Jerry Savoie: How a Louisiana alligator farmer took a big bite out of the NHRA’s biggest race

(Photo courtesy NHRA)
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When Jerry Savoie left the starting line in Monday’s final round of Pro Stock Motorcycle competition in the NHRA U.S. Nationals, it would not be surprising if he said, “See you later, alligator.”

The 56-year-old Savoie knows a few things about gators – the real kind – away from the racetrack.

He’s one of the biggest and most prolific gator farmers in the business, deep in Cajun country in Cut Off, Louisiana. While other farmers tend to herds of cows or raise chickens, Savoie’s “flock” numbers around 60,000 live, chompin’ gators.

Dealing with gators on a daily basis has helped keep Savoie on his toes and develop such quick reflexes that when the “go” light turns green on a dragstrip, he and his motorcycle reach speeds approaching 200 mph in about seven seconds.

Dealing with alligators also keeps Savoie tough: a gator bit him about three weeks ago, but Savoie shook it off. Nothing was going to keep him from his date with destiny at the U.S. Nationals in Brownsburg, Indiana, just outside Indianapolis.

Savoie’s opponent in Monday’s final round, pole-sitter Chip Ellis, fouled when he red-lighted, giving Savoie an easy 7.011 seconds, 193.02 mph winning run.

It was Savoie’s third career win on two wheels (plus five career runner-up finishes). His first national event win came last year at St. Louis, and he’s won two races this season aboard his aptly named White Alligator Racing Suzuki: Englishtown (N.J.) and Indy.

Maybe there’s something to the phrase, “the third time is the charm,” as Savoie finally earned the prestigious U.S. Nationals win in his third final round in the NHRA’s biggest race of the year. He finished runner-up in both 2011 and 2014.

“It’s a great day,” the soft-spoken Savoie said. “I think God for being here. The last round wasn’t the way we wanted to win (with Ellis’ red-light), but we held our composure and had a good day. We were blessed.”

When asked by NBCSports.com how he was feeling after the biggest win of his career, Savoie offered a very emotional back story.

He typically awakes each morning between 1:30 and 5 am before tending to his crop of gators. A week before his win in Indianapolis, he had just sent an early morning text to fellow motorcycle team owner and longtime friend Junior Pippin (owns Ellis’ bike), who is battling cancer.

“I sent him a text telling him it’s four o’clock in the morning and I’m thinking about you and praying for you,” Savoie said. “It makes you think, life is really short. We’re all here and exist in just a moment, and before you know it, that moment might be gone.”

Savoie’s wife then joined him at the kitchen table – and his story continued.

“My wife and I were having coffee around 4:30, 5 in the morning,” Savoie said, choking up. “I said, ‘Vonnie, if I die today, don’t feel sorry for me. I’ve accomplished everything in my life I’ve ever wanted to, financially, family, racing was big on my bucket list, fly my own plane, I’ve done everything.

“From here on out, whatever God brings, whatever God gives me, it can happen. Here we are at the U.S. Nationals, and I told everybody all week that we wanted it bad, we wanted it real bad. … It’s just unbelievable.”

Savoie was rather soft-spoken in his post-race press conference, but one look at his rough hewn hands tell the story of a man who has worked hard all his life.

He dabbled in drag racing back as a young man, but the responsibilities of a family and his growing business kept Savoie out of a motorcycle saddle for more than three decades.

Yet even though he stayed off a bike for that long, Savoie nonetheless still kept up with the sport, intently following the careers of fellow Louisianan Angelle Sampey, the winningest female motorcycle racer in NHRA history (41 wins), and ex-motorcycle racer turned Top Fuel champ Antron Brown.

Now he’s enjoying the rewards of all his hard work, both on and off a two-wheeler. What’s more, now that he’s won Indy, next on Savoie’s bucket list is potentially winning the PSM championship this season.

“All my life, I’ve dreamed,” Savoie said. “I’ve watched Angelle, Antron and all these guys. “I took 33 years off, never sat on a motorcycle during that time. Then I came out here professionally to win one race, and now I’ve won three races.

“To win the big daddy of them all, man, I am humbled, so humbled.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Anaheim 2: Ken Roczen is consistency’s king

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Strength is found not only in outright wins, but also through consistency, which contributed to the rise of Ken Roczen in the SuperMotocross Rankings after Anaheim 2.

Roczen ended the 2022 Supercross season with the knowledge that he urgently needed change, so he declared himself a free agent, signed with Suzuki during the offseason and set upon 2023 with renewed determination. It worked. Roczen is one of three riders in the 450 class with a sweep of the top five and that consistency has given him the lead in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings.

SuperMotocross Rankings Anaheim 2
Like Babe Ruth pointing to the outfield wall, Ken Roczen pointed his way to the Power Rankings lead. – Feld Motor Sports

This formula rewards riders who compete at the front of the pack at the end of the Mains, in their heats, or in last week’s case, the three motos that make up the Triple Crown. Roczen has improved his overall performance each week with a fifth in Anaheim 1, a fourth in San Diego and his first podium of 2023 in Anaheim 2. Can he keep the trend alive with a first- or second-place finish in Houston?

A fall is all it takes sometimes. Last week, Eli Tomac tumbled hard when he pushed wide on the exit of a turn and jumped on top of a Tuff Blox. He remounted after that incident in Race 3 of the Triple Crown, but could only manage a 13th-place result in the moto. It could have been much worse and resulted in an injury, but coupled with a sixth in the overall standings at Anaheim 2, it pushed him down a spot in the SuperMotocross Ranking.

Along with Roczen (and Chase Sexton), Cooper Webb swept the top five in Supercross’ first three rounds. He is knocking on the door of a win and it won’t take long for him to ascend to the top of the box. Webb has two victories in Houston and each of them came during a championship season.

If there is a more determined rider than Jason Anderson, get out of his way. His path to the front of the pack is not always lined with primroses since he often has to pass multiple riders with whom he has had a run-in during his path, but the SuperMotocross Power Rankings are concerned only with raw results – not intention – and Anaheim 2 was Anderson’s best race of the season. He earned his first top-five and first podium with a second-place finish that was aided by a moto win.

MORE: Triple Crown format shakes up A2’s finishing order

Dylan Ferrandis has also been a model of consistency. Last week his Triple Crown effort of 4-6-5 gave him an overall finish of fifth. That came on the heels of a fourth-place result in the season opener and a sixth in San Diego. With no result worse than sixth this season, the numbers add up quite well.

Sexton’s position just outside the top five this week is entirely attributable to his last-place result in the San Diego heat. The SuperMotocross Rankings looks at the past 45 days, so that will affect him for a while, but if he continues to ride like he did in Anaheim 2, he’s going to climb quickly despite that albatross around his neck.

450 Rankings

This
Week
Driver Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
1. Ken Roczen 84.63 3 2
2. Eli Tomac
[2 Main; 2 Heat wins]
83.25 1 -1
3. Cooper Webb 82.25 2 -1
4. Jason Anderson
[1 Heat win]
80.63 5 1
5. Dylan Ferrandis 78.75 4 -1
6. Chase Sexton
[1 Main; 3 Heat wins]
77.75 9 3
7. Justin Barcia 67.88 6 -1
8. Aaron Plessinger 67.63 8 0
9. Adam Cianciarulo 67.25 7 -2
10. Joey Savatgy 61.00 11 1
10. Marvin Musquin 61.00 12 2
12. Malcolm Stewart
[1 Heat win]
58.75 13 1
13. Christian Craig 56.13 14 1
14. Colt Nichols 56.00 10 -4
15. Dean Wilson 47.50 15 0
16. Tristan Lane 41.00 18 2
17. Grant Harlan 40.67 19 2
18. Justin Hill 40.57 16 -2
19. Logan Karnow 36.50 20 1
20. Alex Ray 36.00 21 1

Supercross Points


The 250 West riders get a couple of weeks off before heading to Oakland for the rescheduled Round 2 and several of them need the rest. Tough weeks for Cameron McAdoo and RJ Hampshire forced them to lose ground in the SuperMotocross points to Jett Lawrence at a time that could prove to play mental games.

Lawrence also had his share of issues at Anaheim 2, but overcame early falls in the first two motos and finished no worse than sixth. Considering that he dropped to the tail of the field in Race 2, that was a remarkable accomplishment and he entered the final race with a shot at the overall win. He narrowly missed that mark, but still has not finished worse than second in three rounds. His lead in the SuperMotocross Power Rankings is safe.

Cameron McAdoo rode with injury in all three Triple Crown motos, so his sixth-place finish was a moral victory. Cameron McAdoo, Instagram

McAdoo said it best in an Instagram post this week: “Woke up feeling grateful that I’m relatively healthy after my big mistake during qualifying yesterday. We made the decision that it would be safe for me to race so I did everything I possibly could to get through the night ending up [sixth overall]. We will work on getting healed up in these few weeks off to come back strong for Oakland!”

With results of 8-7-5 in the Triple Crown and his combined sixth-place result, McAdoo lost significant ground to Lawrence in both the points’ standings and our Power formula. The Oakland race is going to be critical if he wants to stay in the championship hunt because the series will have a long break before returning in Seattle for Round 11. No one wants to sit with negative feelings for that long.

Mitchell Oldenburg has quietly amassed some impressive numbers. His name has not been called a lot during broadcasts, but he has not finished worse than seventh in any of the first three rounds. Themes develop during a season and weekend – and for the moment, this one revolves around reliability. Oldenburg finished 5-4-6 in Anaheim 2 which means he has consistently amassed SuperMotocross Power Rankings points.

Stilez Robertson won his first race of the season in Moto 2 of the Triple Crown. Coupled with a third-place finish in the final race, he leapfrogged Hampshire and Enzo Lopes, both of whom had disappointing outings. He stands fifth in the points’ standing mostly due to a ninth-place finish in the season opener, but each race has been progressively better and that is a good sign.

Sometimes, all it takes is a taste of success. Prior to Anaheim 2, Levi Kitchen’s best Supercross finish was a seventh earned in this year’s season opener. He scored a ninth at Minneapolis last year, but that was not enough to put him on the radar. This early in the season, one strong run can sway the SuperMotocross Power Ranking significantly, but Robertson has earned his way into the top five. More importantly, he’s going to be the object of interest when the West series returns to Oakland.

Next week the 250 East riders mount up in Houston, Texas before they head to Tampa, Florida. The Power Rankings will combine the two divisions, so the riders below are likely to shift dramatically.

250 Rankings

This
Week
Driver Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
1. Jett Lawrence – W
[2 Main; 2 Heat wins]
89.13 1 0
2. Cameron McAdoo – W
[1 Heat Win]
77.63 3 1
3. Mitchell Oldenburg – W 77.00 5 2
4. Stilez Robertson – W
[1 Heat win]
76.75 6 2
5. Levi Kitchen – W
[1 Main win]
73.75 12 7
6. RJ Hampshire – W
[3 Heat wins]
70.00 2 -4
7. Max Vohland – W 69.29 8 1
8. Derek Kelley – W 63.75 10 2
9. Enzo Lopes – W 63.25 4 -5
10. Pierce Brown – W 61.29 13 3
11. Phil Nicoletti – W 59.25 7 -4
12. Dylan Walsh – W 56.00 9 -3
13. Cole Thompson – W 51.00 11 -2
14. Robbie Wageman – W 50.75 15 1
15. Anthony Rodriguez – W 49.00 14 -1
16. Ty Masterpool – W 47.50 16 0
17. Kaeden Amerine – W 47.50 16 -1
18. Dominique Thury – W 47.00 18 0
19. Austin Forkner – W 43.00 20 1
20. Derek Drake – W 42.33 21 1

* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner and 90 points for each Heat and Triple Crown win, (Triple Crown wins are included with heat wins below the rider’s name). The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days.

POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 2 AT SAN DIEGO: Ken Roczen moves up, Chase Sexton falls
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 1 AT ANAHEIM: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence gain an early advantage