When Jerry Savoie started his Pro Stock Motorcycle career, he had only one specific goal: to win a race in the class.
Then, in St. Louis last year, Savoie accomplished that goal, and now, in the midst of a breakout 2015 season, the Louisiana alligator farmer has to search for an entirely new list of goals. After winning the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals and advancing to the semifinals last weekend in the opening race of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship, a world championship may be next on that list.
Savoie is currently third in points in Pro Stock Motorcycle heading into this weekend’s fourth annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park, putting him in great position to reach even bigger milestones on his Savoie’s Alligator Farm Suzuki TL 1000.
“When I first started racing I just wanted to win one race and that’s all I had on my bucket list,” Savoie said. “To now have three career wins and a bike capable of winning any weekend is a pretty good feeling. As far as a championship, if it comes my way I’ll certainly take it, but I’m trying not to be too focused on it. We know we can do it if things work out. We’ve got a chance to do some damage.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Courtney Force (Funny Car) and Dave Connolly (Pro Stock) were also last year’s winners of the event that will once again be televised on ESPN2. The lucrative event just outside of St. Louis is the second of six playoff races in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship and a pivotal race for any driver chasing a championship.
Savoie sprinted into the Championship conversation this year even though he hit a few speed bumps early on in the season. After a pair of first-round losses to open the season, Savoie failed to qualify at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, leaving him 15th in points. Things quickly picked up from there, as Savoie qualified second and won in Englishtown, but he admitted there was some trepidation in returning to Charlotte last weekend to kick off the Countdown to the Championship.
“From the beginning of the year to now, it’s pretty amazing how far we’ve come,” said Savoie, who qualified second and advanced to the semifinals last weekend. “We didn’t even qualify last time and then we were nearly the No. 1 qualifier. We have it going on and we know it. We have three really good engines from Vance & Hines, and we’re just consistent right now. If we can keep that up maybe we can give everyone a run for their money.”
Savoie is in the process of doing just that as his laid-back demeanor suggests he isn’t about to let the pressure get to him over the final five races. Savoie and his team have put together a run of strong performances, also finishing as the runner-up in Sonoma before the win in Indianapolis.
The Indy win earned Savoie “160-something texts from friends and family,” boosting his confidence heading into the Countdown, and with last year’s victory in St. Louis, Savoie will take plenty of determination into Gateway Motorsports Park.
“I keep trying to focus on doing a better job as a rider,” Savoie said. “We’ve been pretty stout since Englishtown and it’s going to be good in St. Louis. We won there last year and we know if it’s hot what tune-up we need. We’ll give it a run for the money.”
Looking to keep Savoie at bay will be teammates Andrew Hines, the reigning world champion and current points leader who won in Charlotte to open the Countdown, and Eddie Krawiec, who entered the six-race playoffs as the points leader before a second-round defeat at zMAX Dragway.
Other top contenders include Matt Smith, who jumped to fourth after a final-round showing in Charlotte, Hector Arana Jr., Hector Arana, Jim Underdahl, Karen Stoffer, Scotty Pollacheck and Chip Ellis; but Savoie likes his chances and praised a team that has stuck together in impressive fashion throughout the 2015 season.
“We’re having fun,” Savoie said. “It’s really weird to go out there and know we could finish in the top five and have a chance at winning (a title). We’re having a good time and we’ve got a really good crew. There’s no bickering and we’re all thoughtful about our surroundings and having a good time. To win in Indy was a big accomplishment. We were pretty stoked and hopefully before the end of the year we can get us another (win).”
In Top Fuel, all eyes will be on Brown in St. Louis as the 2012 world champ, who won last weekend in Charlotte to jump into the points lead, looks to make it four straight wins at Gateway Motorsports Park. The loaded Top Fuel lineup also includes reigning world champion Tony Schumacher, Richie Crampton, who has four wins in 2015, three-time world champion Larry Dixon, who sits in third, J.R. Todd, who moved to fourth with his final round appearance in Charlotte, Doug Kalitta, Steve Torrence, Shawn Langdon, Brittany Force and Dave Connolly.
Del Worsham fired an impressive shot to open the Countdown in Funny Car, winning in Charlotte to take over the points lead and earn his first victory of 2015. Trying to track him down will be Tommy Johnson Jr., who jumped to second with a final round appearance, Jack Beckman, a six-time 2015 winner who was upset in the first-round and dropped to third, reigning world champion Matt Hagan, 16-time world champion John Force, Robert Hight, Ron Capps, Tim Wilkerson, Cruz Pedregon and Alexis DeJoria.
Pro Stock points leader and reigning world champion Erica Enders, who has sevens wins this season including the Countdown opener that gave her three straight victories, will have her hands full dealing with challenges from four-time world champion and four-time 2015 winner Greg Anderson, who is currently 83 points behind Enders, and his teammate Jason Line. Other championship contenders include two-time event winner in 2015 Chris McGaha, who is currently third, Allen Johnson, Vincent Nobile, who moved to up to sixth with a runner-up performance in Charlotte, Shane Gray, Jonathan Gray, rookie Drew Skillman and veteran driver Larry Morgan.
Drivers in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Series also will race in their quest to become winners of the thrilling event during the weekend.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, Sept. 25, with sessions at 2:45 and 5:15 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, Sept. 26, at 1:45 and 4:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 27. J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday at 2:15 and 4:45 p.m. with one final qualifying session on Saturday at 1 p.m. The first round will begin on Saturday at 3:45 p.m. and continue on Sunday.