who gave Savoie crew chief Kulungian his first pro job years ago, said after earning the date against Savoie, “It’s so fun to finally be in the final – we need Suzuki support back in the sport.” Johnson knocked off Kelly Clontz, Arana Jr., and Smith.
Savoie said his bike has experience some crankshaft problems for the past two seasons and that Vance & Hines “has been working on some stuff . . . They went from scratch and it looks like they’ve turned it around. This engine we received in Indy, and Eddie [Vance & Hines employee and racing rival Krawiec] said we need to run it, that it’s a good engine.” The weather, he said, has been a factor in his recent performance gains. “The Suzukis do better in hotter weather,” he said. “Tim is a great tuner, and he got it together in what I call smudgy weather. We love smudgy weather.”
Who knows if the weather at World Wide Technology Raceway will be smudgy? Either way, the Pro Stock Motorcycle championship-chase action will resume Sept. 27-29 with the AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals.