GT Tonglet is nearly a veteran now. The 2003 NHRA POWERade Pro Stock Bike season will be the third competitive season for the 20-year-old, so he has been around the track a time or two. Tonglet came onto the scene in 2001 and was too young to earn...
GT Tonglet is nearly a veteran now. The 2003 NHRA POWERade Pro Stock Bike season will be the third competitive season for the 20-year-old, so he has been around the track a time or two. Tonglet came onto the scene in 2001 and was too young to earn points in the series for the first three months of the season. That didn't keep him from earning his first victory (St. Louis) and first top 10 finish in the standings.
Because of his early success and his future potential, Terry Vance and Byron Hines selected Tonglet to be the first rider in the Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson program. The 2002 season was the first for the factory-backed Harley program and it had some problems getting the V-Rod in the field. In seven attempts, Tonglet and the Harley team failed to qualify. For 2003, the team added another bike, with 19-year-old Andrew Hines as the rider, to double the data. Hines has qualified in the first two events while Tonglet has not.
In this Q&A session, Tonglet talks about what it is like to usher in a new program in NHRA, why he is suited for drag racing and why he is determined to qualify for this weekend's Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals in Commerce, Ga.
Q: What is your dream race? Who are you racing and where?
TONGLET: My dream race would have me in the final round and while it is hard to say who it would be against, this race would have everything on the line. I would want it to be the final pass during the Finals at Pomona, (Calif.) with the pressure on and the Pro Stock Bike championship on the line. If I had it my way, I would be racing Terry Vance, John Myers or Dave Schultz. I would want to go up against one of the best riders ever. We'd race and I would come away with the victory and the championship.
Q: You are two races into the season, preparing to make passes at the third event this weekend. Can you see dramatic differences between this season and the 2002 campaign?
TONGLET: We've made a lot of changes to the bikes over the winter and that is already showing. Both bikes have stepped up pretty well and I think it's a great thing that at least one bike is qualifying already. That proves that the Harley bike can qualify and that we are capable of going down the track and going rounds. My bike has just experienced a couple of bad races so far. But that is normal for every drag racing team out there. Everyone goes through tough times at one point or another. We've had some unusual things happen to my bike, but we've made some strong adjustments and I am looking forward to riding the bike down the track in Atlanta.
Q: What are your goals going into the race in Atlanta?
TONGLET: My goal right now is to get the Harley bike into the show. Like I said, we had some problems in the first two races of the season, but we know what those problems were and we're ready to get both bikes qualified. I want to go rounds on Sunday. Andrew showed us in Gainesville (Fla.) that if we can get in the show, and if you produce great reaction times, you can win rounds on Sunday. We've made a lot of progress with this team in the last year and I want that to show on Sunday. We are closer now to having my bike qualify than ever before. I don't think I have ever been so optimistic. We've done some testing and I think we're ready.
Q: When Andrew Hines qualified in Gainesville and Houston to open the first two events of the season, there was talk that he was riding the "A" bike and you were riding a "B" bike. Is there any truth to that?
TONGLET: No, there is not an A or B bike. Both bikes are identical, but it is always hard to build two identical bikes or cars. Race cars or bikes are always going to react differently to certain fuel maps or anything else you put on the bike. We are fine tuning mine to get it qualified and competitive. Andrew's bike happened to react differently to the setup and it easily could have been my bike that ran well right out of the blocks. The bikes are the same, we don't have an R&D bike. But one thing about racing is that one bike will always run better than the other because you can't tie, so someone has to finish better or worse. I want to race on Sunday, but I don't care that Andrew did first. I like Andrew. He's a good friend of mine and it doesn't bother me that his bike has done better early. Who knows? In Atlanta I might out-qualify him.
Q: What do you think about being the first rider in the factory-backed Harley program?
TONGLET: I am definitely happy that I joined this program when I did. It has helped me in many aspects of racing. I got a little frustrated last season because everyone worked so hard to bring a new factory into NHRA drag racing, and the performance just wasn't there. It was hard to not qualify and see our team struggle with a new program. We did so much testing last season and it would have been great for everyone involved if we had qualified both bikes in Gainesville, but that is just not how it happened. We have definitely turned the team around this year and everyone is going out there and doing their best. Terry and Byron are two of the best guys in the world, they are very fair with team decisions and they are making a lot of progress with this program.
Q: What do you want to accomplish this season?
TONGLET: This season I would like to start qualifying and get into the top 10. I just want to get back into the swing of things and go rounds.
Q: What do you want to accomplish during your career?
TONGLET: I would like to stay on the Harley team for as long as I can. Hopefully at the end of the year we will re-sign again. Hopefully the next time we sign it will be for four or five year so I know I can be competitive and become a regular name in the category. This Harley team has a lot of potential. We are trying to get both bikes to qualify now, but it won't be long before both bikes are competitive on Sunday too.
Q: What is the hardest thing about having early success and then not qualifying for more than a year? What has this process taught you?
TONGLET: The hardest thing last year was going up to the startling line on Sunday and watching the race. That is the hardest thing because naturally you want to say how you would do this, or that and what you would have done differently. I was just standing there, second-guessing the people who were actually racing. Sunday was the worst because I know what this team can potentially do, and it was bad just standings and watching the races. Last year was hard on the entire team. It's tough looking at your name on the bottom of the qualifying sheet, when your name used to be at the top. I've learned a lot during this process. There is a lot that goes into making an entirely new program competitive. I think this has been a bigger and tougher project than anyone thought it would be. This has really helped keep me grounded. You can't get a big head going through all of this and that is a good thing. I'm happy that I have been able to be part of this Harley program, especially since it is being built from the ground up, and I've learned a lot about racing in general that will help me.
Q: What do you like about drag racing?
TONGLET: Competition. Drag racing seems to be the only thing I am good at. I like racing and the competition is good here. The fans and people out at all of the NHRA POWERade series events are all great. I can't imagine doing anything else, right now. We have made such tremendous strides with this program and I can't wait to see it reach its potential. We are going to give it our best and we are going to get both Harleys in the field and see what happens.
Q: Your dad, Gary Tonglet, also races in Pro Stock Bike. What has he taught you?
TONGLET: Everything I know about drag racing, how to ride, how to tune motorcycles and all around everything. We are pretty good friends. But every relationship has flaws. We are exactly alike and sometimes we agree to disagree. I'm happy that he is out here racing and he is really showing everyone that he can still do it. He said he is going to qualifying in Atlanta and I hope the best for him. If he is on the bump spot on Saturday and I'm trying to qualify, that is when the relationships stops. I am not going to lie down for anybody. We are good friends, but we are both very competitive.
Q: Why do you think your personality is suited for drag racing?
TONGLET: Drag racing doesn't need a specific personality. Drag racing works for all kinds of people and all kinds of personalities. You can be yourself out there. I don't know why I am a good fit for it. I couldn't imagine doing very many other things. I would like to try road racing. But right now I am going to stay with drag racing because I really enjoy the sport.
Q: Would you like to compete in any other professional NHRA category?
TONGLET: I would like to try Pro Stock but I don't know if I could do it. I have never driven a car down a quarter-mile and I am not sure if I would like it as much as the motorcycles. I would have to get into something else before I get into a Pro Stock car. I would like to do the Roy Hill driving school where I could be criticized until you are about to cry. Constructive criticism helps the way you ride and drive. You can't just hop in a car and go down the track. You have to know what you are doing.
Q: What do you do in your spare time?
TONGLET: I try to ride street bikes as much as possible. We take them to the race track and go have fun with them. It helps me with Pro Stock Bike racing because riding no (wheelie) bar bikes you have to know that there is always the chance the bike will flip over. The quickest street bike runs in the 7.60-second range without a wheelie bar. I haven't gone that fast yet, but it's a tough category. It takes a lot of skill and that is what I like. We have three tracks within two hours of my house. We are there every Wednesday and every weekend. I don't know why anyone wouldn't race as much as possible. We have just 15 races on the NHRA schedule and when I am not at the NHRA tracks, I want to race no matter where it is.