Commerce: Georgia rider Collis gears up for Southern Nationals

COMMERCE, Ga. - Pro Stock Bike became a professional category for the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series in 1987, officially bringing the hottest two-wheel action together with the Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock ranks. In recent seasons, the ...

COMMERCE, Ga. - Pro Stock Bike became a professional category for the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series in 1987, officially bringing the hottest two-wheel action together with the Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock ranks.

In recent seasons, the performance and competition levels in the Pro Stock Bike category have continuously increased, with 2003 expected to be one of the toughest seasons in NHRA history.

During the season-opener at Gainesville, Fla., there was a packed house. There were 35 teams competing for a spot in the 16-bike field for eliminations, then 34 more contestants at Houston. That seems to be the trend for 2003 -- plenty of teams vying for very few spots.

Fred Collis, a resident of Americus, Ga., is running a full schedule of NHRA events for the first time in his career. The Area 51 Motorsports rider has seven NHRA races to his credit, so he is not inexperienced in the ways of the Pro Stock Bike competition. During his first NHRA race in 1999, Collis advanced to the finals at the Memphis event.

"It's awesome this season because each race we get a record turnout as far as the bike count and I think with the quality of the bikes out there, it makes for a tight field," Collis said. "If you are not on your game, you are not going to get into the show. Preparation will be the key this season. Whomever is the most prepared is going to win the race. They may need a little luck too, but you have to be prepared before you even take the bike out of the trailer this year."

Collis is hoping to be one of the most prepared riders during the 23rd annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals presented by Pontiac at Atlanta Dragway, May 1-4. Larry Dixon, Whit Bazemore, Allen Johnson and Angelle Savoie are the defending winners in their respective categories for the $1.4 million race, the seventh of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. It is the third of 15 events for the Pro Stock Bike category.

Collis has high expectations for his team, even with limited experience on the NHRA circuit. He does, however, have a veteran crew guiding the tuning decisions. Ken Johnson has previously worked with Savoie and the championship Star Racing program and is now the crew chief for the Area 51 Motorsports team.

"We're doing real good considering how new this team is," Collis said. "Each race we mesh more and more. Every team needs time to figure out how everyone works together. So far I think we are doing fine and we are learning a lot about each other. We are coming here to do the best we can and hopefully we will be able to let the good results take care of themselves."

During the offseason, the category looked as if it was going to lose two of its biggest names, therefore some of the top competition. Three-time champion Matt Hines (1997-'99) announced he would take a year off to help the Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson teams. Then fellow champion Savoie (2000-'02) also announced she would take a year off for lack of sponsorship. That didn't last long. She picked up a sponsor and a new team within a short period of time. She paired with Antron Brown, creating a formidable two-bike team. The change didn't affect Savoie's results, as she claimed victories at the first two races.

Collis, who gained experience with championship performance in AMAs ProStar Series, said there is more to the category than Savoie and Hines, however.

"Theres about 10 strong team out there, at least," Collis said. "The competition is so tough that anyone in the top 10 is a potential winner at any given race. That is one reason why qualifying is going to be even more important this season. You can't waste runs this season. You have to treat every run like it is a final round. If someone doesn't take a serious approach to each qualifying session, they could end up on the bump and get knocked out easily."

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Antron Brown , Matt Hines , Larry Dixon , Whit Bazemore , Fred Collis