Angelle Savoie, a 31-year-old New Orleans native who competes on the National Hot Rod Association Pro Stock Motorcycle circuit, is far more than a mere novelty. One of three women in the series, she is the defending Pro Stock champion and is currently in third place in the 2001 points standings, behind Matt Hines and Antron Brown. Her most recent event was the Spring Supernationals in Englishtown, N.J.
“Usually when we go to New Jersey, we’re stuck there all week long because it’s cold and raining,” Savoie says. “But I’m not complaining. I’ve had some good luck at that track, and we’re not going to go there thinking the odds are against us. We’re going there to win.”
The Pro Stock Motorcycle series has become one of the most popular forms of drag racing, with 250-horsepower machines going from zero to 170 in seven seconds or less. And Savoie demonstrated from the outset that she is much more than a pretty face.
The fifth different champion in Pro Stock history, Savoie is only the second female Winston champion in any professional division. Shirley Muldowney is the only other female champ in the NHRA’s 49-year history, and Savoie is just two wins away from equaling Muldowney’s 18 career victories.
“I’ve only met Shirley once or maybe twice,” Savoie says. “I’m really not sure how she feels about me getting close to her record, and to be honest, I never really thought about it much until people started telling me I was getting close.
“For a while I thought it wasn’t that big a deal, but now it’s something to shoot for. I haven’t really done that well my last two races so now it’s time for me to really push it.”
Savoie opened the 2001 season with a victory in the division’s first national event, the O’Reilly Nationals in Baytown, Texas. During qualifying for the Mac Tools Gatornationals in March, her Suzuki posted a lap of 7.239 seconds at 184.57 mph, good enough for third place.
Savoie’s quickest career pass was 7.156 seconds at Mohnton, Pa., in 2000, and her fastest pass was 188.86 mph in 1999 at Baytown. Her winning percentage of .750 is fifth among all active NHRA Winston Drag Racing competitors.
Being a female champion makes Savoie prime fodder for the rumor mill. There have been suggestions that she would leave motorcycles and try her hand at Funny Cars or Top Fuel Dragsters. A newlywed, there have even been reports that she will take time off from her career to become a mother.
Savoie laughs them off
“I think these are delightful rumors,” she says. “The only way this would be my last year riding a bike competitively would be if I got hurt. And I’m still way too young to have a child, so that’s not an option at this point. I’ve had a passion for racing motorcycles since I was 6 years old. I love fast cars, but as far as competition I love motorcycles.”
Savoie admits, however, that sometimes critics can’t get beyond her looks.
“There have been times I’d sit in my hauler and cry, wondering why people won’t just let me be a racer,” she says. “But my grandmother always tells me that controversy means popularity, so I try not to let it bother me too much. But I’d like to be judged by what I can do on my motorcycle and nothing else.”
Rudd on the move
Although Jeff Gordon’s four checkers and a lead in the NASCAR Winston Cup points standings have positioned him as the man to beat through the first half of the 2001 season, Ricky Rudd is quietly making a move to championship contention. The driver of the Texaco/Havoline Taurus is one of the most consistent pilots of the current campaign.
He is just 145 points out of the series lead, with one victory, five top 5s and six top-10 finishes through 16 events. “I think everything is going good for us as far as the championship goes,” Rudd says. “We’ve been really consistent – we’ve been good on superspeedways, good on the short tracks and good just about everywhere we’ve been. We need to be maybe one notch better and be in a position to win every race.
“It seems like every three or four races we’re a factor to win, and then a couple later we’re a factor again. We need to see if we can get there every race.”
Rudd is something of an “old-timer” in Winston Cup, having made his first start in the series in 1975 and winning Rookie of the Year honors in 1977. Between 1983 and 1998, Rudd had a streak of winning at least one race every season. But after being a car owner as well as a driver from 1994 through 1999, the Virginia native found it more difficult to wear two hats.
“It’s seems like it’s been longer than it’s been since I was owner and driver,” Rudd says. “I’m in my second season now as just a driver after six years as both, and it’s really nice. The schedule is still pretty grueling with the pace we have to go at, but it would be even more difficult as a driver/owner.
“Now my days get filled up, but not in a management role. I’ll leave that to (team owner) Robert Yates, Doug Yates and Michael McSwain – they handle all the day-to-day headaches. It’s a very nice, refreshing way to go racing now.”
Now that Rudd is able to concentrate strictly on driving, he has found a renewed sense of confidence. Last year, his first season with Yates, he finished fifth in the final points standings. But heading into the 2000 spring Dover event, Rudd was 253 points out of the points lead and ninth in the standings.
“The enthusiasm is definitely there this year,” he says. “At the beginning of the season we had a couple of mechanical failures, and after the first five or six races we pretty much had the championship written off. But now here we are 145 points out of the lead and only 19 out of second, so we’re in this thing. It’s really exciting to see that it’s in reach of us again.
“A couple of good breaks for us or bad races for others, and we could find ourselves in the lead.”
Rudd has seen Winston Cup racing grow from a regional sport to an international industry and has remained low-key through it all. However, he wouldn’t mind stepping into the spotlight with a championship at the end of the year.
“To be honest, I’m not one to go out and seek the limelight – I’m kind of a low-profile-type person. It’s going to be going on all around me, but I’m not mixed up in the middle of all of it. I’m there to race and take care of the loyal fans who have supported me.
“But if we could win the championship, we’d pack the family up and do all the necessary events as a family. I enjoy being competitive and having a chance to win, so having a shot at a championship would be great.”
There has been much discussion about use of the HANS Device in NASCAR racing, but defending Busch Series champion Jeff Green has opted to use the Hutchins Device in 2001. Bobby Hutchins, general manager of Richard Childress Racing, developed the device, which is a head and neck restraint system designed to protect those areas in a forward-impact crash.
“The purpose of this device is to keep my head from falling forward in a front-impact crash,” Green says. “Hopefully I’ll never be in a situation where it needs to be used, but I feel it’s a good thing to have. If I ever have to use it, I feel it’ll be just as safe as the HANS Device.
“The great part about this device is that it’s extremely comfortable for me. I tried the HANS Device and could never feel comfortable with it. It was so restricting. With the Hutchins Device, I don’t even know I have it on.”
MEET THE DRIVERS
Resides: Asheville, N.C.
Pressley is in his fifth year driving for Doug Bawel and pilots the Jasper Engines and Transmissions Ford. Pressley has yet to win in the Winston Cup Series, but he had one top-5 finish a year ago.
Pressley formerly was a delivery truck driver for the Coca-Cola Company and learned his racing skills on the short tracks of North Carolina. In 1989, he became the first rookie to win a Busch Grand National race.