The final event in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series is normally followed immediately by the Silly Season, where drivers, crew chief, sponsors, and other team news dominate the headlines. This year, one of the most dramatic announcements was also one of the first to drop when the Vance & Hines team released rider Angelle Sampey. In four seasons with the Vance & Hines team, Sampey earned four wins in seven final rounds and compiled a 53-34 record in elimination rounds, but there were also numerous red-light starts and holeshot losses that prevented the team from contending for the NHRA Camping World championship.
“First off, I was a bit shocked and obviously disappointed, but I also can’t say it was a total surprise when I was told that Vance & Hines wasn’t bringing me back for 2023,” said Sampey. “I realize that more often than not, I had a bike capable of winning races and winning a championship, and I just didn’t deliver. No one feels worse about that than I do. I let my team down, and that’s hard to take.
“For 26 years, I’ve been good at telling people how to do this. I know how to do this,” Sampey said. “This year, I wanted to end it with a bang. I wanted to be like Andrew [Hines] in 2019, where he won nine races. When you look at the positives, I won a race and was low qualifier six times, but racers want to win races, and I just didn’t win enough of them. I sort of feel like I’ve hit rock bottom, which is what makes it hard to think this might be the end. I could have had the best year of my career, and I didn’t capitalize on that.”
While the Vance & Hines chapter of her long and successful career might be over, Sampey is not currently willing to utter the word “retired.” She’s currently exploring any and all options that could allow her to continue a career that began in 1996 and includes 46 wins in 80 finals and three world championships. One of the hallmarks of Sampey’s career is making her doubters look foolish, and she’s hoping to do that at least one more time by rejoining the class that she helped make popular a quarter-century ago.
“The biggest thing is that I just don’t want it to end this way,” Sampey said. “I’ve worked too hard for too long to just leave, especially after the season we just had. I still feel like I have something to offer. One thing that I’ve never done in my entire career is to operate a team and race on my own terms. I’d love to see how that feels. I think the closest I’ve come to that is when Antron [Brown] and I were a part of Team 23. Initially, we didn’t have a sponsor, but we came out, and I won the first race. Antron won the second, and we went back and forth. Later that year, we joined the Army program. It was a great time in my career.”
As for her tenure at Vance & Hines, Sampey remains grateful for the four seasons she spent with the organization. She was able to realize her longtime goal of winning a race aboard a Harley-Davidson, and more recently, she made the quickest run of her career with a 6.69 aboard the team’s Mission Foods Suzuki earlier this year in Sonoma. Sampey also relished the opportunity to race alongside Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec, who have combined to win 10 championships.
“The Vance and Hines team gave me everything I needed and more, and I’m grateful for that,” Sampey said. “What happened this year was 100% me putting too much pressure on myself. If you look at my career, I tend to perform better as an underdog. If I don’t have the fastest bike, I tend to do better. I knew going into Gainesville this year that we had the best bike in the class. I looked at it the wrong way. I should have just gone out, rode the bike, and not worried about how fast it was or where we were in the points or anything like that. I learned a big lesson. The fear of failure caused me to do exactly what I didn’t want to do.”
Sampey feels that she understands what went wrong this season, and more importantly, given an opportunity, she’s got an idea of what she needs to do in order to correct it. To that end, she’s confident that she still has what it takes to get the job done. Physically, Sampey is in perhaps the best shape of her life, and mentally, she remains motivated despite the struggles of the last few seasons.
“I don’t have many goals left. I wanted to pass Dave [Schultz] in wins, and I did that,” Sampey said. “I also look at 46 wins and think I could get to 50, but more importantly, I want to show that I can still do a good job. I just haven’t gotten to the point where I want to stop. Had I been satisfied with my results this year, I think I could have walked away, but I want to end my career being proud of my accomplishments. I know I’ve done a lot, but you’re only as good as your last race, and my last race was terrible.
“Look, I still want to race, but I’m also realistic, so I understand that may not happen,” Sampey said. “It’s not easy to do this, especially when you look at funding, and finding the right equipment and everything else that goes with it. I might be forced into ending my career. If that happens, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. Even if that’s the case, I don’t want to walk away completely. I still want to be involved on some level, whether that’s as a commentator or a motivational speaker or something else. I don’t think I could ever leave this sport. Nothing might come up, but I’m going to pursue it.”