NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle
Jerry Savoie/White Alligator Racing team report
event: NHRA Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals
when: September 2-5, 2016
where: Lucas Oil Raceway, Brownsburg, Indiana, USA
Savoie Defending U.S. Nats Title From #2
story , video and photos by Tim Hailey
Defending U.S. Nationals Pro Stock Motorcycle winner Jerry Savoie in the Lucas Oil Raceway staging lanes
Defending NHRA Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals Pro Stock Motorcycle winner Jerry Savoie will start eliminations from second on the ladder.
Savoie and his White Alligator Racing (WAR) TL1000 bodied Suzuki led qualifying on Friday and Saturday, but gave up the top spot to Louisiana neighbor Angelle Sampey on Sunday.
After two days of consistent qualifying leadership, WAR crew chief/tuner Tim Kulungian took the opportunity on Sunday to test some warm weather combinations for expected hotter and more humid racing conditions on Monday—exactly what the WAR team loves.
Jerry Savoie and the WAR Suzuki TL1000 tote the wheel in the final qualifying round at the U.S. Nationals
“Hot and smudgy,” is how Savoie describes his team’s preferred conditions, and with an 87-degree and 65% humidity forecast, that’s what he’ll get.
“We seem to excel in hot, humid conditions,” Alabaman Kulungian said about the Louisiana based team.
Savoie starts eliminations with lane choice against 15th qualifier Scotty Pollacheck.
“Last year’s win was pretty amazing,” said Savoie. “And if we can duplicate that, I’d be pretty excited.”
EARLIER: Savoie Still on Top at U.S. Nationals
Jerry Savoie and the WAR Suzuki TL1000 tote the wheel in Q3 at the U.S. Nationals
Despite spinning in leaked fuel at the starting line in the third qualifying session, Jerry Savoie and the White Alligator Racing (WAR) Pro Stock Motorcycle team retained their qualifying lead for the NHRA Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.
With WAR crew chief/tuner Tim Kulungian turning the knobs, Savoie’s TL1000 bodied Suzuki improved by .007 of a second to a 6.841 in Saturday’s afternoon session.
Then after the spin at the hit in his own fuel leak, Savoie still managed to run a 6.89 with a 1.07 60 foot time after wrestling control of his motorcycle in Q3.
Even though they don’t feel like they’ve made a perfect run yet this weekend, the WAR team remains perfectly at the top of the time sheets in the type of relatively cool weather not favored by the Louisiana based team.
And with temperatures expected to increase all the way up through the end of Monday’s eliminations, the PSM field better watch out for the bite of alligator farmer and defending U.S. Nationals winner Savoie.
Jerry Savoie smiles at the crowd as he continues to lead Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying at Indianapolis
“This is the time of year when we really shine, and usually it’s because of the heat,” said Savoie.
When asked what temperature he would you like to see for Monday’s eliminations, Savoie replied “About 104 degrees and 89% humidity—that would be perfect for us.
“We’re pretty excited. I’m pretty level, I don’t really get excited, but we’re looking forward to the next couple of days. Last year was pretty amazing, and if we can duplicate that, I’d be pretty excited.”
Savoie and the WAR team still have two more rounds of qualifying to go on Sunday, followed by eliminations on Monday.
After Saturday’s qualifying, the WAR trailer was the site of a fried alligator buffet, along with crawfish etouffe and red beans ‘n rice. Jerry’s sister Hope served up heaping helpings of perfectly breaded, seasoned, and fried alligator meat, explaining all the while how the jowls of the reptile were best for eating and had to be painstakingly stripped of fatty tissue.
The rest of the PSM field might feel similarly slaughtered as they chase the wildly colored WAR Suzuki down Lucas Oil’s quarter mile.
EARLIER: Jerry Savoie Leads Indy PSM Qualifying
Jerry Savoie and Tim Kulungian are all smiles as they push back after leading round one of Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying at Indianapolis
Jerry Savoie and the White Alligator Racing (WAR) Pro Stock Motorcycle team said before qualifying for the NHRA Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals that they would “Swing for the fence” and try to “Knock one out of the park on the first try.” And they did just that, topping the timesheets with a 6.84 at 195 mph in Friday night’s unseasonably cool, headwind-affected session—the first of five this weekend.
“To come out of the box running like we did is a positive thing because you’re not struggling to try and find the power,” said Savoie.“But it really wasn’t that great of a run. We figured we had an .82 or .83 out there, but when I dumped the clutch it bogged pretty bad off the line. Right after that my brain started kicking in and said ‘This is not gonna be good.’
“Then when I hit fourth gear it really ripped pretty hard. If you look at our numbers from the hit to the eighth mile, it was pretty soft. Even though we went to the top of the sheet, it still wasn’t a blistering run.”
And while Savoie felt he left too much on the table, the PSM field as a whole left even more. What could have been a qualifying session that set the field for the rest of the weekend instead left open plenty of room for competition from round to round.
“I think a lot of them just missed it a little bit,” Savoie said about tune-ups for the field as a whole. “I heard about ten of them say ‘We just screwed up.’ But George (Bryce) did a good job with Cory Reed, he went an .87. And Chip (Ellis) ran an .88. The Harleys went into the .80s. So they had a few of them out there that did pretty good.
Jerry Savoie and the WAR Suzuki TL1000 tote the wheel on their way to number one at the U.S. Nationals
“I think an .81 is out there, but who knows what tomorrow brings—maybe a .79 or .78. There’s some fast scooters here man, you’ve got some real fast motorcycles in this field. You’ve gotta stay in the game and try and do your best.
“But it’s a good start to the weekend. We got back to the pit and my sister said ‘You’re not smiling?’ I said ‘You smile on Sunday night when you stay number one.’ Tonight’s nothing to smile about, but we did good.”
WAR crew chief/tuner Tim Kulungian has set himself apart as a brainiac amongst a field of exceptionally smart tuners, and Friday’s result showed why. “Tim is a guru, and we’ve got two other crew members—Jeremy and Steve—who do a great job, and every weekend we try to do the same thing.
“As a racer, there’s always room for improvement, and we’re gonna go back to the trailer, Tim’s gonna work tonight. He’s already noticed some things that we can do better.
“We’ve got a fast motorcycle, I think everybody knows that. And we’ve got a good track record here—three finals in four races. If in our fifth race we could go to the fourth round—that would be pretty awesome.
“A lot of people just dream of qualifying at the US Nationals. So to win (his second straight) would be pretty awesome.”
Savoie and the WAR team have two days and four more rounds to fend off the PSM field and defend their top spot before Monday’s eliminations of the U.S. Nationals.
EARLIER: Defending US Nats Winner Savoie is Golden at Indy
Jerry Savoie and the White Alligator Racing in the Indy winners circle in 2015
The salient fact: Jerry Savoie and the White Alligator Racing (WAR) Pro Stock Motorcycle team have been to the NHRA Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals finals three times in four appearances, and are the defending champions after scoring this most prized win last year. “Indy’s kind of a good luck charm for WAR racing,” admitted Savoie.
Savvy readers will note that Savoie’s been racing with the NHRA for five years, but even savvier fans will remember that Savoie missed Indy in 2012 when his Louisiana alligator farm was hit by Hurricane Isaac.
“I’m fortunate to be Jerry’s crew chief here, because he seems to have a horseshoe at Indy that hangs right side up all the time,” said WAR crew chief/tuner Tim Kulungian. “This race is a really special race to most people that respect and know the sport, and then it’s also a special race for us and our team.”
Savoie's badass black 'Busa in the 2011 Indy final against Hector Arana Jr. Note vintage "eatmyink" logotype
The WAR team is usually just hitting their stride this time of year, peaking for NHRA’s Countdown to One championship race. But this season they’ve been to three finals already, including the last one at Brainerd.
“I think this is a real different year for us,” continued Kulungian. “Every year in the off season we make changes to different parts of our program that we really think are going to help us excel the next year.
“Then we usually struggle until Englishtown because of the changes we’ve made in the offseason. This year we picked up a little quicker in Atlanta. We’ve been really qualifying well, which tells me we have a fast program.”
Jerry Savoie and the WAR Suzuki TL1000 on their way to this year’s Englishtown final
Savoie agrees. “We feel like we’ve got a top five bike, but we seized a piston against Eddie (Krawiec) in Atlanta, I had to roll the throttle against Angelle (Sampey) with the wind in Englishtown, and at Brainerd, Andrew (Hines) gets a .000 reaction time,” noted Savoie. “So there are some things that you just can’t beat. But we’ll get one—maybe this one.”
Oddly, what other teams are thankful for at Indy this weekend—unseasonably cool, dry air—runs counter to WAR’s strong suit. “We like hot, muggy weather,” said Savoie, who lives and works on the swampy marshes of southern-most Louisiana.
“We, or I, seem to excel in hot, humid conditions,” said Alabaman Kulungian. “So I’ve been working hard to have a tune-up that’s applicable in any kind of weather. This year the air here is a little different, but I feel like we have a solution that we can provide for these challenges.”
And anyone who knows Pro Stock Motorcycles knows how sensitive they are to both air and track conditions, and how competitive the whole field is. “You know, you got some fast bikes out there,” continued Savoie. “You got the two Harleys, you got Matt Smith comin’ on, and you got Angelle—there’s some fast scooters out there. So we gotta be on our game and just make the best of it.”
A great interview with Savoie and Kulungian after their Englishtown runner-up
“Our competition’s doing the same thing we are, working hard in the off season, and hence this class is moving forward every year,” noted Kulungian.
And Savoie’s sure that Kulungian is ready to tune to even “good” conditions at Indy this weekend. “Tim’s pretty good with the whole program,” assured Savoie. “We’ve got a baseline for everything now after the last couple of years with fuel injection. We’ve been trying some other combinations and whatnot, and it showed at Brainerd. We didn’t qualify well there but on raceday, we turned things around.
“So I feel confident. We’ve been to the finals three times this year and haven’t sealed the deal, but we feel like we’ve got a shot at this.”
The first test will come in Friday’s first qualifying session in the cool of the evening. “It’s gonna be pretty good,” Kulungian said about the Friday round. “Teams are looking to qualify and qualify well, and qualifying for me is how we’re gonna play chess on raceday. So if we can knock one out of the park on the first try—which our team has done before—then we’re set to do really well here in Indy.”
“We’re gonna swing for the fence this weekend and see if we can double up,” agreed Savoie. “It’d be nice to double up at Indy. A lot of people would love to win this race just once.”
Or even get into the final, let alone get to the final four straight times. And now that they’ve left Indy with the Wally in hand, Savoie and WAR will no longer settle for runner-up.
Jerry Savoie thanks everyone at Vance & Hines, PJ1, Mr. Race Oil, Motec, E3 Spark Plugs, tuner Kulungian, crewmen Jeremy Deroche and Steve Zelem, his whole family, and the staff of Savoie Alligator Farm.