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Sports Weekend | MOTOR RACING

Savoie Is Winningest, With a Caveat

July 27, 2001|SHAV GLICK

Anyone who has been around drag racing for more than a day or two knows it is impossible to equate driving a top fuel dragster with riding a pro stock motorcycle.

The point in question involves Shirley Muldowney, a three-time National Hot Rod Assn. champion of the 6,000-horsepower top fuelers, and Angelle Savoie, defending champion in NHRA's 600-horsepower two-wheeler class.

When Savoie, a 5-foot-1, 105-pound registered nurse from New Orleans, defeated Antron Brown in the pro bike final round Sunday in Denver, it was her 19th career win--one more than Muldowney--making her the winningest female racer in NHRA history.

Only six women have won an NHRA event. The others are Lori Johns (4), Shelly Anderson (4), Lucille Lee (1) and Cristen Powell (1), all in top fuel.

As Savoie was nearing her mark, Muldowney shot off an e-mail to Team Winston, Savoie's sponsor, saying that there shouldn't be any crowing until the cyclist won a third championship, as the former Cha Cha did in 1982.

Savoie, 30, although oozing confidence in her ability to beat the guys, as Shirley did, is not the type to crow. Well, maybe a little.

Her comments regarding the differences in driving a dragster and steering a bike could be taken as a mild put-down to Muldowney:

"I have a whole different challenge than she had," said Savoie after winning at Pomona on July 7, the day she equaled Muldowney's record. "There's a lot more driver input in racing these motorcycles. There's more tuner input into a top fuel dragster."

Then she added: "She is a three-time champion and regardless of how many wins I have, I haven't reached her level yet."

Riding a motorcycle has been a major part of Savoie's life since she was 6 and started taking long rides with her family in the Louisiana countryside.

"When I first started racing, none of the little kids paid any attention to the fact that I was a girl. I was just one of the gang.

"Later on, though, when I started racing drag bikes in 1995 and I would push my bike up to the line, they all thought I was some cute little girl pushing her boyfriend's bike. You should have seen the look on some guy's face when I put on a helmet and climbed on myself."

And you should have seen the look after she dusted them off.

George Bryce, a former racer and owner of the Suzukis she rides, calls Savoie "the most determined person I have ever met."

Her pro bike statistics are dominating. She has won 14 of her last 37 national events, has appeared in 20 final rounds and owns a 96-23 (.807) elimination-round record during that span. After 10 events in the 14-race schedule, Savoie leads second-place Brown by 72 points and third-place Matt Hines by 144.

June 2, at Joliet, Ill., she went a quarter-mile, from a standing start, in 7.103 seconds, equaling the fastest pass in history. Her top speed is 188.86 mph.

"I know people think I'm a little nuts to ride a bike that fast, but I have a strong passion for it. There's no feeling like it. I can have a fight with my husband, be battling the flu and sneezing all the time, but when I put my helmet on, I forget everything but getting down that strip as fast as I can go."

Would Savoie like to try driving a top fuel or funny car some day?

"No way," she said. "They're crazier than I am. They're sitting in a box. No way I'd ever do that."

The NHRA has announced its 2002 schedule and there will be no summer night race at Pomona.

This year's July event was held to celebrate the Glendora-based organization's 50th anniversary and speculation was that if it were successful, it might become an annual event.

Although there was an enthusiastic turnout, NHRA officials felt that two events at Pomona--the season-opening Winternationals and the season-closing Auto Club Finals--and two in Las Vegas would be enough for Southland fans.

The Pomona dates are Jan. 31-Feb. 2 and Nov. 7-10.

It was also announced that the pro stock truck class, which always seemed to be an intrusion into the top fuel and funny car time allotment, will be dropped. The trucks will now compete in Federal Mogul competition eliminator.

There was no announcement, however, on who will replace Winston as series sponsor next year.

Under regulation of tobacco advertising, R.J. Reynolds had to surrender title sponsorship to either the NHRA or NASCAR's Winston Cup series. It chose NASCAR.

On the Water

It must be summer because it seems as if there are more events on the water than on land.

On Saturday, the 53rd Catalina Ski Race will take off from Long Beach Harbor--between Grissom and White islands--and race to Catalina and back. The fastest skiers will complete the 62-mile course in less than an hour.

Defending champion Todd Haig set a course record of 52 minutes 3 seconds last year. The Dick Simon Marine-presented event, hosted by the Long Beach Boat & Ski Club, is the world's largest and most difficult ocean water ski race.

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