Matt Smith celebrates a surprise win at Englishtown
story, video and photos by Tim Hailey
It didn’t appear that even Matt Smith had enough in his trick bag to win the 42nd SuperNationals at Olde Bridge Township Raceway Park. The 2007 NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle champion was quietly running midpack in qualifying and didn’t seem much of a threat. And when he did try to work the system in his favor, the NHRA was having none of it. After his Q4 pass put him on the ladder against wife Angie in round 1 of eliminations, Matt bypassed the scales—a move that should have disqualified his run and given him a different opponent. The NHRA decided not to get maneuvered that way and kept the run. “Don’t worry,” I told Angie Sunday morning. “At least when they’re deciding which round 1 bike match-ups to put on TV, they’ll definitely show yours.”
That was no consolation for the former Ms. McBride (above), who took the tree against her husband but not the stripe. That was a good race, but the first round was rife with craziness. Eddie Krawiec is flat out nubbing my championship favorite accolades, plugging a .181 blunderbulb against Junior Pippin in round 1. It was only because Pippin’s bike absolutely zero timing put in it that Eddie advanced to round 2. Once there, Eddie found the tune-up on his Harley going in the wrong direction and lost to Smith. Matt then beat Andrew Hines in the semis, making himself look like a genius and leaving me scratching my head. How in the world does the 2 bike Vance & Hines Screamin Eagle Harley-Davidson go backwards on both bikes when they started with the number 1 qualifying position?
Meanwhile, Louisiana Alligator farmer Jerry Savoie was having his best weekend ever. Savoie’s new took another leap forward, qualifying number 3 in the quickest field ever and advancing to the semifinals. “It was an awesome weekend,” said tuner Mark Peiser. “That’s the best we’ve qualified and the farthest we’ve gone in a race. The momentum’s building and we’re learning.”
True enough. After leading qualifying on Friday, the team had to replace the rear tire on Saturday. That was broken in enough to get past Mike Berry in round 1 and Justin Finley in 2 on Sunday.
Justin Finley? Damn straight. Not only did the unheralded privateer (above) make the field with a strong .92, he caught Chip Ellis strugging in round 1. “The bikes is changing RPM on the 2-step,” said Chip. “It will rev high then drop and it’s throwing me off.”
Finley redlit against Savoie, who nailed a perfect .000 light to advance and face Karen Stoffer in the White Alligator Racing team’s first semifinal appearance. Savoie’s perfect round 2 light was followed by a not-so-perfect .157 reaction time in the semis. “We’re up in points, the bike’s running good, but that was the worst light in my entire life,” laughed Savoie. “I was just late. My normal thing is to just go in and be comfortable, pre-stage, and once they light their pre-stage bulb, just pull in and get a little relaxed break. But this one here, she rolled right in, I rolled on the 2-step and by that time the yellow light was on, so it just threw me off.
Karen Stoffer (far lane) leaves on Jerry Savoie
“It’s a learning experience. I’m a rookie. It’s just something that happens in racing. I told my son today ‘That’s why winning is so exciting because losing hurts so bad.’ You just gotta be a good sportsman and take it as it comes.”
“We were in a position today that we had a bike that was just behind what we needed,” said Peiser. And indeed, Stoffer’s Suzuki outran Savoie’s regardless of reaction time. “Obviously we fought tire issues, but we had our first 1.04 60 foot against Karen, so we got that sorted out. Conditions were not too far off from when we went the .83 (on Friday), so I didn’t make a lot of changes today. Our deal is Jerry getting more repetitions, more laps, and he did an awesome job. The .83 run was about as close to perfect as a rider can get. Now that we’ve qualified third, it’s getting harder to be better. But we can be more consistent. Jerry can be more consistent, I can be more consistent.
“What I like best about this, being a new team, is how well we’ve worked together. Carman “Peanut” Wilcox is my help at the track and back at Indy in the shop, and Jeremy Derouche helps here at the track. We’ve now made 25 laps of competition, and every time we’ve gone to the starting line the bike’s made it to the finishline under power and we haven’t embarrassed ourselves. That’s huge. I don’t think there’s another team out here that’s made that many laps without some sort of mishap. So we’re solid. We’ve just got to earn our stripes.”
“You talk about professional racing, this is the best of the best,” said Savoie. “And people here tell me to hang my head high, don’t be ashamed about anything. ‘You guys have come out here and gone further than any rookie,’ they say. We made it past second round this race, so hopefully we’ll make it past third and go to the finals.”
The only step backward for the WAR team? That would be ending the streak of losing only to the eventual event winner. Stoffer lost on a holeshot by .0002 (or 1 inch) to Smith in the final. “I’m glad that streak is over,” said Peiser, who doesn’t want any streak that isn’t a winning one.
Covering his bases: Geico crewman Keith crewed for Matt Smith all winter long in Qatar
As for Smith, he claims to be lacking power but making up for it with the best front half numbers in the field. With his sponsor Sheikh Khalid Al-Thani on hand, Matt couldn’t have chosen a better time to pull an event win out of nowhere. Interview video with Smith will be posted soon.
Sheikh Khalid keeping an eye on his investments in horsepower
Hometown Hero Krawiec #1 in Englishtown
Former Old Bridge Township Raceway Park track manager Eddie Krawiec’s favorite Englishtown moment? Marrying the track pizza girl of course, the lovely Annemarie. But Krawiec is qualified #1 for the 42nd annual SuperNationals, and event win at his home track just might give Annemarie a run for her money. Eatmyink.com tagged Eddie at the last race in Atlanta as our odds-on favotrite for this year’s championship, then he promptly went out and made us look like idiots. But if he can put that bad performance behind him and leave Etown with the Wally, Eddie will be on his way to proving us to be the geniuses that we are…
Karen Stoffer surged to second in the order and faces GT Tonglet in round 1
After leading the field on Friday, tuner Mark Peiser put Jerry Savoie’s White Alligator Racing team into race prep mode on Saturday, breaking in a new tire and pushing tuning limits at the expense of defending the number 1 qualifying position for the NHRA Full Throttle SuperNationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey.
The tire from Savoie’s 6.83 pass was starting to peel near the edge and the team replaced it for the morning session. As a result, Savoie’s TL1000 backed up to a 6.987 while breaking in the new tire.
The new tire, same spec as the old one, was also a full inch bigger in circumference, calling for a Q4 sprocket change. “I sure could have used some scuffed in tires that were the same size,” noted Peiser.
The bike improved to a 6.92 in the afternoon session, placing Savoie third in the final order. “The 60 foot was still off a little bit, but each pass makes a big difference in the tire, so hopefully by tomorrow it will be better,” Savoie said as the NHRA poured over his bike in a post qualifying tech inspection. “The NHRA is so professional, they’ve really got it together. I’ve gotta give all the officials a thumbs-up.
“I’m excited about tomorrow,” continued Savoie, who has Mike Berry in round 1 of eliminations. The pair has already met up in Savoie’s short career, in Gainesville with Berry redlighting the round away.
“I don’t worry about who’s in the other lane, it doesn’t matter,” continued Savoie. “I don’t see anybody when I start the bike—not in the stands, on the starting line, or in the next lane.” Which could explain why Savoie, a rookie on the Full Throttle tour, hasn’t been fazed by the huge NHRA national event crowds. “I was more nervous about testing the bike then I was my first pass at Gainesville. And except for the Cajun Nationals 35-40 years ago, I’d never even been to an NHRA race.”
And now Savoie has qualified third, sixth, seventh and ninth in his four NHRA appearances so far.
Hard working GT Tonglet’s getting his program together, qualifying 15th. Incredibly, it’s been since 2006 that GT’s qualified for an NHRA national event.
GT’s brother LE toasted 2 motors so far this weekend, breaking the crank on his Q4 pass. “I loved that motor,” elder Tonglet Gary said wistfully. “It lived a short life, but it was fast!”
“I’m the reason this is the quickest field ever!” laughed Junior Pippin. “If I’d run a 7.0 anything they wouldn’t a had their 6 second field!”
Left on the outside looking in was Steve Johnson. “We’re way off on everything,” said Johnson. “The motor program, the tune-up, the rider—we’re just gonna have to start all over and get it together for the next race.”
Savoie Tops Day 1 of Englishtown Qualifying
As veteran Suzuki tuner Mark Peiser tweaked Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Jerry Savoie’s White Alligator Racing TL1000 between Friday’s qualifying rounds, he said “We left some on the table, there’s more in it.”
“Enough to catch Eddie Krawiec?” someone asked. New Jersey hometown hero Krawiec sat number 1 with an .85 after the first session.
“Oh no!” Peiser said without hesitation. “There’s not THAT much in it.”
And yet there was. Maybe it was the cloud that moved over just as Savoie pulled in into the waterbox, maybe it was Peiser’s tuning, Savoie’s flawless execution, or surely a combination of all the above. But the 52 year-old NHRA Full Throttle rookie finished round 2 on top of the qualifying order for the SuperNationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey with a 6.836—the second quickest Suzuki Pro Stock pass ever.
qualifying round 1
left lane Jerry Savoie 6.957 at 190.92 mph
qualifying round 2
right lane Jerry Savoie 6.836 at 192.74 mph
Savoie sat fifth after Q1, with vacuum pressure on the Suzuki not what it should have been. “That cost horsepower,” Peiser said, figuring the problem was a bad battery, but he changed gaskets as well.
“I definitely got back on the seat too soon,” said Savoie, shouldering his share of the blame for what was still a good Q1 pass right off the trailer. “When you haven’t ridden in a few weeks it’s tough to get back in the groove.”
Savoie had no such negative comments about his Q2 riding. “I knew it was on a good pass,” said Savoie, who by day is an alligator farmer in Cut Off, Louisiana. “Usually it throws me back in the seat in third gear, but this time I just moved back in the seat and hit my shift points when the light came on.“
“I knew we could run the number, but for us to run the best back half of the field means they (Krawiec’s team) didn’t get all they could out of it,” said Peiser, who turned his attention to changing a chunking tire before Saturday’s sessions.
No doubt Krawiec and the rest of the field will be aiming to grab the White Alligator Racing Suzuki by the tail section when qualifying resumes on Saturday, but you can also bet that Peiser will somehow find “more in it” to keep Savoie number 1 for Sunday’s eliminations.
Rookie Savoie is Sixth and Climbing Heading to Englishtown
As the NHRA Full Throttle season heads to the SuperNationals at legendary Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey, Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Jerry Savoie sits a surprising sixth in points. Surprising to everyone, perhaps, but Savoie.
Most racers going pro at age 52 would be happy settling for Rookie of the Year honors, but not Savoie. “I want to win,” he said, as tenacious as the alligators he farms in Cut Off, Louisiana. “I want to beat them all.”
Savoie sat out of racing a whopping 30 years as he took care of family and business, then jumped back aboard with a Suzuki Hayabusa streetbike bought from his buddy Paul Miller. “I took it down the track and after the very first pass I thought to myself ‘Why haven’t I been doing this the last 30 years?’” Within weeks, Savoie ran into current Top Fuel and former Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Antron Brown at a wedding. Savoie mentioned that he was interested in getting a Pro Stock bike. Brown may not know much about alligator farming, but he can spot an eager fish when he has him hooked. “Why don’t you come up to Indy and see what Don Schumacher has for sale?” Brown told Savoie. By Wednesday, Savoie and Miller were in Indianapolis sizing up the equipment and bought everything in sight. Two weeks later he came back for the truck and trailer.
After hiring veteran Suzuki tuner Mark Peiser, Savoie and his White Alligator Racing team qualified 7th the very first time out at Gainesville, just behind fellow Louisianan and current champ LE Tonglet. Savoie nailed an .008 light and won his very first round of competition, establishing himself and the WAR team as instant contenders. Savoie has qualified handily in the top 10 and lost only to the event winner in all three of his NHRA starts, taking the tree each and every time.
Savoie’s unusual day job landed him on television even before ESPN’s Full Throttle Series production cameras found him. The Discovery Channel’s Mike Rowe highlighted Savoie and his farm on two episodes of “Dirty Jobs.” Jerry had to instruct Rowe over and over about how to grab a gator. “Better get him,” Savoie would say. “He’s gonna bite ya!”
Pro Stock Motorcycle racers are already feeling the sharp teeth of Savoie and the White Alligator Racing Suzuki.
Watch the NHRA SuperNationals on ESPN2
6/04/2011 qualifying 5:30 PM – 7:00 PM ET
6/05/2011 eliminations 4:30 PM – 7:00 PM ET
to watch Jerry Savoie on “Dirty Jobs” go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDsuCy72v-0
for more information about Jerry Savoie and White Alligator Racing go to http://www.whitealligatorracing.com/