Even though Reading, Pa., is more than 2,600-miles from her home in Minden, Nev., Karen Stoffer almost considers Maple Grove Raceway to be her home track and with good reason the track has been the home of some of her most memorable moments, including a victory in 2006.
“I have a lot of great memories here, almost as many as anywhere else we race,” said Stoffer. “In 2002, in what was maybe my fourth race, I got to the final round and ran Angelle in [the first all-female final in Pro Stock Motorcycle]. I also beat out Michael Phillips here for the final spot in the Mickey Thompson Six Second Club. This track has been very good to me throughout my career. I’ve had a few milestones here, and
Stoffer made even more personal history on Friday at the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals when she bettered both of her career-bests with a 6.790 at 198.90 mph on her Tim Kulungian-tuned Suzuki. Stoffer enters Saturday’s runs as the No. 3 qualified behind the Harley-Davidson’s of Angelle Sampey and Andrew Hines.
Stoffer’s fortunes have improved greatly since she joined Jerry Savoie’s White Alligator team at the start of the season, but she is still searching for her first victory since the 2015 Norwalk race. Stoffer reached the final round earlier this year in Chicago on the strength of one of the best driving performances in NHRA history. In four rounds, she was dazzling on the starting line with reaction times of .009, .006, .001, and a .002 in the final, but even that wasn’t enough to hold off Matt Smith. Stoffer admits the experience was not only traumatic, but also affected her confidence.
“I look at the bike that we had that weekend, and the way that I rode, and I can’t help but think to myself, ‘Geez, what else could I do to win?’ I don’t think we could have done anything better and it still wasn’t enough. That took me a while to work through mentally. It was very deflating, but now we’re in the Countdown and we’ve got a chance to do something now that we’re here.”
Stoffer is the No. 5 seed in the playoffs, the highest for any Suzuki rider. Stoffer now has ten races working with Kulungian and team owner Jerry Savoie, and while that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the 25-years she’s spent racing with her husband, Gary, Stoffer feels that she’s learned much and is peaking at the right time.
“Tim has had to make a lot of changes to accommodate me because I’m the lightest rider he’s every worked with, and it hasn’t been easy at times,” said Stoffer. “My riding is also a little different. It’s just a matter of getting my and Tim, and the bike all on the same page. The combination that has worked so well for Tim and Jerry or [former rider] LE Tonglet doesn’t work for me. We’ve tried a lot of different things and some of them have worked and some haven’t, but I think we’re a lot closer now than we’ve been at any other time this season.
“I’m really happy to just make the top ten because there are some really good riders who didn’t make it,” said Stoffer. “I’m happy to be here but now that I’m here I want to excel; I want to take a shot at the championship. We haven’t had that opportunity in a while and I honestly don’t know how many more chances I might get in my career.”