NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway, Concord, NC, USA, Sept 18-20, 2015

Hines Wins Whack Day at Charlotte

Red Lights, Bad Lights run amock....is it 2006?

photos, video and story by Tim Hailey with a lil' help from team reports and the NHRA

 

As if you wouldn't be able to see the difference between a .007 light (Andrew Hines, far lane) and a .150 (Matt Smith, near). Bad lights and red lights were the deciding factor in many pairs during the day. And WTF happened to the fans?

Defending Pro Stock Motorcycle world champ Andrew Hines won the NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway for the third time, clocking a winning run of 6.880 at 195.11 on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson to Smith’s losing 6.910 at 192.49 on his Victory Racing Gunner. It was Hines’ 40th career victory in the two-wheel category.

"I won here in the spring at the Four Wide and that was my 39th win and it has taken us all this time go get back and get win No. 40," Hines said. "That tells you how tough it is out here."

Andrew Hines and the V&H crew

Hines outran Chaz Kennedy, veteran rider Steve Johnson and top qualifier Jerry Savoie to advance to the final and get a great start on defending his series crown. He moved into the points lead with the win, and is 20 points head of playoff top seed and teammate Eddie Krawiec heading to round two of the playoffs.

"I’m not quite certain why, but zMax Dragway has been kind to me,” Hines said. “The first three or four times here I never got past the first round. My Harley V-Rod was running straight and true and putting up big speeds and it has done it consistently. We’ve had to figure out how to get a win on a tricky track but everything played out in our favor. We took a chance and changed a bunch of parts on our engine at mid-season looking for more power and consistency and it paid off.”

Jerry Savoie

Savoie was .001 too quick out the gate against Hines in the semi. “My buddy Paul Miller texted me and said ‘-.001 red and you’re a zero, .001 green and you’re a hero. I’d like for someone to be able to tell me they can see the difference,’” Jerry Savoie said Sunday night. One thousandth of a second is the margin that separated Savoie’s semifinal reaction time from fine to foul, and ended his day at the NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway near Charlotte. His White Alligator Racing (WAR) Suzuki TL1000 ran .004 quicker than eventual winner Andrew Hines’s Harley-Davidson on the pass.

“To get bit by a -.001 red is kinda crazy,” said Savoie. “But we’ve been struggling with clutch and made a few changes.”

Does anybody but me think that Tim Kulungian is starting to resemble Welsh singer Tom Jones?

“We had trouble with our lights in the first round of eliminations,” said WAR crew chief/tuner Tim Kulungian. Indeed, the WAR Suzuki was visibly slow to move against Shawn Gann in round 1 and Kulungian was relieved to see Savoie’s winlight come on. “We dodged one right there,” Tim said at the time.

Instead of blaming his rider, Kulungian took a team approach and knew there was a window of adjustment to how the motorcycle can be set up to react when the clutch is thrown. “We’ve been working together about how to create a more predictable reaction time. It’s been a little bit of our Achilles heel throughout the year. So we made some adjustments to the motorcycle and Jerry gained some awareness about what’s happening around him.

“And we did great in the second round with an .016, so we turned that first round light over in a really good direction.” That was against Angelle Sampey who, like alligator farmer Savoie, is from the Gulf region of Louisiana.

Then came the semi against Hines. “We didn’t push the tree against Andrew, we were just ready to race,” said Savoie. “It coulda been a .001 green and we’d be sittin’ here smiling.”

Jerry Savoie

“The .001—I don’t like to be in the .000 to .012 area, because I feel it’s really dangerous territory,” said Kulungian. “I didn’t expect a -.001, I didn’t expect that at all. He may have gone in a little deep, or the pre-load on the clutch may have been set a little too tight, or the track may have been a little tighter in the semis than it was in the second round. All of these things may have made for a faster reacting motorcycle.

“So we should have been better at predicting what would happen on the hit and how fast this motorcycle’s going to react. That is what comes into winning championships and building a championship program—having that kind of predictability and producing favorable results time and time again regardless of the circumstances.

“But I’m pleased with the power, pleased with the performance. Performing means having a fast motorcycle, a well put-together machine, and a driver that has control and predictability with the results he’s producing. So obviously we know where we fell short today, and we need to work on that, be strong in that area, and move on to the next race.”

The team was Friday’s qualifying leader and ended up second behind Hines in Saturday’s qualifying. They also ran high MPH of the event. “We picked up some extra points in qualifying and had the fastest bike all day,” said Savoie, who’s now third in NHRA’s Countdown to One championship playoff.

“So I feel good. We’ll see what the next four or five races hold, and it is what it is. We’re gonna go into St. Louis positive. We’ve got a good team, got some good engines, and we’re gonna have a good time. It’s gonna be interesting.”

Chip Ellis

Rider Chip Ellis and the Junior Pippin/PiranaZ Pro Stock Motorcycle team were just getting on top of their Buell’s tuning when the Carolina Nationals ended much too soon for them. Ellis came up .008 of a second short against Angelle Sampey in the first round of eliminations.

Ellis and engine builders/tuners Lon Moyer and Brad Moore figured they had a better piece than their 7th place qualifying (6.912 and 193.57 mph) showed. “We changed the gearing a little bit for today, changed a couple ratios in the transmission, and it worked,” said Ellis.

Worked enough that he outran Sampey but left the starting line just a tiny bit tardy. “We had a good light—I don’t think an .041 is a bad light. She had an .023 and beat me by .008. It was a good race. The old girl did a good job and we did a good job too—we just got beat. That’s just racing.”

Right after the loss, Ellis jumped in to help repair Sampey’s bike for the next round. For the most part, the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle pits are one big family.

Chip Ellis

“We’ll try it again next week in St. Louis and see what happens,” continued Ellis. “All-in-all, things are coming together, we’re making progress. For me personally, I’m happy. I had good lights in qualifying. The guys gave me a great bike, as always. We ran consistent all weekend. We just came up a little short.

“Junior told us ‘Good job’ today, and I tell you, I really enjoy working with these guys. I had a great time. The only downside with this deal right now is Pippin ain’t out here with us. I really miss him.” Bike owner Pippin is recovering from heavy doses of chemotherapy and radiation on recently discovered, inoperable, stage 4 cancer.

“Another good thing about this weekend is my mom Frankie and dad Dale were here. My uncle came up from Columbia (South Carolina) and my old buddy Steve Rice even showed up.”

Ellis rode Rice’s record-breaking Kawasaki turbo Funnybike to an AMA/Prostar championship—one of three Prostar season titles Chip earned while riding vastly different kinds of motorcycles.

Pippin engine customer Redel Harris had one of his best weekends ever, qualifying 13th and taking out E1 opponent Karen Stoffer on a holeshot. Eventual runner-up Matt Smith ended Harris’ day in round 2.

“It was a good weekend for the Pippin Trucking/PiranaZ team,” concluded Ellis, who maintained his 8th place in the Countdown to One championship standings. “Now we’re just looking forward to St. Louis.”

 

EARLIER: Krawiec #1 at Charlotte

Savoie 2nd, Ellis 3rd in Hot Weekend at zMAX

 

My grainy Periscope video of Eddie Krawiec's press conference

Defending NHRA Carolina Nationals Pro Stock Motorcycle winner and playoff top seed Krawiec took the top spot in the final qualifying session, riding his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson to a 6.851 at 194.38. It is Krawiec’s third No. 1 of the season and 26th of his career. He will face Angie Smith in round one when racing gets underway at zMAX Dragway. “The key out here is to get better every run,” Krawiec said. “I am definitely excited because I have a great Harley-Davidson going into tomorrow and that’s all I can ask for, is to start from the No. 1 spot and keep moving forward.”

Eddie Krawiec

Krawiec will face Angie Smith and her Victory Gunner in round 1

Jerry Savoie

Friday Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying leader Jerry Savoie and his White Alligator Racing (WAR) Suzuki TL1000 will start Sunday’s NHRA Carolina Nationals from second in the qualifying order. The U.S. Nationals winner is seeking his second straight Wally and a great start to NHRA’s Countdown to One championship.

If Savoie’s 6.937 in Saturday’s early session was a bit off the pace, he had a good excuse. “I didn’t have a shift light,” said Jerry. “I bumped the rev-limiter going from second to third—just touched it. But all the rest of the shifts were OK, so it’s all good.”

“He was really close,” agreed WAR crew chief/tuner Tim Kulungian. “We run a new ECU, the M130, and it’s really, really particular. It starts killing cylinders a lot sooner than the MSD did. So you can be within a couple hundred RPM and you’re gonna start killing one or two cylinders, which hurts us when you’re measuring things in thousandths of a second.

“So he hit it in first gear and second gear, but the rest of the time he’s fine. But the 1-2 and 2-3 are THE most detrimental time to hit the rev-limiter. We have the least amount of vehicle speed at that time and the vehicle is accelerating at its greatest rate, so those are pretty tough areas,”

Savoie blazed zMAX Dragway’s quarter mile with high MPH of the weekend so far (195.99) in the final qualifying round, but lost number 1 qualifier to Eddie Krawiec by .011 of a second. “We just kind of bumped our heads in a couple areas to the eighth mile on that last run, but I think an .86 or an .85 was definitely out there for us,” said Kulungian. “We just didn’t execute. I really wanted the number 1 bonus points,”

Savoie faces number 15 qualifier Shawn Gann in the first round of eliminations on a day that promises to be at least as hot as the weekend so far. “Typically, our team thrives in the heat,” Kulungian said with a smile. “And when I look at the numbers, I think we’re making the power to win here. Hopefully we can take down the Harleys and the other folks around here and win this race.”

Chip Ellis

U.S. Nationals performance leader Chip Ellis has not been at the top of the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying order this weekend the way he’d like to be on Junior Pippin’s PiranaZ Buell. Sitting 7th for Sunday’s NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway, Ellis and engine builder/tuner Lon Moyer know they have to keep pouring over the numbers to find the power that they know is in their V-Twin.

“It certainly doesn’t seem to be running as good as Indy, but I’m not completely sure we’re hitting the tune-up 100%,” said Ellis, who ran bests of 6.912 and 193.57 mph.

“It’s definitely a different tuning challenge than we had at Indy and some of the other tracks,” agreed Moyer. “Every track and everything is always different, and we don’t have a good handle on what this thing wants right now. Sometimes we pin the tail on the donkey, but we definitely have not pinned the tail on the donkey so far this weekend.

“That last run was kind of our best back half number, so it shows we’re on the right track a little bit. Hopefully we can build on that and just run a little better on Sunday.”

Chip Ellis

“I think we had a good day and I’m looking forward to tomorrow,” said Ellis. “The bike seems to be running pretty decent, we’ve had some good 60 foot times, and cut good lights all through qualifying. So we’re ready to carry that momentum on through raceday. We’ll just go out there tomorrow and have some fun.”

Fun is what the team could use, as bike owner Pippin recovers from heavy doses of chemotherapy and radiation on recently discovered, inoperable, stage 4 cancer.

Redel Harris!

Pippin engine customer Redel Harris has had one of his best outings ever, running 6.959 at 191.65 mph for the 13 spot. “Redel has run very well this weekend,” said Moyer. “He’s thrilled and we’re thrilled for him, for sure. He did great, and he’ll have fun on raceday I’m sure.”

Harris faces Karen Stoffer in round 1 of eliminations and Ellis will race Angelle Sampey.

Junior Pippin and Chip Ellis would like to thank PiranaZ , Junior Pippin Trucking, Paul Bost Trucking, B&R Automotive, Lisa Pippin, Lon Moyer, and Brad Moore.

Defending world champ Andrew Hines qualified third with a 6.869 at 195.85 on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson and will race Chaz Kennedy in the first round. Countdown contender Scotty Pollacheck failed to qualify for eliminations.

Countdown contender Scotty Pollacheck failed to make the show

Angelle Sampey, her husband Seth, and Chip Ellis in the lanes

The father-son Pro Stock Motorcycle duo of Hector Arana Sr. and Hector Arana Jr. qualified 11th and 12th, respectively, for Sunday eliminations. Neither the 2009 NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion nor his son were completely satisfied with their qualifying efforts.

Arana Sr. begins the Countdown to the Championship in ninth place in the standings. His best qualifying pass came during the second session on Friday, a 6.935 at 193.82 mph. "We had a tough week over here," Arana Sr. said. "We thought we were prepared. We tried some different things. In this sport, you have to try; you can't stand still. We can't let them pass us, so we still are learning from it, but we'll be OK. We're going to go back to where we know we need to be. We have to keep going forward because our ultimate goal is to win here this weekend, then win the championship."

Arana Sr. will face Steve Johnson in the first round of eliminations on Sunday.

Arana Jr. starts the march to the title in second place, just 30 points behind leader Eddie Krawiec. He has finished no lower than fourth in his first four seasons of NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle competition and hopes 2015 will be his year to claim the crown. But qualifying at the North Carolina dragstrip seemed to throw his team a curveball. "We're off to a little bit of a rough start," Arana Jr. said. "With all of the issues that happened during qualifying, we have to sit down and study everything and just get it figured out. Tomorrow is another day."

Arana Jr. will meet Matt Smith in the first round.

"Now we're on the bottom of the field, so let's take out these guys that are up top early," Arana Jr. said. "Let's get 'em done with. Maybe everything turned out for a reason. When I'm up top, I'm racing that guy that's No. 12 anyway, and I know I can race just as good as that guy, so it's the same thing."

LE Tonglet (above) faces Jimmy Underdahl in an all-Suzuki first round match-up

Ade Casanola!

Sampey with Star Racing Challenge winner Andrew Patterson, who failed to make the field on the Star Racing Suzuki

EARLIER: Harleys Top Q3 at zMAX

Alligator Farmer Savoie still #1

Bikes heading out for Q3 at Charlotte

 

At 9th, Angelle Sampey is on the second quickest Buell behind Chip Ellis

Chaz Kennedy made Friday's top 12 lock-in list with a 6.96

EARLIER: Jerry Savoie Leads Friday Qualifying at zMAX

Alligator Farmer Loves "Smudgy" Charlotte

 

Jerry Savoie’s Friday press conference

Recent NHRA Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals winner Jerry Savoie came off the trailer as hot as the Charlotte afternoon weather, finishing Friday’s Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying for the Carolina Nationals at the top of the order.

Savoie’s White Alligator Racing Suzuki TL1000 was one of four Suzukis in the top six, as their high-revving, inline 4 cylinder motors loved zMAX Dragway’s hot-but-not-too-humid conditions.

Fellow Suzuki racer Karen Stoffer led the first round with a 6.899, followed by Steve Johnson’s 6.902 and Savoie’s 6.907 at 195.14 mph—top speed of the round.

That was a great pass off the trailer for WAR crew chief/tuner Tim Kulungian to work with, and he worked it in the right direction. “We thought we could run a 6.87 in the second round,” said Savoie, but he and the team did one better—running 6.862 at 195.59. “He gets the credit,” Savoie said about Kulungian.

In leading the day, Savoie drew first blood in scoring points for NHRA’s Countdown to One championship. He currently sits fourth in that battle.

Jerry Savoie thanked Eddie Krawiec, Byron Hines, Terry Vance and everyone at Vance & Hines, E3 Spark Plugs, High Performance Lubricants, PJ1, crewmen Jeremy Derouche and Steve Zellman, Kulungian, his whole family, and the staff of Savoie Alligator Farm.

Got to meet former New Orleans Saints hero Roman Harper at zMAX on Friday. I thanked him for his service. Great guy, he was totally freaked out by the noise, speed, and overall sensory experience of NHRA nitro drag racing.

Chip Ellis tied for 2 best 60' with a 1.059 and sits 5th in the order with a 6.912. Engine builder/tuner Lon Moyer thinks this motor might be a touch softer than their Indy bullit.

Low 60' of the round propelled Indy winner Jerry Savoie to #1 in Q2

EARLIER: Suzukis Lovin' the zMAX Heat

Lead by Karen Stoffer, Suzukis are 1-2-3 after Q1 at zMAX

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