Jerry Savoie heads to this weekend's 16th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in nearly an identical situation as he was in a year ago. The Pro Stock Motorcycle standout trails Eddie Krawiec by just 49 points, putting him in world championship contention for the second straight season.
The goal now is to do what he just missed out on a year ago and the most recent race in Dallas, and that is get a win on his Savoie's Alligator Farm Suzuki. He was the runner-up at both aforementioned events, falling to Krawiec in Dallas, and Savoie knows that wins are needed to earn his first NHRA Mello Drag Racing Series world title.
"We're excited and we're fortunate to be in this position," said Savoie, who has five career wins. "We would be a lot more excited if we had won in Dallas, but I have to give a lot of the credit to the crew and (crew chief) Tim (Kulungian). I feel really bad about Dallas and didn't do what I wanted to do in the final. But we're excited about Vegas and we think we got it corrected. I know I've got a great crew and one fast motorcycle."
Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year's winners of the event that will for the first time be aired on FOX Sports 1 this October. On Sunday, FS1 will televise three hours of live finals coverage starting at 4 p.m. (ET). It is the fifth of sixth races in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship and the penultimate race of 2016.
Getting a Vegas victory would put Savoie in prime position to compete for a world championship against the likes of Krawiec and reigning world champion Andrew Hines, who is 17 points back of Krawiec, at the season finale in Pomona. But despite the pressure of the moment, Savoie, who earned a Countdown to the Championship win in St. Louis, is simply excited to be in the championship mix for two straight years.
"For me, I just love the heads-up competition and I love to get out there and compete against my friends," Savoie said. "To do something you dream of doing and to accomplish that dream, that's a big goal on my life. Everything else here is just icing on the cake. There's a lot of really good riders and some really fast motorcycles, and you need to have a great team to get through this field. You can't look past anybody."
Along with the St. Louis victory, Savoie also has four final round appearances in 2016, giving him confidence heading into this weekend's critical event. But Savoie knows if he meets up with Hines and Krawiec he has to take care of business to remain in championship contention.
He lost to Hines in last year's final round in Vegas and to Krawiec in Dallas after a poor reaction time led to Krawiec's holeshot victory. Savoie, who had posted excellent reaction times all weekend in Dallas before the final, believes he has corrected the final-round mishap, which could put him in prime position for the NHRA Toyota Nationals.
"We always run well in Vegas and I think we can win this one," Savoie said. "If we meet up with Andrew and Eddie, I have to do my job. I feel pretty confident about what we can do. I have no doubts in my bike and my team, and Vegas is an exceptionally run track. It's a great place with great fans and a great atmosphere, and it really brings out the best in you. This is definitely one of my favorite facilities."
Defending Top Fuel winner Kalitta will need another victory to try to track down points leader and reigning world champion Antron Brown, who has three wins in the Countdown and holds a 150-point advantage over Kalitta.
Hight won in Funny Car last year, but Ron Capps currently holds a 64-point advantage over Tommy Johnson Jr. Capps, seeking his first world title, also must hold off the likes of Jack Beckman, reigning world champ Del Worsham and Matt Hagan.
Enders clinched her second straight Pro Stock championship a year ago with a Vegas win, but this season has belonged to teammates Jason Line and Greg Anderson. Points leader Line has eight wins in 2016 and Anderson, who is 26 points back, has seven.
The NHRA Toyota Nationals also features competition in the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series and the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series. As always, fans have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they're granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying feature two rounds at 11:45 a.m. and 3:45 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 28, and two final rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Oct. 29, at 11:45 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 30.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 800-644-4444 or 702-644-4444. Tickets available online at www.lvms.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. For more info visit www.NHRA.com.