Photos courtesy NHRA

See ‘ya later, alligator: Tonglet ready to chomp down on 2nd NHRA championship

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When your boss is a former world champion – and also owner of one of the largest alligator “farms” in the world – it gives you a lot of motivation to do well.

Such is the case with NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle rider LE Tonglet. A former NHRA PSM champ himself (2010) when he was only 20 years old, the now 28-year-old Metairie, Louisiana native is looking for his second championship this season.

Tonglet jumped to the top of the PSM point standings after winning this past Sunday’s AAA FallNationals in Ennis, Texas. It was Tonglet’s fourth win of the season on his Nitro Fish Racing Suzuki, his 10th triumph in the last two seasons and 20th win of his two-wheeled career.

LE Tonglet

Three races remain in the six-race NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoffs, beginning with this weekend’s NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, North Carolina (a suburb of Charlotte).

Tonglet races for 2016 PSM champ Jerry Savoie, who rides herd over nearly 60,000 ‘gators in the Louisiana bayou. It’s not surprising, given Savoie’s day job, that his own team is known as White Alligator Racing.

It’s lucky Savoie is a good sport. He didn’t feed Tonglet to the ‘gators after he lost to Tonglet in the final round at Texas.

“It was a lot of fun in the pits (as he and Savoie prepared for their final round matchup), but once we came up (to the starting line), I didn’t look at him and he didn’t look at me,” Tonglet said. “It was all business.

“We’re leading the points and we’re not looking back now. Jerry made a big move (upward in the standings; he’s currently fifth, 109 points behind Tonglet) and we’re going to have two bikes competing for this championship down to the wire.”

Together, Tonglet and Savoie appear to be peaking at the right time and are proving to be as formidable a 1-2 punch in the PSM ranks as multi-champions and teammates Andrew Hines and 2017 champ Eddie Krawiec.

And once the 2018 PSM championship is said and done, the winner will likely come from those four names or series veteran Matt Smith.

With his Texas win, Tonglet comes into Charlotte this weekend with a 47-point lead in the standings over Krawiec and holds a 48-point edge over Smith.

“We just have to stay calm and take it one round at a time,” Tonglet said in an NHRA media release. “The key is to go rounds and when we show up to a race, I just want to get the semifinals.

“Whatever happens after that is just a bonus, kind of. If you keep going to the semis, you’re going to have a good shot come (the season finale, Nov. 8-11, at Pomona, California). We just have to stay calm and focused, and not make any mistakes.”

NOTES: Qualifying begins Friday with rounds at 2:45 pm ET and 5:15 pm ET, with two additional rounds of qualifying on Saturday at 12:45 pm ET and 3:15 pm ET. Final eliminations are Sunday, starting at 12 Noon ET.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Cooper Webb leaps from obscurity to Supercross lead

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Cooper Webb could not even locate the radar tower before the 2019 season began – let alone expect to see his number dead center in the radar screen.

His ascent to 450 competition came with little fanfare. Finishing 13th in Supercross in 2017 and then eighth in Motocross, Webb did not turn many heads as a rookie. Last year was more of the same.

Through Round 7 at Arlington, Webb failed to record a single top five. That elusive result would come the following week at Tampa with a fourth-place finish. Two weeks later, he stood on the podium at Daytona for the only the second time in his Supercross 450s career. But at season’s end, Webb was only ninth in the standings in both Supercross and Motocross.

No one expected much from him when Anaheim rolled around this year.

Webb started the season much the same as he ended 2018. A fifth-place finish in Anaheim I in muddy and equalizing conditions was followed by a modest 10th at Glendale, but the rider from North Carolina believed in himself.

In professional racing, nothing is more difficult than winning the first race. Webb’s first taste of victory came in Heat 1 of the Triple Crown at Anaheim II. Everyone remained skeptical – it was only one heat race after all. The skepticism turned to interest when he won Heat 2. Then Webb finished third in Heat 3 to take the overall victory. It was his first win in the 450 class.

That was all it took to unleash his potential. Webb won the following week in Oakland and then again two weeks later in Minneapolis.

The Supercross riders left Minnesota and headed straight down Interstate 35 to Arlington with four of them separated by two points. All eyes were focused on Ken Roczen, Eli Tomac, Marvin Musquin – and, oh yeah Webb who sat in second.

Someone was likely to stumble in Arlington and the odds on favorite to do so was Webb. That seemed to be confirmed once the feature started. While the three more experienced riders led by Tomac scooted away from the field, Webb was mired outside the top five for the first six lap.

It was Tomac who tripped and fell, however. Webb passed the stricken rider and surged to fifth on Lap 7. He was in fourth by Lap 10 and third on Lap 16.  As Webb and teammate Musquin battled for the second, they slowly reeled in the leader Roczen. Once Webb broke free on the conflict with the runner-up position firmly his, he could see the red plate on Roczen’s Honda like a cape being waved in front of a bull.

Webb charged through the final six laps getting closer and closer until he edged Roczen for the closest finish in Supercross history. It was Webb’s fourth victory of the season, coming only four weeks after he scored his first career win.

Relive the final laps in the video posted above.

As incredible as Webb’s rise to the points lead is, it has been done before.

Last year Jason Anderson seemingly came out of nowhere to lead the standings after Round 2. Anderson held the advantage for the remainder of the year, while Webb has been part of a game of hot potato in which no one seems to want to don the red plate for more than a week.

The pressure continues to mount. Webb now has a two-point advantage over Roczen, who is the only rider to sweep the top five this season.

Webb’s advantage over third is a mere four points, while Musquin has a current five-race streak of podium finishes to his credit.

Tomac’s trouble in Texas serves as a cautionary tale that a single loss of focus can be devastating and Webb still lacks the seat time of his three principal rivals, but last week’s incredible come-from-behind victory is showing that Webb is riding above experience level.

Follow the complete Supercross and Motocross seasons on NBC Sports, Gold.