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US Hillclimb Strank and Thomas win Championships

Strank And Thomas Win 2001 Ama U.S. Hillclimb Championship Presented By Pace American Titles PICKERINGTON, Ohio -- Walter "Tiger" Strank, Jr. and Jeff Thomas wrapped up titles in the 2001 AMA U.S. Hillclimb Championships presented by...

Strank And Thomas Win 2001 Ama U.S. Hillclimb Championship Presented By Pace American Titles

PICKERINGTON, Ohio -- Walter "Tiger" Strank, Jr. and Jeff Thomas wrapped up titles in the 2001 AMA U.S. Hillclimb Championships presented by Pace America after the Oct. 14 Oregonia, Ohio, event was canceled due to heavy rain. It marked the first professional championships for both Strank, the 800cc class winner and Thomas, who took home the 540cc crown.

Strank, 29, of Johnstown, Pa., switched from an alcohol-burning Kawasaki 750 H2 Triple to a nitro-powered Yamaha R1-based hillclimber (sleeved down to 800cc to meet the class displacement requirements) for round three of the 14-race series. After taking a few races to learn how to handle the estimated 250 horsepower of the Yamaha, Strank began winning. In all, he won four races (all on the Yamaha) and earned nine top-three finishes to win his first AMA Pro Racing national title.

"The Yamaha had so much power it took me a few rounds to get comfortable with the bike," said Strank, a former amateur hillclimbing champ who was riding in only his second pro season. "At 10 feet long and 250 horsepower, the bike can get a little hairy over some of the Supercross-style jumps we have at a few of the hills."

Strank won the series grand prize– a custom cargo trailer from presenting sponsor Pace American Trailers, the official trailer of AMA Pro Racing. Next season Strank plans on defending his 800cc title and hopes to make an assault on the 540cc championship with a sleeved down Yamaha R6-powered climber.

Thomas, the 2001 AMA 540cc class champ, is also a first-time champ. The 31-year-old former Marine from Indianapolis has been on the pro hillclimbing circuit since 1995. This year Thomas earned eight top-three finishes in the 540 class, including four wins. At the end of the season Thomas went on a three-race winning streak starting at Dansville, N.Y., on Aug. 19 and he called it the turning point in his season.

"Poags Hole is a big race and I won both classes that weekend," said Thomas. "In the 540 class we really got our bike sorted out and went on to win three straight. The race in Dansville gave me a lot of momentum." Thomas, who rode a Honda CBR600 F3-based machine in the 540 class, narrowly edged Phil Libhart by three points for the championship. Thomas proved a versatile rider. He was also runner-up in the 800cc class to Strank.

Thomas plans on returning to defend his 540 title next year and will introduce a new Honda CBR929-based climber in the 800cc class. Both Strank and Thomas will receive his award at the AMA Pro Racing Champions Awards Banquet, Dec. 7, at the Desert Springs Marriott Resort & Spa in Palm Springs, Calif.

For immediate post-race results, rider information, AMA Pro Racing notes and news, log on to www.amaproracing.com

-AMA-

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