PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE RIDERS SAMPEY AND LLEWELLYN REFLECT ON HISTORY HEADING TO DENVER DENVER, Colo. -- It was 11 years ago at Bandimere Speedway in Denver that Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Angelle Sampey made her professional debut in the NHRA. A...
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE RIDERS SAMPEY AND LLEWELLYN REFLECT ON HISTORY HEADING TO DENVER
DENVER, Colo. -- It was 11 years ago at Bandimere Speedway in Denver that Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Angelle Sampey made her professional debut in the NHRA. A decade, three championships, and 41 wins later, the most of any woman in NHRA history, the end product of that debut is still being felt heading into the 28th annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals, July 13-15.
With seven women competing for a POWERade Series world championship this season, including three in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category, Sampey is far removed from the days of being the lone woman competing on a motorcycle. But Sampey says that those first few years were not easy to get through.
"It's been like a roller coaster I guess," Sampey said, reflecting on the past 11 years. "In the beginning of my career, it was hard. There were a lot of people I raced with in the beginning that would have preferred I not race against them. They would say a lot of crude things and it was pretty ugly in the beginning."
Competing as the only female in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category can be difficult for any person, and Sampey says there were many times that she questioned what she was doing.
"It was hard and there were a lot of times that I wanted to quit," Sampey said. "But I realized that that was exactly what they wanted me to do, so I just kept going. Then when the wins came, that's when all the 'ups' came."
Sampey's first few years in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category had a huge effect on future drivers in the NHRA, much like Top Fuel pilot Shirley Muldowneys did years previous. One of those was Peggy Llewellyn, now riding the Klement Racing Buell. Competing in her first full season in Pro Stock Motorcycle, Llewellyn says that it was watching those first few years of Sampey's career that helped spark her interest in the NHRA.
"Ever since I saw Angelle, Karen (Stoffer) and Stephanie (Reaves) make their debut, I knew that it could be something that I could do as well," Llewellyn said. "And now, to actually be doing it, it's just like a dream."
Competing week in and week out against both male and female riders, Llewellyn says that when she gets up to the line for a run, it doesn't matter who's in the opposite lane competing against her.
"Whoever is in the next lane, it doesn't change anything for me," Llewellyn said. "The competition is tougher than it's been in years, but once the helmets go on, it doesn't matter who you are. You have to run your lane and do your job and at the end you either get the win light or you don't."
"The competition is awesome now," Sampey said. "It doesn't matter if it's Andrew Hines (defending series champion) or Peggy Llewellyn. Each rider is just as competitive. Whether it's a guy or girl, each rider has every chance each week to win that race because the field is so competitive. You say: 'That girl is just as competitive as I am and wants to win just as much as I do.'"
With two event wins there in 2000 and 2001, as well as it being the track where she made her professional debut, no other driver is more excited about returning to Denver this year than Sampey.
"That's where it all started for me," Sampey said. "I really love that track and the track owners. The Bandimeres are the most awesome track owners. They make each driver feel real special. The track is so beautiful and the fans are great. It's just so awesome to be racing on the side of a mountain."
Though she has never competed at Bandimere Speedway, Llewellyn is just as excited to get her first taste of Denver.
"From what I hear it's totally different than any other track, so I'm just going to take what everyone else says and just see what happens," Llewellyn said.
Reflecting on the past 11 years, with three world championships, 41 wins, and a large barrier broken for all women competing in the POWERade Series, Sampey says there's one last goal that she hopes to accomplish before the end of her career.
"I want to be the winningest Pro Stock Motorcycle rider," Sampey said. "I want to drop the female part from the title and just be the winningest Pro Stock Motorcycle rider."
Sampey and Llewellyn will have plenty of competition when the Pro Stock Motorcycle category heads to Bandimere Speedway. Drivers to watch include current points leader Matt Smith, defending world champion and 2006 event winner Andrew Hines, and Karen Stoffer, who has wins in Gainesville and Atlanta this season.
The competitive Top Fuel field features several drivers to keep on the radar including defending event winner J.R. Todd, Brandon Bernstein, who has won three of the four final rounds he's appeared in this season, and defending series champion and 2005 event winner Tony Schumacher.
Drivers in the Funny Car category to keep an eye on include defending POWERade series champion and five-time event winner John Force, defending event winner Gary Scelzi, who has wins in Pomona and Chicago this season, and 2005 Denver winner Robert Hight. Current points leader Ron Capps also will be looking to grab his first event win at Bandimere Speedway.
In Pro Stock, drivers in contention are defending event-winner Dave Connolly, who also won in St. Louis this season; Greg Anderson, who has collected an impressive five wins this season; and five-time Denver winner and 2007 International Motorsports Hall of Fame inductee, Warren Johnson.
* SCHEDULE: Professional qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4:45 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. on July 13, and 1:15 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. on July 14. Pre-race ceremonies are scheduled for 11 a.m. on July 15, followed by the first round of professional eliminations at noon.
* TICKETS: For tickets, call NHRA, at (800) 884-NHRA (6472), or (800) 664-UWIN. Tickets are also available at Ticketreturn.com.
* ON TV: On July 14, ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 6 p.m. (ET). On July 15, ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute pre-race news magazine show, at 11 a.m. (ET) and also will televise three hours of eliminations coverage at 9 p.m. (ET).