All season the lament, mostly from Steve Johnson, has been that the Suzukis are on the wrong end of an unfair Pro Stock Motorcycle rule advantage.
But Karen Stoffer reinforced a truth that her White Alligator Racing team boss Jerry Savoie and even Johnson have helped prove in the past three races.
She defeated Harley-Davidson headliner Andrew Hines in Sunday’s final round of the AAA Midwest Insurance Nationals at Madison, Ill., near St. Louis.
Blasting down the World Wide Technology Raceway quarter-mile in 6.869 seconds at 197.74 mph on her Big St. Charles/Skillman Auto Suzuki, Stoffer topped Hines’ 6.876, 196.59 on the Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson Street Rod.
The Minden, Nevada, resident joined Pro Stock’s Erica Enders on the winners podium. Their victories marked the first time females have won at the same race in Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Other pro winners Sunday were Billy Torrence in Top Fuel and Shawn Langdon in Funny Car.
This event also matched the record set at the 2008 U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis and tied at the 2015 Sonoma Nationals for the most females to compete in the professional ranks at a single event. The number is nine. And this weekend, the Pro Stock Motorcycle class had six female racers (Kelly Clontz, Andie Rawlings, Jianna Salinas, Angelle Sampey, Angie Smith, and Stoffer). The Top Fuel included Brittany Force and Leah Pritchett, and Enders was the lone female Pro Stock driver.
“I wasn’t going to race this year. I was going to sit out. And the next thing you know, we had some dialog and I got a call, and I ended up sitting on this fantastic W.A.R. bike. It worked out really well,” Stoffer said after earning her ninth overall victory but first of the season and first since the 2015 Norwalk, Ohio, race.
It has worked out well, for she jumped from fifth place to second in the standings, 34 points behind freshly reinstated leader Hines.
“It has been a long time. Who thought I would even be here? I wasn’t scheduled to race this year. And we’re winning a race in the Countdown, and that’s phenomenal,” Stoffer said.
Savoie, who had won at Indianapolis to close the regular season and at Reading, Pa., to begin the Countdown to the Championship, fell from the lead to fifth place. He lost in the first round Sunday by about three feet to Hector Arana Jr. with what Stoffer said were some unexpected mechanical issues with his bike.
“It was a bummer to see Jerry go out, especially like he did,” Stoffer said.
Crew chief Tim Kulungian and crew came to her and placed on her shoulders the responsibility to salvage the team’s weekend. She simply said, “OK” and complied.
“The team said, ‘You’ve got to do something about this damage, try to mitigate it a little bit,’ I said, ‘OK,’” Stoffer said.
She already had eliminated title contender Ryan Oehler, so her mission ended up being to knock out Matt Smith (who took himself out with a foul start) and the early-season dominating Harley-Davidson duo of Eddie Krawiec and finally Hines.
Mission accomplished, Stoffer said, marveling at the “heavy hitters” she defeated Sunday.
Before the final round, Kulungian and Savoie told her, “Just do what you’ve been doing. We’re right behind you. We’ve got the bike set up. What you’re doing is fine. What you’re doing will win the race. Just be Karen and go out there and do your job.”
Once again, her concise reply was “OK.”
And Karen was Karen, the fifth different winner in the class this season.
“And that’s what we did,” Stoffer said, making it almost sound effortless.
“I really don’t feel the pressure out there against any one team – because every single team is phenomenal,” she said. “I listen to the team, and I just did what I was doing.”
She said, “It was huge to be able to put everything together, to actually be here [on the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series tour], then to be in the top 10, and to do well at this race.”
One of her sponsors, Big St. Charles Motorsports, who signed on for the six Countdown events, is a leading motorcycle, ATV, and watercraft dealer located at nearby St. Charles, Mo. So it was particularly gratifying for her to perform well at this facility where she never had won before.
“It’s pretty cool,” Stoffer said. “Our team is not a high-budgeted team. We come out here on passion. We come out here with a few great sponsors but not huge amounts of money. And we have fun. Our focus is really to expose this sport to everybody who wants to be able to do it and help train them and show them what they can do when they have that passion.
“What you saw with Erica and me speaks volumes to everybody, not just women. If you have the passion, if you have the will and the ability, you can come out here and do what you want to do. You can progress so that you can win. Handicap, height, weight, gender, nationality . . . it doesn’t matter,” she said.
Ironically, while this is the first time Stoffer and Enders have won pro Wally trophies at the same race, it isn’t the first time they have won on the same day.
When Stoffer defeated Antron Brown in the 2004 Houston final for her first Pro Stock Motorcycle victory, Enders won that day in the sportsman-level Super Gas category.
“So we’ve had that picture together before,” Stoffer said of crossing paths with Enders in the winners circle 15 years ago. “I love the girl. She’s great. She’s awesome, someone I respect tremendously.”
Stoffer said, “The NHRA is so diverse in every capacity. [Everyone’s] talking about women and gender. But you also have height and age. We had Reggie [Showers], who had two amputated legs. There’s no prejudice in this sport – at all, zero. Anybody in any capacity can come out and race this sport, and I think it speaks volumes. It doesn’t have any gender favoritism. Everybody can go down this racetrack.”
And she did it quickest the most times Sunday – including by .0098 of a second against class all-time victories leader Hines, who had beaten her twice in previous finals and 23 times in their previous 31 head-to-head match-ups.
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019