After a weekend where he admittedly enjoyed some fortunate breaks en route to the finals, Jerry Savoie hopes that luck continues for a second straight Pro Stock Motorcycle race at this weekend’s 31st annual Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway.
Savoie has been runner-up two different times in Sonoma, making the most of the fast conditions at the fan-favorite track on his White Alligator Racing Suzuki. The bike wasn’t at its best during the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series stop last weekend in Denver, but back at sea-level Savoie believes his bike can deliver a big-time performance and possibly his first win at the track.
“We struggled a little in Denver and had a lot luck, and we went further than we expected, but we know we’re going to Sonoma and we can really fly there,” said Savoie, who is currently fifth in Pro Stock Motorcycle points. “Once you do (well) at a place, it gives you hope and we’ve got a good handle on Sonoma. Anytime we come to a track at sea level I think we have a good shot, and that gives you confidence as well. I think we’ll have something for this weekend.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), J.R. Todd (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock), and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of a race that will be televised on FOX, including live finals coverage starting at 4:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday. It is the eighth of 16 races during a 2018 Pro Stock Motorcycle season where Savoie picked up an early-season win in Charlotte.
But the goal now is to be performing at a high level when the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship arrives. That happened in 2016 when Savoie claimed his first world championship and he likes the approach his team, led by crew chief Tim Kulungian has taken this season. It has allowed for constant progression, with the goal to build up to something big during the playoffs.
“We’ve never really had a strategy and just went out and raced the best we could,” said Savoie, who has nine career victories. “Last year we had some mechanical issues and were underpowered, and once we got to the Countdown we were sitting ducks. We didn’t have anything. We’ve worked hard and this year we’ve got some strategy. Tim is working on some things and hopefully once the Countdown starts we’ll be able to put it all together.”
Along the way, Savoie wants consistent improvement and what he hopes is his first winner’s circle celebration in Sonoma. Of course, the weekend is even bigger for the class with the NHRA Mickey Thompson Tires Pro Bike Battle, a special race-within-a-race that takes place Saturday and awards $25,000 to the winner. Savoie’s teammate, LE Tonglet, won the race and the Mickey Thompson Tires Pro Bike Battle a year ago, something the Louisiana alligator farmer would like to do in 2018 against defending world champion Eddie Krawiec, points leader Andrew Hines, Denver winner Hector Arana Jr. and Scotty Pollacheck, who is Savoie’s first-round opponent.
“Having two races in one weekend, it’s a great thing,” Savoie said. “It’s good for us and the class to have this shootout, and we all really appreciate Mickey Thompson stepping up. It’s a pride thing and the money is great, too. You have to take an interesting approach and try to find your way, but the bottom line is it’s a lot of fun.”
Steve Torrence has five wins and the Top Fuel points lead, and hopes to add another Sonoma win against Denver winner Leah Pritchett, Clay Millican and defending world champ Brittany Force.
J.R. Todd’s first career Funny Car win came last year in Sonoma, and he’ll look to repeat against the likes of points leader Courtney Force, Denver winner John Force and Matt Hagan.
Tanner Gray has three wins in Pro Stock, but is chasing points leader Greg Anderson. Others to watch include Vincent Nobile, Chris McGaha and Jeg Coughlin, who all have two wins in 2018.
The event features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series as well. After Nitro qualifying, fans can watch the spectacular El Arabe Racing jet car driven by Juan Cantu. Jet cars are thrust driven propelled by jet engines with pre-run flame shows.
Those in attendance will also have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with some of the biggest names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This includes meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends scheduled to attend the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals include Ed “Ace” McCulloch, Jim Dunn and Jeb Allen.
As always, fans can 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 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 4:15 and 7:00 p.m. on Friday and the final two rounds on Saturday at 1:10 and 4:20 p.m. The first round of the Mickey Thompson Tires Pro Bike Battle takes place at 1 p.m. on Saturday, followed by the semifinals at 4:15 p.m. and the finals at 5:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday