There’s usually a variety of emotions racing at Las Vegas with a potential NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series championship on the line. Relaxed is usually not one of them, but that’s precisely how Jerry Savoie feels heading to one of his favorite tracks for this weekend’s Dodge NHRA Nationals Presented by Pennzoil at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The former Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion feels perfectly at peace at the high-stakes race in the city of big lights, even if it does serve as the penultimate race in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. Savoie has always performed well in Las Vegas on his White Alligator Racing Suzuki and with a pair of playoff wins, the veteran, who is 94 points behind points leader Andrew Hines, plans to once again thrive at the facility.
“I don’t know what kind of feeling other people get when they get to Vegas, but the atmosphere there just relaxes me so much,” said Savoie, who has zero career Vegas wins. “I just get to the track and let it fly. Mentally for me, Vegas is just a great race and I’ve been very lucky there. The bottom line is, the atmosphere there just relaxes me. It’s one of the best places to go and there’s just certain tracks that seem to favor certain riders.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), J.R. Todd (Funny Car), Bo Butner (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including live final eliminations coverage starting at 4:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Nov. 3. It is the fifth of six races in the Countdown to the Championship, and the 15th of 16 races during a 2019 Pro Stock Motorcycle season that has quickly gained steam for Savoie.
He didn’t run a full schedule during the season, but he started to build momentum as the regular season came to a close. Savoie won at Indy and then he opened the playoffs with a win, which changed the course of his year. His goal immediately shifted to trying to win another title and his victory in Dallas kept those hopes alive. Back-to-back first-round losses in St. Louis and Charlotte hurt, but rebounding in Dallas ensured that everything is still in play heading to Las Vegas.
“I’m pretty fired up right now and I don’t care who gets in the way, I’m going to try to beat them,” said Savoie, who has 12 career wins. “I wasn’t expecting any of this to happen and we’re just peaking at the right time. Engine-wise, performance-wise, I think we’re in good shape and I think we have what it takes to go out there and be competitive. So hopefully we can continue to do well and keep things interesting down the stretch.”
Savoie knows he’ll need something big to stay close to Hines, who has a remarkable eight wins this season. But Savoie’s teammate, Karen Stoffer, is also within striking distance, sitting 81 points behind Hines. The two longtime standouts have thrived racing on the same team for the first time and it could lead to even more good results to finish the year. Savoie also has to deal with the likes of Eddie Krawiec, Arana Jr. and defending world champ Matt Smith, but he and Stoffer have proven to be a formidable duo at the perfect time.
“We came back and did really well in Dallas, and that was big,” Savoie said. “Mentally and physically, I feel great. I feel like I’ve been blessed in so many ways. Andrew is still far ahead of us, but we still have a chance to win. Karen is a great rider and we have some great people behind us. It’s been a great combination. Karen is very intelligent and very family-oriented and it all just came together really well. We’re just going to keep working on what we have.”
Torrence clinched his first Top Fuel world title a year ago in Vegas en route to the victory, but it will be a different story in that regard this year. Torrence is currently locked in a tight points battle with the likes of Doug Kalitta, 2017 world champ Brittany Force and his father, Billy.
Todd won in Las Vegas en route to his first Funny Car world title, but everyone is chasing points leader Robert Hight. He’s trying to claim a third world championship against the likes of John Force, Jack Beckman and Dallas winner Matt Hagan.
Butner is the reigning event winner in Pro Stock and he’ll need a win to stay in the title hunt. The former world champ is 74 points behind leader Erica Enders, who jumped into the lead with her St. Louis win. But the likes of Matt Hartford, Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Jason Line remain close.
The Dodge NHRA Nationals Presented by Pennzoil also features thrilling competition in the season-finale of the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service, as well as the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport. Stevie “Fast” Jackson has clinched his first world championship in the NHRA Pro Mod class, while Sidnei Frigo is the defending winner in the category.
After nitro qualifying, watch spectacular jet cars, including Segal Motorsports’ Shelly Segal running “FireStarter,” Tim Smith running “American Freedom Fighter,” Tony Franco driving the Lucas Oil Terminal Velocity and Lucas Oil Racing TV Missile driven by Tom Bogner. Known for exciting pre-run flame shows and after burner pops, jet cars are thrust driven vehicles propelled by jet engines.
NHRA fans can take part in the Mello Yello Walking Tour to see the cars and teams hard at work in the pits. Fans can also attend Pro Stock School and Nitro School to learn how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will also host a Mello Yello autograph session and allow fans to meet their favorite drivers as well as the Sealmaster Track Walk hosted by NHRA announcer Joe Castello. Another can’t-miss experience is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes. NHRA fans are invited to congratulate the winners of the event as they celebrate their victories.
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 12:45 and 3:15 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 1, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Nov. 2, at 12:45 and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 3.
To purchase general admission or reserved seats, call 800-644-4444. Tickets also are available online at www.lvms.com/tickets/nhra/. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.