A year ago, three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion Angelle Sampey competed at the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals for the first time since 2008. It was a thrilling return for the class standout, but her excitement is now at another level heading into this weekend’s 62nd annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.
Sampey failed to qualify for the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship in 2015, struggling to a 14th-place finish.
But this year has been a far different story on her Star Racing/Precision Service Equipment Buell. Sampey has already clinched a spot in the Countdown to the Championship, won her first race since 2007 and is third in points. That means Indy is the start of what Sampey hopes is an electrifying finish to a season that could also include her third Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals win.
“I’m so excited to be racing with a chance to win a championship,” said Sampey, whose 42 career victories are the most in NHRA history for a female competitor. “Last year we struggled so much but now we are in the running for a championship and we have a good shot at it. It’s very exciting. Indy is our biggest, most prestigious race, but I want to win so bad all the time, no matter where we race. Three Indy wins would be great and we’re all looking forward to the Countdown as well.”
Morgan Lucas (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners. For the first time, the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals will be aired live on FOX and FOX Sports 1 (FS1). It also serves as the last race of the 18-race regular season before the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship begins.
Sampey’s spot in the NHRA’s six-race playoff is secure, but a number of talented competitors will be fighting over the final Countdown to the Championship spots in Indy. Only five riders, a list that includes Sampey and points leader Eddie Krawiec, have clinched berths, meaning there could be considerable shuffling at the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Steve Johnson is currently in 10th, but Karen Stoffer and Michael Ray are each just five points back while Sampey’s teammate and rookie Cory Reed trails the veteran Johnson by only 29 points.
Scotty Pollacheck and Jim Underdahl are each less than 75 points back of Johnson as well. Others looking to secure berths are Hector Arana, Chip Ellis, Matt Smith and Hector Arana Jr., all of whom are currently in the top 10. Securing the third spot, competing for a second victory in 2016 and doing whatever she can to help Reed get into the top 10 are Sampey’s chief priorities this weekend.
“It’s a team-wide effort trying to get him in,” Sampey said. “Everything is coming together like we need it to. My bike fits me perfectly, and Cory is getting into a groove and his bike is going fast. We’ve got two bikes to test with, try different things, and I think we can start to go even faster.”
That is the hope for Sampey, who will face off with the likes of Krawiec, reigning world champion Andrew Hines and defending event winner Savoie during the Countdown to the Championship. After her struggles a year ago upon returning to the sport, Sampey wasn’t sure she could get back to competing at an elite level.
But the team, led by crew chief Ken Johnson and owner George Bryce, has taken massive steps in 2016 with Sampey riding a new bike. She has qualified No. 1 twice, has only one first-round loss, qualified no worse than sixth, and picked up a victory in Englishtown.
“This has been a really good year and it feels like it did back in the day,” said Sampey, who won three straight world championships from 2000-2002. “It’s a lot of fun and I definitely feel like I made the right decision to return. This year has been so awesome, so fun and I know I did the right thing. It feels really good to do well and hopefully that continues during the Countdown. We just need to keep pushing forward.”
That means this weekend as well and Sampey knows she has to be prepared for the added pressures of the world’s most prestigious drag race.
“It’s so big and so many people come out,” Sampey said. “It’s big-time because of that and there’s always a big crowd in the pits. It’s a tough race mentally because you’re so busy and it makes for a long weekend, but it’s definitely important to separate all that. When it’s time to get on the bike and put on the helmet, you have to focus on what you’re doing and the reason you’re there, which is to win the race.”
The first of five Mello Yello Series qualifying sessions is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 2. Two more sessions will take to the track on Saturday, Sept. 3 at 2:45 p.m. and 6:45 p.m., and the final two qualifying sessions will take place on Sunday, Sept. 4 at 11:15 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 5. The Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Top Fuel will be contested Saturday, Sept. 3 with rounds at 4 p.m., 5:15 p.m. and 8 p.m. The Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Funny Car takes place on Sunday, Sept. 4 for the eight qualified drivers, with rounds at 12:30 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4:45 p.m.
FOX national broadcast and FS1 will televise coverage of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals for the first time in event history. FS1 will air highlights from the event on Sunday, Sept. 4, at noon and 5 p.m. EST. The broadcasts will continue on FS1 with two hours of live coverage on Monday, Sept. 5 starting at 11 a.m. EST. The extensive coverage will then continue live on the FOX national broadcast channel at 1 p.m. EST.
Tickets for the world’s most prestigious drag race can be purchased by calling the NHRA Ticket Sales Center at (800) 884-NHRA (6472), or online at www.NHRA.com/tickets.