LAS VEGAS – When Jerry Savoie heads to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for this weekend’s 18th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals, he won’t feel any of the pressure or high-stakes intensity that come with racing in Vegas with a NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world title potentially on the line. Instead, Savoie will have family, friends and customers from Europe with him and comfort level that only comes with running in Vegas for the Louisiana alligator farmer.
Sitting just 100 points back of Pro Stock Motorcycle points leader Matt Smith, all indications suggest there should be considerable pressure for Savoie, the 2016 world champion. But Savoie, who has one win this season, insists he feels none of it on his White Alligator Racing Suzuki heading into the final two races of the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. He feels good about racing in Vegas, hopeful the event will again bring out the best in him when it counts.
“Vegas is so relaxing and I just love the city, the fans and the track,” said Savoie, who won the Vegas race in 2016. “I feel more comfortable at that place and I think you’re more confident at those races. I can just go out there and have fun, so I really look forward to it. It’s going to be great. I don’t beat myself up on championships or anything like that. Whatever comes my way, we’ll take it. The bottom line is we just take it race by race and make the best of it.”
Terry McMillen (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock), and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including final eliminations coverage starting at 7:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday. It marks the fifth of sixth Countdown to the Championship races and the 15th of 16 races during the 2018 NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle season.
The last three races have been a breath of fresh air for Savoie, who had battled issues on his bike for most of the year. He had back-to-back first-round losses at Indy and then the playoff opener in Reading, but Savoie has made a significant turn at the right time. He’s posted two semifinal appearances and a runner-up the last three events to stay lurking in the championship conversation, and Savoie is excited to see his bike come around at the right time.
“It’s mainly (crew chief) Tim (Kulungian) and the crew working really hard,” said Savoie, who has nine career wins. “The bike had some serious mechanical issues throughout the year and was struggling. Hopefully we’ve been able to get a grip on it. Tim’s smart and we finally figured it out in Charlotte. I think this is where we should be. Tim has been working on something during the week off and that gives us some hope for these next two races.”
Having a good teammate certainly helps and Savoie has that in White Alligator Racing standout LE Tonglet, who sits 41 points back of Smith. The duo has continued to work together well in the playoffs, meeting in the final round in Dallas. But Savoie knows he’ll need to perform at a high level to stay in the title talk, as Smith has posted two wins during the Countdown to the Championship and defending world champ Eddie Krawiec is still in contention, sitting just 56 points back of Smith.
“I feel like LE and I, we have a great relationship,” Savoie said. “We’re both in the same state and we’re only an hour apart. They’re a great family and we love them. LE is a great rider and it just fits our program perfectly. It just makes it so much easier when everybody gets along.”
Steve Torrence will look to clinch his first Top Fuel world title in Vegas. He’s won the first four playoff races and currently holds a commanding 169-point lead over Clay Millican.
Defending Funny Car world champion Robert Hight will look to get closer to a second consecutive world championship in Vegas, currently holding a slim 11-point lead on J.R. Todd.
In Pro Stock, second-year star Tanner Gray has posted seven victories in 2018, as he looks to claim his first world title. He leads Jeg Coughlin Jr. by 130 points heading to the final two races. The NHRA Toyota Nationals also features thrilling competition in the season-finale of the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service, as well as the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport. After Nitro qualifying, watch spectacular jet cars, including Segal Motorsports’ Shelly Segal running ‘FireStarter,’ Tim Smith running the ‘American Freedom Fighter,’ Tony Franco driving the Lucas Oil ‘Terminal Velocity’ and the El Arabe Racing “Majestic” driven by Juan Cantu. Known for exciting pre-run flame shows and after burner pops, jet cars are thrust driven vehicles propelled by jet engines.
Those in attendance will also have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with some of the biggest names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This includes meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends scheduled to attend the NHRA Toyota Nationals include Joe Amato and Jim Dunn.
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 11:45 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 26, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Oct. 27, at 11:45 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 28.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 800-644-4444. Tickets also are available online at www.lvms.com/tickets/nhra/. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.
NHRA TOYOTA NATIONALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: 18th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals, the 23rd of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and the fifth of six playoff races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. Drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – earn points leading to 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.
WHERE: The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas. Track is located approximately 15 miles north of Las Vegas off I-15.
COURSE: Championship drag strip; Track elevation is 2,100 feet above sea level; Track direction is south to north.
WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 25-28SCHEDULE:
THURSDAY, Oct. 25 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
FRIDAY, Oct. 26 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
E3 SPARK PLUGS PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 11:45 a.m. and 2:15 p.m.
SATURDAY, Oct. 27 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
E3 SPARK PLUGS PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 1:30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 11:45 a.m. and 2:15 p.m.
SUNDAY, Oct. 28 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.
E3 SPARK PLUGS PRO MOD SERIES eliminations begin at 9 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11:00 a.m.
Friday, Oct. 26, FOX Sports 1 (FS1) will televise one hour of live qualifying coverage at 6:00 p.m. (ET).
Saturday, Oct. 27, FS1 will air an hour and a half of live qualifying coverage at 5:00 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, Oct. 28, FS1 will televise three hours of live finals coverage starting at 7:30 p.m. (ET).2017 EVENT WINNERS:
Terry McMillen, Top Fuel; Matt Hagan, Funny Car; Greg Anderon, Pro Stock; Eddie Krawiec, Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Andrew Hines, PSM, 5; Greg Anderson, PS, 7; John Force, FC, 6; Tony Schumacher, TF, 8TRACK RECORDS:
Top Fuel – 3.673 sec. by Tony Schumacher, Oct ‘17 and 332.67 mph by Shawn Langdon, Oct. ’15.
Funny Car – 3.854 sec. and 335.57 mph by Jack Beckman Oct. ’17.
Pro Stock – 6.559 sec. and 210.28 mph by Erica Enders, Oct. ’15.
Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.852 sec. by Jerry Savoie, Oct. ’15; 196.56 mph by Eddie Krawiec, Oct. ’11
Top Fuel – 3.628 sec. by Clay Millican, Feb. ’18, Pomona, Calif.; 336.57 mph by Tony Schumacher, Feb. ‘18, Phoenix
Funny Car – 3.793 sec. by Robert Hight, Aug. ’17, Brainerd; 339.87 mph by Robert Hight, July ’17, Sonoma, Calif.
Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.; 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ’14, Englishtown N.J.
Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct ‘12, Reading, PA.; 201.01 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ‘18, Gainesville, Fla.
TICKETS: For tickets call (800) 644-4444, or visit www.lvms.com/tickets/nhra/.
Photos courtesy of NHRA
Headquartered in Glendora, Calif., NHRA is the primary sanctioning body for the sport of drag racing in the United States. NHRA presents 24 national events featuring the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, and E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service. NHRA provides competition opportunities for drivers of all levels in the NHRA Summit Racing Series and the NHRA Drags: Street Legal Style presented by AAA. NHRA also offers NHRA Jr. Street program for teens and the Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League for youth ages 5 to 17. In addition, NHRA owns and operates four racing facilities: Atlanta Dragway in Georgia; Gainesville Raceway in Florida; Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis; and Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in Southern California.