For the past few years, Suzuki teams have taken their lumps in the NHRA Mello Yello Pro Stock Motorcycle series, but the tide appears to be turning after White Alligator Suzuki’s Jerry Savoie earned his second-straight win at the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals in Reading, Pennsylvania, September 16. Fresh off a big win at the sport’s marquee event in Indianapolis, Savoie went back-to-back for the first time in his career when he rode to a 6.774 to 6.805 win against fellow Suzuki rider Steve Johnson in the final round. It was NHRA’s first all-Suzuki final in nearly a year, since Savoie raced then-teammate LE Tonglet in Dallas.
Savoie Takes Points Lead With Pennsylvania Win
“We’re on a roll now, but I really didn’t see it coming; I don’t think anybody did,” Savoie said. “We were barley in the top 10 a month ago and now we are leading the points. That’s really hard to believe. This is just a great day. In the final, we had Steve, and we stepped it up; actually, I think conditions got better so we both stepped up. I know we ran a 6.77 and everyone is looking at and pointing at the scoreboards, but Steve went 6.80 in the other lane. I honestly don’t really like racing against Steve because you never know what you’re going to get. He’s been out here a long time, and he’s tricky. I feel for him because he could use a win. We both made nice runs. All the credit to Tim [Kulinguan, crew chief] and everyone else on our team, they worked their butts off to get us where we are.”
Savoie skipped the mid-season events in Richmond, Chicago, and Norwalk. He was 10th after Sonoma and managed to jump five spots after winning Indy for the second time. During his post-race interviews at Indy, Savoie made a point to say that as one of the 10 qualifiers for the Countdown, he would commit to the final six races, and he’d do everything he could to pursue a second world championship. Following the win, he has taken over the lead in the Mello Yello standings by six points over regular season leader Andrew Hines.
“I didn’t count on making a run for the championship or the top 10,” Savoie said. “I took three races off, and when we came back in Sonoma we ran well and got to 10th. The spread between number 10 and number six was really close, and when we left Indy we were actually fifth. I gained a lot of points and bam, here we are. It’s a great accomplishment. Now, we just need to see if we can hold on for the next five races and finish this thing off.”
On a weekend where Suzuki-powered bikes occupied three of the top eight qualifying spots in the field, Savoie was seventh quickest with a 6.813 and began his march to the final after Hector Arana Sr. fouled in round one. Savoie’s biggest win, arguably, came in the second round when he took out points leader and five-time champion Andrew Hines, 6.819 to 6.904. Savoie also defeated his White Alligator teammate, Karen Stoffer in the semifinals to reach his third final in eight races this season.
Even though he came up short, Johnson’s run to the final might have been one of the most impressive performances of the season regardless of class. Forced to end his 32-year streak of perfect attendance after damaging an engine, Johnson came into Reading with just one round win in seven appearances this season. Appearing in his 434th career event, by far the most in the history of the class, Johnson tied his best qualifying effort of the season (number four) and rode to the final by beating Kelly Clontz, Hector Arana Jr., and reigning champion Matt Smith. Johnson, who has at times had a bitter rivalry with Smith, left first by a hundredth of a second and then held on for a narrow win to reach his 21st career final and his first in five years.
After qualifying, the Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team appeared poised to dominate with their new FXDR bikes, but riders Andrew Hines, Eddie Krawiec, and Angelle Sampey were each defeated. Sampey’s loss was especially tough to swallow after she outran reigning champ Matt Smith but lost on a starting line holeshot. Smith’s chance to take over the points lead ended a round later when he fell to Johnson in another unexpected upset.
The Pro Stock Motorcycle class will be back in action in two weeks when the tour visits World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis for the AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals. That event will be the second of six events in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
By Kevin McKenna
2019 NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle Championship
RESULTS: September 13-15, 2019
- Jerry Savoie (Suz)
- Steve Johnson (Suz)
Click here for complete results.
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