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Sampey-Drago Leaves Fear Behind In NHRA Return

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 21 2014

Angelle Sampey-Drago made her return to bikes this weekend. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

ENNIS, Texas – Angelle Sampey-Drago says any fear she had about climbing back aboard the seat of a Pro Stock Motorcycle was resolved when she made her first test run in seven years.

“It was a different fear.  It’s because I’m a mom now,” said Sampey-Drago, a three-time NHRA world champion and drag racing’s winningest female. “I’ve been praying that I just want to be safe. I need to go home to my daughter. If something happens to me and I get hurt, I will never forgive myself for getting back on this motorcycle. That’s my biggest concern.”

Ava Jane Drago is 3 ½-years-old, her mom’s biggest fan and her mom’s biggest concern. But at the request of Angelle, Ava Jane was not at the Texas Motorplex this weekend for Sunday’s final eliminations of the 29th annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals.

“She came with us to do the test session last week (in Valdosta, Ga.),” Sampey-Drago, 44, said as her race weekend cranked-up at the all-concrete facility. “She watched me put the helmet on. She watched me get on the bike. She watched me go down the track. I came back and she said, `Mommy, you race good…you won!’ That just felt so good. I want to do this with her this time. I know I’m not going to be able to have her with me all the time. She’s not here now; I wanted to get the first race out of the way and not have too many distractions.”

Sampey-Drago’s fulltime mommy-only duties ended last weekend at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C., where team-owners George and Jackie Bryce of Star Racing announced a deal that will carry Angelle into the 2015 season.

“George had talked about how Star Racing is going to be celebrating their 35thanniversary next year,” Sampey-Drago said. “They wanted to do something big and exciting.” Enter Angelle, who will team with Chaz Kennedy fulltime in the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, with the remainder of the current schedule reserved for scraping off rust.

To that end Angelle qualified her S&S-powered Buell 12th on the 16-bike ladder for what is Round 2 of the six-event Countdown to the Championship. Angelle’s best quarter-mile pass was 6.988-seconds at 187.50 mph. For comparison, the pole was captured by three-time world champion Eddie Krawiec at 6.841-seconds and 194.83 mph aboard his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rod.

Angelle’s race day ended via a first-round loss to John Hall. The No. 8 qualifier, Hall posted a quicker reaction time than Sampey-Drago at the starting line Christmas Tree _ 0.020-seconds to 0.056-seconds _ en route to a winning pass of 6.975-seconds at 192.82 mph aboard his Matt Smith Racing Buell. Angelle’s numbers were 6.978-seconds at 182.45 mph. Six of 16 riders, including No. 1 qualifier Krawiec, posted slower reaction times than Sampey-Drago.

“I am not where I want to be as far as shape-wise,” said Sampey-Drago, a diminutive 5-foot-1. “When I retired, I was in the best shape of my life. I was training in ju-jitsu and mixed martial arts. I had muscles. I was lean. I’m the same weight that I was (112 to 115 pounds), but I don’t have the muscle I had then. I don’t think I have the strength that I had then.

“It’s not like I can’t do it. I just think the better shape you’re in physically the better shape you feel in mentally and I’ll be a better racer when I get back to training.”

Sampey-Drago’s NHRA legacy was secure when she retired following the 2008 season, finishing in the top-five for an impressive 12th straight year. After making her debut with Star Racing in 1996, Sampey-Drago went on a remarkable tear by winning three straight championships from 2000-2002.

Angelle passed Top Fuel legend Shirley Muldowney for most wins by a female (18) in 2001, earning seven victories that year, which also stands as a record for most wins by a female in a single season. Still, the one mark she still is chasing _ 45 career wins by the late Dave Schultz _ proved to be an enticing carrot. Angelle retired, and started her family, with 41 national event Wally trophies.

“I did really, really miss riding the motorcycle, the adrenaline rush that you feel,” said Angelle, who with husband Seth resides in Mathews, La., about 45 minutes southwest of New Orleans. “It is so fun and so exciting to ride the motorcycle. And I didn’t have anything like that at home. I’ve been shooting. I love guns and go to the gun range. That excited me a little bit. But it just wasn’t the same. I tried to find a thrill that would match, and nothing would.

“Why, why do I need to come out here again? And then I started thinking about it and there was one goal I never accomplished _ I accomplished everything I wanted to do _ and that was to win five more races and beat Dave Schultz. I kind of let myself accept the fact that was never going to happen because I retired. But it just kept coming back. Yeah, the one thing I wanted to do I didn’t do was beat Dave Schultz. And I knew the only way I was ever going to do that was to come back here.”

Her career-best stats are frozen at 6.871-seconds at 194.21 mph _ numbers she will need to meet and exceed aboard a Buell, that with rider, weighs 625-pounds. Her peers already have begun to take notes.

“I remember when she switched from the Suzuki to the Buell her last year of racing,” said rival Hector Arana Jr., who is 19 years younger than Sampey-Drago. “I’ve only ridden Suzukis a little bit in the beginning when I was learning but they’re a totally different animal. You’ve got to really manhandle the Buell because of the torque that they have down low when they’re accelerating, where the Suzuki takes a little bit more finesse and it’s easier to bring back if you have to correct.

“So I was curious to see if she could handle it and she looks to be doing a pretty good job. I saw where she was really having to hang off the side to correct it (during qualifying) but once they get that bike dialed-in and to go straight she won’t have to move around so much. I wish the best for her.”

Angelle knows those kind sentiments will end the moment she rolls into the next burnout box. “I’m not trying to lie to myself,” Sampey-Drago said. “The level of competition is insane these days. To win one more race will be awesome, much less winning five more races.  But hey, I’ve got to try.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 21 2014
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