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

(Photo courtesy NHRA)
1 Comment

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 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

IndyCar results, points after Detroit Grand Prix


DETROIT — Alex Palou topped the results of an NTT IndyCar Series race for the second time this season, extending his championship points lead with his victory in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver, who also won the GMR Grand Prix (and the Indy 500 pole position) last month, holds a 51-point lead over teammate Marcus Ericsson (ninth at Detroit) through seven of 17 races this season.

Ganassi, which placed all four of its drivers in the top 10 at Detroit, has three of the top four in the championship standings with Scott Dixon ranked fourth after a fourth at Detroit.

FLAVOR FLAV POWERS UP: Iconic rapper hangs out with Team Penske

Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden is third in the standings after taking a 10th at Detroit. Pato O’Ward slipped to fifth in the points after crashing and finishing 26th

Here are the IndyCar results and points standings after the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix:


Click here for the official box score from the 100-lap race on a nine-turn, 1.645-mile street course in downtown Detroit.

Lap leader summary

Full lap chart

Best section times

Full section data

Event summary

Pit stop summary

Here is the finishing order in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix with starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (1) Alex Palou, Honda, 100, Running
2. (7) Will Power, Chevrolet, 100, Running
3. (9) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 100, Running
4. (4) Scott Dixon, Honda, 100, Running
5. (13) Alexander Rossi, Chevrolet, 100, Running
6. (12) Kyle Kirkwood, Honda, 100, Running
7. (2) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 100, Running
8. (11) Marcus Armstrong, Honda, 100, Running
9. (6) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 100, Running
10. (5) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 100, Running
11. (24) Colton Herta, Honda, 100, Running
12. (17) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 100, Running
13. (8) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 100, Running
14. (20) Agustin Canapino, Chevrolet, 100, Running
15. (15) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 100, Running
16. (18) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 100, Running
17. (25) Jack Harvey, Honda, 100, Running
18. (14) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 100, Running
19. (23) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 100, Running
20. (19) Benjamin Pedersen, Chevrolet, 97, Running
21. (22) Santino Ferrucci, Chevrolet, 97, Running
22. (26) Sting Ray Robb, Honda, 97, Running
23. (21) David Malukas, Honda, 85, Contact
24. (3) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 80, Contact
25. (27) Graham Rahal, Honda, 50, Contact
26. (10) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 41, Contact
27. (16) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 1, Contact

Winner’s average speed: 80.922 mph; Time of Race: 02:01:58.1171; Margin of victory: 1.1843 seconds; Cautions: 7 for 32 laps; Lead changes: 10 among seven drivers. Lap Leaders: Palou 1-28; Power 29-33; O’Ward 34; Palou 35-55; Power 56-64; Palou 65; Rossi 66; Newgarden 67-68; Kirkwood 69; Ericsson 70-76; Palou 77-100.


Click here for the points tally in the race.

Here are the points standings after the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix:



Engine manufacturers

Pit stop performance

Top 10 in points: Palou 273, Ericsson 222, Newgarden 203, Dixon 194, O’Ward 191, Rossi 176, McLaughlin 175, Power 172, Herta 149, Rosenqvist 148.

Rest of the standings: Grosjean 145, Kirkwood 142, Lundgaard 136, Ilott 116, VeeKay 108, Ferrucci 105, Armstrong 101, Rahal 99, Malukas 91, Daly 88, DeFrancesco 81, Castroneves 80, Harvey 78, Canapino 77, Pagenaud 72, Pedersen 61, Robb 55, Takuma Sato 37, Ed Carpenter 27, Ryan Hunter-Reay 20, Tony Kanaan 18, Marco Andretti 13, RC Enerson 5, Katherine Legge 5.

Next race: IndyCar will head to Road America for the Sonsio Grand Prix, which will take place June 18 with coverage starting at 1 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock.