(Photos courtesy Auto Imagery and NHRA)

NHRA: Alligator ‘farmer’ Jerry Savoie chompin’ at bit for Pro Stock Motorcycle title

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Antron Brown has already locked up the NHRA Top Fuel championship. Ron Capps has a big lead for the Funny Car title heading into next week’s season finale at Pomona, California.

And it looks like it’ll be a battle between teammates Jason Line and Greg Anderson – separated by just 19 points – for the Pro Stock crown.

But no major professional drag racing class has as tight of a championship battle heading to Pomona as Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Defending champion and five-time overall champ Andrew Hines is tied with teammate and former champ Eddie Krawiec.

Jerry Savoie
Jerry Savoie

But in what could be one of the greatest David vs. Goliath – or would it be David vs. Goliath 1 and Goliath 2 – stories ever in NHRA history, Jerry Savoie is poised to pull one of the biggest championship upsets ever.

 

Savoie is just three points behind Hines and Krawiec. But there’s a much, MUCH bigger story than just that:

* To start off with, Savoie unquestionably has the most unique day job of any pro racer in the NHRA: He’s an alligator “farmer,” raising somewhere in the range of 60,000 gators in his massive “farm.”

* As unique as his day job is, equally so is the town that Savoie lives in: Cut Off, Louisiana, deep in Cajun country, about 65 miles southwest of New Orleans.

* Having drag raced motorcycles when he was a teen and into his early 20s, Savoie abruptly stepped away from the two-wheelers to start his business and raise a family. He finally returned to racing 30 years later – yes, you read that right, 30 YEARS LATER – at the age of 52 in 2011. With his family raised and his business flourishing, Savoie decided it was his turn for some “me time.” He always felt he left something on the table when he stopped racing, so he went to George Bryce’s Motorcycle Drag Racing School, showed strong promise and, as Savoie likes to say, “the rest is history.”

Savoie in the early days of his racing career more than 20 years ago. (Photo courtesy JerrySavoie.com)
Savoie in the early days of his racing career more than 20 years ago. (Photo courtesy JerrySavoie.com)

* Now, at the age of 57, one of the oldest competitors in the PSM ranks, Savoie is on the verge of achieving the greatest accomplishment any driver can reach: the championship. Sure, Hines and Krawiec will be hard to beat, but if they each cancel out each other at Pomona during elimination rounds, Savoie could be Jerry on the spot to win it all next weekend at Pomona.

Savoie has been on a tear of late, winning three races this season (on top of three last season, highlighted by the prestigious U.S. Nationals), including two of the first five races of the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs. He won at St. Louis and again this past weekend at Las Vegas (getting a big assist when Hines uncharacteristically fouled at the starting line in the final round matchup). He also finished runner-up at Dallas.

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Now, Savoie and his White Alligator Racing Suzuki are ready to bite into the PSM championship. He came close last season, finishing third, 58 points behind Hines. But 2016 could very well end with the gator farmer’s nom-de-plume on the championship trophy.

“We’re excited and we’re fortunate to be in this position,” Savoie said. “I have to give a lot of the credit to the crew and (crew chief) Tim (Kulungian). I know I’ve got a great crew and one fast motorcycle.”

Savoie is known for his patient, methodical manner on his bike. He doesn’t get overly excited and takes things as they come.

But that doesn’t mean he’s a pushover. His reflexes and competitive spirit are as sharp as the teeth in some of the alligators he “grows” back home. And now that he has the opportunity in front of him, he’s ready to take a chomp out of the competition and grab that championship trophy.

“For me, I just love the heads-up competition and I love to get out there and compete against my friends,” Savoie said. “To do something you dream of doing and to accomplish that dream, that’s a big goal on my life. Everything else here is just icing on the cake. There’s a lot of really good riders and some really fast motorcycles, and you need to have a great team to get through this field. You can’t look past anybody.

 

“If we meet up with Andrew and Eddie (on the way to the championship), I have to do my job. I feel pretty confident about what we can do. I have no doubts in my bike and my team.”

And if he does win the championship, not only can Savoie once again utter “the rest is history,” there’s one other thing that he would love to say in victory lane to all the riders he beat en route to the championship:

“See ‘ya later, alligator.”

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Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”