Tonglet recalls Hurricane Katrina

SCREAMIN' EAGLE'S TONGLET READY TO BATTLE COMPETITION AND NEW ORLEAN'S HURRICANE SEASON Tonglet prepared to defend Brainerd event win GT Tonglet is the first to admit that racing takes a back seat in his life from time to time. As the rider of...

SCREAMIN' EAGLE'S TONGLET READY TO BATTLE COMPETITION AND NEW ORLEAN'S HURRICANE SEASON
Tonglet prepared to defend Brainerd event win

GT Tonglet is the first to admit that racing takes a back seat in his life from time to time. As the rider of the Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rod will tell you, hurricane season is one of the best reminders of what's most important in his life.

Before the land, structures and people of Louisiana have even dried out from last year's devastating Hurricane Katrina, another season of potentially hazardous weather has started and the New Orleans native is ready to race through another NHRA POWERade series season while keeping his list of priorities close at hand.

"Friends and family are so important to me," Tonglet said. "That's really all that matters at the end of the day and I think sometimes we take that for granted. Last year was a real good reminder that nothing is more important than my family."

The 23-year-old was home in Metarie, a suburb of New Orleans, during the days leading up to the 2005 Hurricane Katrina. Tonglet and his family are New Orleans natives and have watched warnings come and go and have never left their homes before. The morning of Katrina, however, Tonglet decided to leave. He packed up a few things he would need for the weekend's race and he and wife, Nicole, started driving.

Two days later, they arrived in Indianapolis for the annual race at Indianapolis Raceway Park. They were exhausted, but safe.

"It's a very unusual feeling knowing that you might not have a house when you go home," Tonglet said. "But it wasn't just our house, I was concerned about all our friends and family members. I knew that it would be a long road to recovery for a lot of people that we cared about. We were lucky because everyone survived the disaster."

Since the hurricane, however, Tonglet has had to juggle duties to repair his house, his parents' house and a racing career that takes him all over the country for 15 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing events. He continues to prepare for each race the same -- focus on the race at hand. Now he's ready to defend his 2005 victory at the 25th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway, Aug. 10-13.

Last year Tonglet beat his teammate -- two-time defending NHRA series champion Andrew Hines -- to earn his third career victory.

"That was a great moment for the entire team because of all the work and effort that went into making this two-bike team competitive," Tonglet said. "(Team owner) Byron Hines took on the nearly impossible task of turning a V-Twin engine into a race-capable machine in such a short amount of time. I've never won the same event twice, so I'm looking forward to trying repeat the victory in Brainerd."

Tonglet especially likes making the journey up to northern Minnesota for the event. The track may not be connected to a big city like most of the other NHRA events, but the scene is always worth the trip.

"We've done some pretty awesome things with this team in the last two seasons but there is a lot more to accomplish," Tonglet said. "It's even better if we can accomplish great things in Brainerd. It's such a fun event because of the fans. They come to the event early, stay all week and they camp and have a great time. Brainerd is also one of the most motorcycle-friendly places on the tour. They know the motorcycles well and they love cheering us on. It's one of the best places to race."

When it comes time to compete, regardless of what's happening anywhere else, Tonglet is always ready. Less than 48 hours after his arrival in Indianapolis last year Tonglet had qualified third and had claimed the Ringer's Gloves Pro Bike Battle bonus event victory.

In short, Tonglet knows how to stay focused.

"When I get up there to race, I block everything else out," Tonglet said. "It doesn't matter if the pit trailer is on fire or anything weird is going on, I'm going to be as focused as I can. The competition is so good that you can't make mistakes anymore. When I first started racing at this level (in 2001) you could get away with a slip-up now and then and still win the round. But the competition is so much better now and the point standings are so close, you can't make a mistake and walk away with a win."

Harley-Davidson Racing Manager Anne Paluso said she will likely never forget the 2005 U.S. Nationals and spending time between rounds tracking down Tonglet's friends and family members.

"I'll always remember how scary it was for us not to be able to communicate with him for a couple of days," Paluso said. "He is more than just our factory rider. He's become part of our lives and he's family. There wasn't any way to reach him by phone and that was miserable. Then he just shows up.

"We spent time between rounds trying to find out if his friends were OK, his family was safe and if his house was still standing. While all of this is going on, he just goes out and wins the bonus event. GT is a great competitor and that entire event just showed how professional he is and how he takes his job as a racer seriously. He was able to focus during an event that captured the world's attention and that was amazing."

This year, however, Tonglet will likely view the hurricane forecasts a little differently. He has spent time between races helping his parents rebuild their home, forcing Tonglet to think twice about the warnings.

"I can't sit around worrying about what might happen or spend a lot of time thinking about hurricanes," Tonglet said. "You won't accomplish anything worrying about it. But I will do something different if it comes to another evacuation. We waited until the morning Katrina hit to leave. We beat it by a few hours and it was just too close.

"If we have one coming this year I think my wife and I will grab a few things and drive away earlier. I was really lucky in the way that our house flooded a few feet, but that's nothing compared to what a lot of people, including my parents, have gone through. We had a lot of work to do to make it possible to live in our house again, but we still had a place to come home to. There were thousands of people who couldn't do that."

With New Orleans and the weather back in the media spotlight, Tonglet will likely defend his decision to stay in New Orleans on a regular basis. But it's simple. If forced, Tonglet will evacuate for weather, but he will never leave home permanently.

"Now that the next hurricane season is here, people are going to talk about New Orleans, especially since it's not completely rebuilt yet," Tonglet said. "I love it down here and I won't ever move. This is where I have all of my friends and family. I know you can make new friends in a new city or state, but there is no substitute for being near family. People have dealt with this disaster in different ways, but it just made us realize how important it is to be near family. Hurricane Katrina was a good reminder and I don't think we'll ever forget that even for a minute, ever again."

-screamin' eagles-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Andrew Hines , GT Tonglet