An alligator farmer doing well at the AMALIE Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals just seems to make sense. But for whatever reason, Pro Stock Motorcycle standout Jerry Savoie hasn’t been able to enjoy much success at the famed race.
This season may be a different story for the Louisiana alligator farmer heading into this weekend’s season-opener in the highly-competitive class. Fresh off his first career NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championship, Savoie and his team take plenty of confidence and momentum into 2017. Coupled with a strong off-season making even more improvements on his Savoie’s Alligator Farm Suzuki, and Savoie is ready to taste success at the Gatornationals for the first time.
“We’ve never run well in Gainesville, but (crew chief) Tim (Kulungian) has really been working hard to figure that out,” Savoie said. “I think that will help and going in, I feel like we’ve got a good shot. I would love to win the Gatornationals because it’s the first track I rode a Pro Stock Motorcycle. An alligator farmer winning the Gatornationals would be awesome. It’s one of the closer races for us, and we’re excited and pumped up to get things going this season.”
Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live finals coverage on Sunday at 1 p.m. (ET). The NHRA’s traditional East Coast opener is the first of 16 races in Pro Stock Motorcycle, and Savoie knows he will have his work cut out to defend a championship that came down to the wire a year ago.
The class is rich with talent, but that depth is what excites Savoie about performing in the class. That star list includes previous world champions Andrew Hines, Eddie Krawiec, Angelle Sampey, Matt Smith, Hector Arana Sr. and LE Tonglet – who is teaming up with Savoie in 2017 – as well as Cory Reed, the NHRA’s top rookie in 2016, Hector Arana Jr., Chip Ellis and Melissa Surber.
“A lot of guys and gals are going to be good,” said Savoie, who has six career victories. “We have to step up mentally and physically, and have the right bike. It’s not going to be easy. There’s a lot of talented riders, a lot of new riders and everybody riding a Suzuki now believes they can win a championship. I think last year opened a lot of doors for people. It’s going to be a great year.”
Savoie will have a tough time topping 2016 but he can’t wait to try. He posted two wins and a runner-up finish during the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, wrestling the title away from Hines and Krawiec on the final day of the season.
But as thrilling as that was, Savoie insists he doesn’t feel a bit of pressure heading into 2017. He is excited to see Tonglet’s development on a bike they’ve worked hard on over the winter and has high expectations for both motorcycles.
“We’ve worked hard all winter and feel pretty confident, but for me there’s no pressure,” Savoie said. “I’ve won my race. That’s all I set out to do. The championship was just extra. This year, I’m more eager to do better than ever before. I feel like we should be fast and I’m excited about LE. I think we’ll have a fun time this year. As a teammate, I think the information is going to be good. But he wants to beat me and I want to beat him, so hopefully we can meet up in some finals.”
Brittany Force earned her first career Top Fuel win last year but she will have to deal with Leah Pritchett, who has won the first two races of 2017, and back-to-back world champ Antron Brown.
Hight’s Funny Car win last year gave John Force Racing its first double-up weekend in team history, but he will have to deal with the likes of Matt Hagan, who won the first two races of 2017.
Longtime Pro Stock standout Greg Anderson will look for his third straight win at Gainesville Raceway after ousting teammate and defending world champ Jason Line a year ago.
The event is the season-opener for the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Series and features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series. After Nitro qualifying, fans can watch the spectacular Larsen Motorsports jet dragsters sponsored by Florida Tech and Matrix System. Jet cars are thrust driven vehicles propelled by jet engines with exciting pre-run flame shows.
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers with an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity 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.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 12:45 and 4:15 p.m. on Friday, March 17 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, March 18 at 12:00 and 2:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 19.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call (800) 884-NHRA (6472) or visit www.NHRA.com/tickets. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.
AMALIE MOTOR OIL NHRA GATORNATIONALS
WHAT: 48th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, the third of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – earn points leading to 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships. Competition also will be featured in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series and the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Series.
WHERE: Gainesville Raceway, Gainesville, Fla. The track is located on 11211 North County Road 225 in Gainesville.
WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, March 16-19
THURSDAY, March 16 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying at 8:30 a.m.
FRIDAY, March 17 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at noon and 3:30 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 12:45 and 4:15 p.m.
SATURDAY, March 18 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 1:45 p.m. Round 1 of eliminations at 4:15 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at noon and 2:30 p.m.
SUNDAY, March 19 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
Sunday, March 19, FS1 will televise three hours of live finals coverage at 1 p.m. (ET).
2016 EVENT WINNERS:
Brittany Force, Top Fuel; Robert Hight, Funny Car; Greg Anderson, Pro Stock; Eddie Krawiec, Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Warren Johnson, 9, PS; John Force, 7, FC; Don Prudhomme, 5, Greg Anderson 5 PS, FC; Joe Amato, 4, TF; Kenny Bernstein, 4, FC/TF; Larry Dixon, 4, TF; Don Garlits, 4, TF; Eddie Krawiec, 4, PSM; Jason Line, 4, PS; Ed McCulloch, 4, FC; Tony Schumacher, 4, TF; Dave Schultz, 4, PSM; Terry Vance, 4, PSM.
Top Fuel – 3.698 seconds by Richie Crampton, March ’16; 329.02 mph by Spencer Massey, March ‘15.
Funny Car – 3.879 seconds by Jack Beckman, March ’16; 329.26 mph by Beckman, March ’16.
Pro Stock – 6.473 seconds by Mike Edwards, March ’12; 214.69 mph by Erica Enders, March ’14.
PS Motorcycle – 6.750 seconds by Eddie Krawiec, March ’12; 199.26 mph by Krawiec, March ’11.
Top Fuel – 3.658 sec. by Leah Pritchett, Feb. ’17, Sonoma, Calif.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.
Funny Car – 3.822 by Matt Hagan, Aug. ’16, Brainerd, Minn.; 335.57 mph by Hagan, May ’16, Topeka, Kan.
Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.; 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ’14, Englishtown N.J.
PS Motorcycle – 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.88 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.