Karen Stoffer never missed a beat in Gainesville, but PSM veteran do not not competed since 2013.
Charlotte, N.C. — Karen Stoffer was realistic about her situation heading into the first race of the Pro Stock Motorcycle season at Gainesville.
A late entry into the event, Stoffer put together a solid test session just before the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season debut for the class. But there were plenty of unanswered questions for the PSM veteran who had not competed since the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in 2013.
All of them were answered in resounding fashion in Gainesville, however, as Stoffer never missed a beat, knocking off Eddie Krawiec in the final round for her first win since 2011. It was a weekend that clearly exceeded all expectations and now has Stoffer excited for what is next at this weekend’s NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at spectacular zMAX Dragway.
She wants be ready
“I wanted to make sure I was prepared,” Stoffer said. “I didn’t just want to go out there because there’s a lot of good teams in the class. I wanted to make sure we were ready. If we had qualified and won a round I would have been ecstatic. You go in with the thought that you can win, but at this level it’s very tough. Everything lined up and we were able to turn on four win lights. It was a pretty awesome feeling.”
It will be just Stoffer’s second time racing in the four-lane setup at zMAX Dragway during one of the most unique race weekends of the season. Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Alund (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (PSM) were last year’s winners of the event that will once again be televised on ESPN and ESPN2. ESPN will provide live eliminations coverage on Sunday starting at 2 p.m., and Mello Yello Series racing will begin at 1 p.m. (ET) at the track.
The race also marks the second of 16 events in the Pro Stock Motorcycle season and a chance for Stoffer and her Stoffer Enterprises Suzuki to make another early-season impression in the star-studded class.
Undecided if she would even race in Gainesville, Stoffer made a last-minute decision to compete and it turned into a golden one. With her husband Gary Stoffer serving as the crew chief for their first-year Stoffer Enterprises operation, Karen Stoffer was solid throughout the weekend, posting a string of consistent runs she hopes will again be present at zMAX Dragway.
“We’re going to Charlotte with the exact same situation where we only have one engine, but I will still have the same attitude,” said Stoffer, who has six career victories. “If we can come out with the engine still together and get a win in that first quad during eliminations, that would be a success. But we obviously want to win and after what happened in Gainesville, I think we’re definitely capable of doing that.”
With another field of more than 20 bikes in Charlotte, Stoffer will have her work cut out. Reigning world champion Hines claimed the first of his six wins in 2014 at the Four-Wide Nationals, while teammate Krawiec remains a constant threat to win. Other contenders include Hector Arana Sr., 2013 event winner Hector Arana Jr., two-time world champ Matt Smith, Angie Smith, former zMAX Dragway winner Steve Johnson and three-time world champion Angelle Sampey.
I had not been on a bike in a year and a half,
But Stoffer is focused on the task at hand, and that attitude played a major factor in the win at Gainesville. The victory was also added assurance that she can continue to compete against the best in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class.
“My job and my mindset is to put down the best passes that I can,” Stoffer said. “I had not been on a bike in a year and a half, so that win was definitely special, especially considering the caliber of teams in this class. That whole combination of it being the first race for Stoffer Enterprises, coming back and being able to win against these high-caliber teams made the win very special.”
Stoffer will also have to quickly acclimate herself to the uniqueness of the Four-Wide Nationals race. There are added variables that won’t be present at any other Pro Stock Motorcycle event, but Stoffer expects to be locked in at the starting line.
“You definitely need a little more intense focus,” Stoffer said. “Staging is so critical, especially on a bike at this event. It’s more of a mental thing and it’s definitely a little busier on the starting line for this race. That means you need to stay a little sharper, so for me getting focused on the staging procedure is going to be the biggest key. You have to be extra aware of the entire process.”
In Top Fuel, Brown won at the Four-Wide Nationals for the first time last season and claimed six victories in 2014. Spencer Massey, who was victorious at the most recent event in Gainesville, won in 2012 and 2013, while reigning world champ Tony Schumacher has two victories at zMAX Dragway, but is looking for his first in the unique four-lane format. Doug Kalitta, J.R. Todd, three-time world champ Larry Dixon, reigning rookie of the year Richie Crampton, Brittany Force, Steve Torrence and 2013 world champ Shawn Langdon will all be major contenders as well.
Robert Hight scored a Funny Car victory at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in 2014, his first of three straight victories on the season. The winningest driver in NHRA history at zMAX Dragway with four victories, Hight has won twice at the Four-Wide Nationals. Reigning world champ Matt Hagan, who opened the season with back-to-back victories and leads the points standings, is a three-time winner at Charlotte, while other stars include John Force, Courtney Force, three-time national event winner Alexis DeJoria, Del Worsham, Cruz Pedregon, Jack Beckman, Tommy Johnson Jr. and recent Gatornationals winner Ron Capps.
Substituting for four-time world champ Greg Anderson, who had off-season heart surgery, Alund ran the first five races in 2014 and struck gold at zMAX Dragway. Anderson, a two-time winner of the event, is looking to build momentum after earning his 75th career victory two weeks ago at the Gatornationals, while teammate Jason Line won the season-opening race. Others to watch include reigning world champ Erica Enders-Stevens, 2012 world champ Allen Johnson, current points leader Rodger Brogdon, rookie sensation Drew Skillman, Shane Gray and Jonathan Gray.
Mello Yello Series qualifying begins Friday, March 27, with sessions at 1:15 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, March 28, also at 1:15 and 4 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. on Sunday, March 29.
The NHRA Four-Wide Nationals also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.