Karen Stoffer Karen Stoffer, rider of the Cycle Guard by Geico Direct Suzuki owned by Jonco Motorsports, is having her best season as an NHRA POWERade Series Pro Stock Bike competitor. At Houston Raceway Park in April, Stoffer became the seventh...
Karen Stoffer, rider of the Cycle Guard by Geico Direct Suzuki owned by Jonco Motorsports, is having her best season as an NHRA POWERade Series Pro Stock Bike competitor. At Houston Raceway Park in April, Stoffer became the seventh female to win an NHRA national event, joining an exclusive club that includes pioneer Shirley Muldowney, a three-time Top Fuel champion, and three-time Pro Stock Bike champ Angelle Savoie. In 1996 Stoffer emerged on the scene and made her debut along with Savoie and Stephanie Reaves at Bandimere Speedway. Over the next few seasons she parked her racing plans until 2002, when she partnered with the Jonco team. Since then she has advanced to three final rounds during her career, including the first all-female final in Pro Stock Bike history against Savoie at Reading, Pa. in 2002. In 2003 at Columbus, Ohio she lost her second shot at victory due to a red light start in the final against Fred Collis. She finally tasted victory at Houston earlier this year when she used a performance advantage to defeat Antron Brown. This weekend she'll try for her second career victory and first No. 1 qualifying position at the NHRA Route 66 Nationals outside Chicago. In this Q&A the Minden, Nev. racer talks about how her first career victory has brought some change to her life, what she does when she isn't racing her motorcycle and what she remembers most about her first NHRA start at Denver in 1996.
Q: How special was your first victory -- joining a pretty exclusive club as only the seventh female to win an NHRA national event?
STOFFER: It was cool. I didn't know I was the seventh female until well after the race was over and someone came over to the trailer and told me about it. There seems to be a lot of sevens floating around in my racing career, with my bike number and now being the seventh female to win a national event. It was a huge thing. Shirley Muldowney, Angelle and Lori (Johns) -- all those people who have paved the road -- it is just a real privilege to be mentioned with them.
Q: Did you have a good feeling like you might win that day?
STOFFER: It was one of those days where everything came together. I was in a good mood and was relaxed and comfortable. We had a good synergy going on with the team and everything was clicking. When it is your day, it's your day.
Q: After the win, has anything been different in your life?
STOFFER: It hasn't been too awful different. Although my house was full of flowers when I got home after the win, so that was pretty nice. I go right back to work after racing. There has been more publicity, a few more fans and some more attraction in that area. Other than that, it is still race day and things are still the same. We are out here to make good laps, go fast and run the full mile on Sunday.
Q: Did you already have a place set up to showcase your Wally?
STOFFER: The weekend prior to Houston I had my father re-do my entertainment center to make a better place for the Wallys I had won from my divisional days. I did not make a space for any new ones. So when I got home from Houston I had to make an adjustment for the new one. It's an honor to be able to win one when I know there are so many racers out here who have never won one. I do feel blessed and lucky that we were able to run the full mile at Houston and do as well as we did that day. We had a tough road in front of us on the ladder and were able to take on each rider in every race. That makes it even more special because we had to work so darn hard for it.
Q: Do you think winning the next one is going to be easier?
STOFFER: Absolutely not. I don't think winning anything out here is easy. I think it just put a taste in my mouth of what it is like. Maybe on our side we'll get a little more aggressive to win another race because now we know we can do it. I think each and every race is going to be very, very difficult.
Q: Do you feel more pressure to win more races now that you have proved you can do it?
STOFFER: I honestly don't. The only reason why I don't is because of so many years of bracket racing has conditioned me to realize that this is an up and down sport. You are going to have some good times and some bad times and you've got to be able to handle both situations with composure. As soon as I put my helmet on and get in that water box it is just the same old racetrack with black pavement in front of me and a Christmas Tree that's going to give me the signal to go.
Q: Has the victory changed your sponsorship outlook?
STOFFER: Cycle Guard by Geico Direct signed on for the last race of 2003 and re-signed for the 2004 opener at Gainesville. They have actually signed on for nine more races, so that gives us a good opportunity for this year. As a team, we will be picking up the rest of the financial commitment for the season to make sure we are at every race. At this point, there hasn't been a lot of dialogue with sponsors, but we are working on it very aggressively. I think the fact that we will be out here for the entire season is a statement that we are determined to do this, with or without a sponsor. It was great that Cycle Guard by Geico Direct realized what we were going into this season and decided to sign on for nine races. That helped us out phenomenally.
Q: What has put you in contention this season?
STOFFER: This is definitely my most successful season as a pro, by far. I would say that there's a good comfort level with the team and a good synergy going with the way things are set up with the four of us on the team. I think the additional associate sponsorship with Geico Direct has given us more mental relief of not having to worry about funding as much.
Q: How did you get involved with the NHRA Track Announcer's Guild?
STOFFER: When I am not racing out here I help my friend run the National Motorcycle Racing Association (NMRA) and I do a lot of announcing at those events on the West Coast. I really enjoy it. I am most proficient with the motorcycles and know a lot about them. My husband (Gary) and I used to race in that series and we would race three to four times a week. I got to know a lot of the riders that compete and I know a lot about the bikes, so it was a natural fit for me to be an announcer there. I could probably talk my way through a lot of the Top Fuel situations, but I would have to hang around them a little bit longer before I would feel comfortable enough to be able to say that's what I aspire to be -- a full-time announcer. I admit that Mike Dunn impresses me, going from the driver's seat straight into the announcer's box. He does a very good job.
Q: What is it about motorcycles that got you interested in this stuff?
STOFFER: It was my husband who built a bike for me. He had been racing for a couple of years and had been pretty successful winning races and championships, so he surprised me by building me a bike too. I was his pit crew helping him out at the track so he obviously saw something in me and thought that I would do good on a bike. Prior to that I had no desire to race until I actually got on it for the first time. After the first season when I won rookie of the year I started to realize that this was something I really enjoyed and had a lot of fun with.
Q: What do you remember most about your first NHRA Pro Stock Bike race in 1996 at Denver when you made your debut alongside two other female riders?
STOFFER: It's kind of sad, but the thing I remember most is that I was the only one of the three that didn't qualify. It was bittersweet. I went to the drag racing school with Angelle in '95 and got to see her again in '96 and I was really happy for her to be selected by George Bryce and race alongside John Myers with Star Racing. Stephanie had teamed with Dave Schultz at the time and she is a great girl and a great rider. I was very happy for them. We went out to that race as a privateer and had borrowed someone else's bike and I had never ridden it prior to that first qualifying session. With all of the variables involved, I think we did well for what we had gone there with. It was certainly a privilege to make my debut with the other two girls.
Q: Now that you've got a victory under your belt, what are your goals moving forward?
STOFFER: I don't set really goals too far in advance. My goals are more incremental, and then I move along to the big one. We obviously wanted to get our first Wally and that was a phenomenal feat for us. We were blessed. I wanted to get a great corporate sponsor and we're fortunate to have Cycle Guard by Geico Direct and that's really helped add that one dimension to the team. My near goal is to qualify No. 1 and really show our performance. We've got our Cope motor from last year with a little bit of Vance and Hines technology from this year. We really want to show the power and that we have a good team. The near goal is to capture that No. 1 qualifying position.
Q: There seems to be a lot of really interesting news happening in Pro Stock Bike this year.
STOFFER: It's great how the Harleys are doing. They have found the performance and they are consistent and it looks like they are going to keep it together. As far as me being in the sport, I think the female thing has been done. Angelle has won a lot of races and three championships and really cemented it. I don't want to come in as the next female or another female, I just want to be a great rider. My whole focus is to make consistent passes and make them fast. I want to help this team win some more Wallys, qualify No. 1 and have a good time. One of the big things is that we're fortunate to be able to meet a lot of new people and come out to these new racetracks. That's the thing I've never done. I had never traveled beyond the West Coast until last year. So this is a real treat for me to get to race at all of these wonderful facilities.
Q: What do you think is your biggest challenge personally in racing?
STOFFER: My biggest challenge has always been myself. I am one that wants to strive on my performance and always be perfect. I want to always hit my shift points and always cut good lights. Beyond that, I think the biggest challenge is developing sponsorship and marketing partners. I really want to bring some new corporate blood into this great sport. NHRA is a phenomenal organization. I want to see some corporate sponsors step in a realize the tremendous opportunities that are available in the NHRA POWERade Series. I think if Corporate America will look at Pro Stock Bike as an option they can quickly see how diverse motorsports can be.
Q: Why is it so tough to win in Pro Stock Bike?
STOFFER: I think a lot of it has to do with the technology and the motor building. For a long time there was only three or four primary motor builders out here and you had to buy your power. There's a lot of people who try to go out there and duplicate and build power on their own and what they find is that the learning curve is a lot longer than they originally thought. I think one of the main reasons is because of the niche motor builders. If you spread it around the entire class, and that's what's been happening, you've got seven or eight riders with the same exact power and it is up to them to try and work it out and develop it to its best potential to become a champion. I think that is why we see the pattern of dominance of one person winning a lot of races in a single stretch because they have worked out that piece of power and have been able to capitalize on it and others haven't found that secret yet. I think all of the riders out here are pretty equal in their abilities. There's also track history as well. Some of the tracks are very difficult places to tune a bike with all of the different atmospheric conditions. Sometimes the weather changes happen so rapidly it makes it an extreme challenge. If you have the history over the years to go back on you are going to have a big advantage over the competition.
Q: Does that make your win better knowing that you did it kind of out of the blue?
STOFFER: The thing that made it most satisfying was that my husband (Gary Stoffer) was the crew chief and he made all of the calls and had some backup from Doug Johnson, the team owner. There was some things he wanted to try and he was able to do it successfully in Houston. In a lot of ways we are like a rookie team out here because Greg Cope had a lot of history behind him and he's now with the Vance and Hines team. The thing that makes the win so sweet is that we did it in somewhat of a rookie status.
Q: As far as rivals go, who would you consider your biggest?
STOFFER: I don't have just one. At any given time any rider out here can step up and be your arch-rival. For me, my biggest rival is whoever is in the other lane at the time. I always assume they are going to be doing their best, so I know I need to be on my game if I am going to have success against them.