Angelle Savoie - 2002 NHRA Pro Stock Bike Champion
Angelle Savoie cruised up to the starting line in the semifinals to face Craig Treble at the ACDelco Las Vegas Nationals in October. A win over Treble would seal her third consecutive NHRA Pro Stock Bike championship. A loss would postpone the celebration for the 2002 champion. Treble's red-light during that round gave Angelle the title before she got to the 60-foot mark. Angelle moved on the finals and won the race too. With 28 career victories, Angelle ranks fourth on the all-time win list for the two-wheel category, and 12th all-time for all pro competitors. In this championship Q&A session, Angelle talks about what it is like to be a three-time champion, how tough the season was and what's next on her career to-do list.
Q: Why have you been able to string together three consecutive championships?
Angelle: It has everything to do with the determination of the whole team. The entire Star Racing team including (owner) George Bryce, myself and everyone who contributes are all determined to make it work. No matter what is happening, good luck, bad luck, financial problems or if things are going great, I have never met a group of people that are more determined to do something. That is what it is all about. When we are faced with a problem, that is when we work even harder. If one of the other teams is doing better, that lights a fire under us. I think one of the major reasons why we have been successful is that we finally started clicking together (three years ago). When I first started racing with George (in 1996), it took us a long time to learn how to deal with each other. We used to argue all the time because we are both very strong-willed people who were determined. I think being the first female that he had to work with took some time too. He didn't know how to handle it. John Myers could have had the worst time of his life at home and he would still come to the track and no one would ever know it. That is not the case with me. If I was going through emotional problems, marital problems, financial problems or female problems, they would show. I also had to learn how to deal with him too, being a teacher and a coach. His whole life is racing. He is 100 percent, all the time, all about racing. When I come home from a race, I want to be a different person, I don't necessarily want to think about the next race right away, but he would. Once we learned how to work together and deal with those issues, we clicked and that was it.
Q: With all the turmoil you experienced with sponsorship issues this season, is this the most satisfying championship of the three?
Angelle: I don't think anything will be more satisfying than the first championship. We worked so hard for the first and when it finally happened, I felt a thousand pounds lighter. I had always heard from people that it is more difficult to repeat as champion and defend your title, but I disagree. I think it has gotten easier for this team to work together. Once we got the first championship, the pressure was off. I felt like I had to win the first championship. This year has been different. The whole feeling is very weird because of all of the struggles we had with sponsorships and I had my own personal issues to deal with at home that were just as bad that concern my business. It was a very difficult year for me and it was even a little hard to celebrate because we have been dealing with so many issues all year and we are still struggling with sponsorship problems. I can't wait for the year to be over. It has been one of the toughest in my life and everything that has been going on really put a damper on the whole championship. It's very hard to celebrate when so many other things are going wrong. I wish I could smile more about the championship and I know that I am very lucky in a lot of other ways. Every morning I wake up, I get out of bed and I can walk, I can talk and breathe. There is nothing wrong with me and I am very fortunate in that respect. I just wish I didn't have the big problems financially with my career and my business because it makes it hard to be happy.
Q: What were your initial thoughts when Craig Treble came out to win the first two events of the season?
Angelle: My first thought was that it was just good luck, not something we would have to worry about. That is because I beat myself at both of those races. In Gainesville I short-shifted in second gear and then I did the same thing in Houston. I took it hard and I blamed myself for those two races. Then I came to the realization that Craig could have done the same thing, but he didn't. He was perfect in those two wins and he was near perfect in a few more. He earned those wins and he earned his second-place finish. I am lucky we had the team we did this year because he could have gotten the No. 1 position if we didn't do our job.
Q: There were allegations of cheating that were thrown at your team. Did that motivate you to win even more?
Angelle: I think so even though it is something that I am used to now. They have been accusing me of cheating since the first day I started racing. I used to take it hard, I used to take it all personally. I felt like they were calling me a liar and now I just take it like they are complimenting us on what we are doing. Our team is doing so good they think we are cheating. I laughed it off when Matt (Hines) had the audacity to do that (at the Columbus race). That just made our team say, 'Hey, you think we are cheating now, wait until we really get pissed off and our (performance) gets even better.' That would be the thing we would say when we went faster, 'I wonder what they were saying about us now.' It all just added to the fun. I don't know what to think about Matt and what he really thinks about our team. The year (1998) when he won 10 of 14 races, it crossed my mind if they were doing something because they were kicking everyone's butt all the time. In my heart, I really believed that they were just smarter, working harder and had found something that no one else had yet. That just made us work harder. You want to say they are cheating, but you know they are not and I think that is what Matt feels too. It can be very frustrating. This sport is really hard and it can make you very humble and change your whole attitude about yourself. You work so hard and you get out there and in seven seconds you can make one, itty-bitty mistake and it is all over. It has to be extra frustrating for the guys who stick it out and never win. They keep trying and I have a lot of respect for those guys because they are very determined individuals. This is the hardest thing I have ever done in my entire life and I am very fortunate to be able to win more than most of the other guys out there.
Q: What was the defining moment of the season?
Angelle: I thought it was going to be Atlanta when we got CVEC (as a sponsor) and we went out and won the race, the first win of the season for us. We got our first win, with the new sponsor and everything looked like it was going to be like it was with (former sponsor) Winston. But then it all turned around again. We went to one race, Sonoma or Brainerd, I think, and we took all the stickers off because we realized it wasn't working. It was just a roller-coaster season. We thought something was going to work, then it didn't and that kept repeating. Our associate sponsors like Snap-on and Suzuki really are the people who helped get us through the season by doing one-race deals. It makes you realize how important those little stickers are and how much they count because they helped so much.
Q: You were the only NHRA pro competitor to set a national E.T. record this season. How does that feel?
Angelle: That is pretty cool. Claiming the national record is always awesome. We brought it back home to Georgia. Even though you don't have a title by setting the record it means just as much as being the champion to me, and I think it would for just about anybody. They can't take it away from you, even when it is broken. You still held the national record.
Q: How tough will it be to join the Mickey Thompson 6-Second Club? When should we expect that to happen?
Angelle: I am foaming at the mouth for that one. We went to Reading and I wanted it so bad that George had to keep telling me to forget the whole thing. I was thinking about it so much and I really think I was trying too hard. That's when you make mistakes, when you start focusing on the record. I need to relax, go back to the basics and that is when you break the record or just make a really good run. The 6-second run is something I had to quit thinking about this year. It's not just about the money ($10,000 to the first rider in the 6's.) Matt was the first one in the 7.0's (Reading 2001) and then I came right after him and did it. The money would have really helped us out this year, but it is not just that. It's another King of the Hill thing. Without a doubt, we will see it next year. If the weather is perfect, we could see it in Gainesville, Englishtown, Reading and maybe even Houston.
Q: What is the outlook for a fourth championship?
Angelle: I think it is a great possibility but the sponsorship issue is going to have to be resolved first. I really don't think we can do next year what we did this year. I don't even think it is possible for us to start the season without the financial backing. We have the team to do it, but I think Matt is really going to step up and give us a fight. I think next year will be the hardest year ever because there is going to be three teams battling us. Four riders will be fighting for that No. 1 spot. I think it is going to be me, Matt, Shawn (Gann) and Craig. Antron Brown will be tough if he can get a sponsor together. He is going through the same thing we are. He has all the tools to be very competitive if he gets the sponsor.
Q: Why do you think it has been so difficult to get a primary sponsor for your team?
Angelle: The bikes are more difficult to find sponsors for in general because we don't go to all of the races and we don't get a ton of TV coverage, even though it is a 100 percent better than it ever used to be. We get great TV time now, but still not as much as the (nitro) categories. We don't have the speed, the noises and the smells of the Top Fuel cars and I don't think we draw the same sponsor interest, which is difficult for me to understand. When you look at the people who go to Kenny Bernstein's pits and then you look at the ropes in front of our trailer, you are going to see just as many people. The same amount of people watching Kenny and John Force are watching us too. I still don't know what the problem is. What more do I need to do? I am a three-time champion, a female and this team has produced six championships all together. What more can I offer? I don't know.