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Savoie A Grateful Biker At The Texas Motorplex

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 15 2016
Jerry Savoie is riding high in the NHRA Countdown.

Jerry Savoie is riding high in the NHRA Countdown.

ENNIS, Texas – It wasn’t enough for Jerry Savoie to routinely thank his crew after posting his first Pro Stock Motorcycle pole of the 2016 NHRA season Saturday afternoon at Texas Motorplex.

“Everybody says, ‘Yeah, I thank my crew,’ but with me it’s personal,” Savoie said after his quarter-mile pass in 6.805-seconds at 197.31 mph earned him P1 as qualifying concluded for the 31st annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals. “Everyone around me is in my heart and I really want to share the enjoyment and excitement of what I do.”

So thank his crew, Savoie did. And then the man widely known for his alternative career of alligator farmer brought crew chief Tim Kulungian and crewmen Jeremy Deroche and Steve Zelem into the press room for his post-qualifying interview.

“You can’t do it without a crew chief, can’t do it without a crew,” said Savoie, whose 2001 Suzuki TL1000 relegated the Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidsons of Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec to second and third, respectively, on the 16-bike ladder.  “I try to do the same thing every time but these guys are the ones behind the scenes and they don’t ever get credit.”

Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) also were No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the 22nd event of 24 on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

The defending event winner, Savoie began the weekend fifth in the Pro Stock Bike portion of the Countdown to the Championship standings _ 70 points behind leader and five-time/reigning world champion Hines. Savoie outscored Hines, 6-4, in bonus points on Saturday _ moving the former up to fourth but 72 points behind “Drew.” Beginning with today’s eliminations, Savoie will have no margin for error as the six-event Countdown enters its final three races.

Savoie’s Round 1 matchup is against No. 16 qualifier Joe DeSantis, who qualified at 6.961-seconds and 192.69 mph aboard his Suzuki. Savoie raced to victory at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill., near St. Louis and posted three runnerup finishes earlier this season. 

“At this point in the game it’s really important to get as many points as you can,” said Savoie, who bagged the sixth pole of a career launched in 2011. “I don’t know if I’m more excited about being No. 1 than to win a race because I’ve been getting bumped around all season by Angelle (Sampey) and Eddie. You know, Friday night we’d come in here speaking to you guys (media) but on Saturday they’d just come on around us. So to come here and do what we do after last year, hopefully we can repeat it and have some fun.”

A three-time race-winner last year, Savoie finished a career-best third in the final standings to H-D twins Hines and Krawiec and their factory-backed V-Rods. Despite five final-round appearances and four poles, Savoie trailed Hines by 58 points at season’s end, basically three rounds of racing. Per usual, Hines and three-time world champion Krawiec remain a moving target for everyone riding a Suzuki, Buell or Victory.

“They (the Harley Twins) make us work harder,” said Zelem, who transitioned from Top Fuel to work on Savoie’s bike.

“Well, here’s the deal, and I’m not saying this because Vance & Hines builds my engines,” Savoie said. “The bottom line is those guys are good racers. Even if they’re not always the fastest that weekend or that day, they manage to pull it out. I mean, Andrew beat me where I was faster than him…but he had a triple-zero light. How you going to beat that unless you run big numbers (mph at the top end)? For the most part they’re good racers. They have a good team, they know what to look for. I’m not knocking nobody. There’s 20-something bikes out here this weekend. Look back to early in the season and see which bikes are the top five or six. Those guys work hard, really hard, to make it work.

“We want to go fast and we want to be No. 1 and we want to win a championship. Last year, I’ll be honest with you, really didn’t matter. But this year is personal. I’m getting up in age and don’t know how long I’ll be doing this. So yep, we’re going for the championship and see what happens.”

Hines sits second at 6.811-seconds and 195.90 mph aboard his Harley. The winner of this event in 2014 is paired with Joey Gladstone in Round 1. Krawiec is third and matched with Karen Stoffer while Englishtown, N.J., winner Sampey _ another three-time world champion _ qualified fourth and will go up against Shawn Gann.

Savoie and his White Alligator Racing crew are wearing pink polo shirts this weekend in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. “I’m going to donate $5,000 to breast cancer (research),” said Savoie, a 57-year-old resident of Cut Off, La. “As you know, we wrapped the bike (in pink). My mother has cancer right now, she’s fighting it. My sister is a survivor. And my father and all his brothers and everybody in my family has died of cancer.

“So for me it’s a personal fight. And if I can give a little back of what God gave me and affect the life of one person, that’s the way it is. So that’s what we’re going to do.”

Kulungian indicated he has not cavalierly dismissed either last year’s point finish, or the health concerns Savoie is dealing with. “I tell you what, this team’s got enough motivation to win here,” said Kulungian, whose resume includes stints with Steve Johnson Racing and Don Prudhomme Racing. “We all got independent reasons and we work really hard to make sure we get Jerry down the racetrack better than our opponent. This is a really neat opportunity Jerry’s given me here to do this with him.”

Deroche, a friend of Savoie’s from South Louisiana, added, “This year we’re hungry for it and want it more because we came so close last year. We went to the last race to determine the championship, spun a tire at Pomona and that’s how we lost.”

Savoie said his confidence definitely received a boost Saturday, when he pipped Hines for pole in sunny and hot conditions forecast to be replicated during Sunday’s final-round eliminations beginning at 11 a.m. (CDT). Fox Sports 1 will air three hours of live finals coverage beginning at 1 p.m. (CDT).

“When you’ve got Tim Kulungian _ we call him ‘TK the Whiz’ _ on your side it don’t matter what the conditions are…except Reading (Pa.) We never run good at Reading. Never!” Savoie joked. “But Dallas and everywhere else we do pretty good. Here is my second time qualifying No. 1. We feel confident we got a good tuneup for the bike. And it’s not mental or anything; you just got (to have) the tuneup, man.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 15 2016
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