Had Jerry Savoie not qualified for the Countdown to the Championship playoffs, it’s entirely possible that he would have skipped the Mopar Express Lane Nationals presented by Pennzoil but after his win in Countdown clinching Indy victory, the popular alligator farmer is all-in for a run at a second Mello Yello Pro Stock Motorcycle championship. In the first all-Suzuki final round since last year’s Dallas event, Savoie defeated a resurgent Steve Johnson to win his 11th career victory in his 27th final. Savoie put an exclamation point on the win with a stout 6.774, his best run of the event, while Johnson wasn’t far behind with a 6.805.
Savoie managed to enter the playoffs as the No. 5 seed even though he skipped the mid-season events in Richmond, Chicago, and Norwalk. He was tenth after Sonoma and managed to jump five spots after winning Indy for the second time. During his post-race interviews at Indy, Savoie made a point to say that as one of the ten qualifiers for the Countdown, he would commit to the final six races, and he’d do everything he could to pursue a second world championship. Following the win, he has taken over the lead in the Mello Yello standings by six points over regular season leader Andrew Hines.
“I really didn’t see this coming; I don’t think anybody did,” said Savoie. “We were barley in the top ten a while back and here we are leading. This is just a great day. In the final we had Steve and we stepped it up; actually, I think conditions got better. I know we ran a 6.77 and everyone is looking at and pointing at the scoreboards, but Steve went 6.80 in the other lane. I don’t really like running Steve in a final because you never know what you’re going to get. I feel for him because he could use a win. We both made nice runs. All the credit to Tim [Kulinguan, crew chief ] and everyone lese on our team, they worked their butts off, and here we are.
“I didn’t count on making a run for the championship or the top ten,” said Savoie. “I took three races off and when we came back in Sonoma we ran well and got to tenth. The spread between No. 10 and No. 6 was really close and when we left Indy we were actually fifth. I gained a lot of points and bam, here we are. It’s a great accomplishment. Now, we just need to see if we can hold on for the next five races and finish this thing off.”
On a weekend where Suzuki-powered bikes occupied three of the top eight qualifying spots in the field, Savoie was seventh-quickest with a 6.813 and began his march to the final after Hector Arana Sr. fouled in round one. Savoie’s biggest win, arguably, came in the second round when he took out points leader and five-time champion Andrew Hines, 6.819 to 6.904. Savoie also defeated his White Alligator teammate, Karen Stoffer in the semifinals to reach his third final in eight races this season.
Even though he came up short, Johnson’ run to the final might have been one of the most impressive performances of the season regardless of class. Forced to end his 32-year streak of perfect attendance after damaging an engine, Johnson came into Reading with just one round win in seven appearances this season. Appearing in his 434th career event, by far the most in the history of the class, Johnson tied his best qualifying effort of the season (No. 4) and rode to the final by beating Kelly Clontz, Hector Arana Jr., and reigning champion Matt Smith. Johnson, who has at times had a bitter rivalry with Smith, left first by a hundredth of a second and then held on for a narrow win to reach his 21st career final and his first in five years.