The Gerber Collision & Glass Route 66 NHRA Nationals is significant in that it mark the return of the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series to one of the most favored facilities on tour: Route 66 Raceway, just outside of Chicago. While each of the near-500 participants are thrilled to be back, Peggy Llewellyn is, perhaps, the most excited of all. This weekend in Chicago, Llewellyn is back on a Pro Stock Motorcycle for the first time since 2008.
"My last national event was Pomona [the NHRA Finals] in 2008," said San Antonio resident Llewellyn, who stepped away to attend to family matters and pursue a college degree. "I had to pivot from pursuing my dream, but I still did speaking-engagements and my leathers were on display in the World of Speed Museum – I just wasn't trying to race or pursue sponsorship at that time. Life happens, and I had to step back and make a sacrifice. But I never lost sight of my dream."
Llewellyn, who first licensed in Pro Stock Motorcycle in the early 2000s, raced her first full season in 2007. That year was a breakout, memorable experience as she made history in Dallas. When Llewellyn got the nod over Andrew Hines in the final round at the FallNationals at Texas Motorplex, she made NHRA history as the first woman of color to win in a Pro category.
A departure from NHRA drag racing was not in her initial plan, but Llewellyn accepted the detour with gratitude and grace – a signature stance – and kept her goals simmering. She began working on re-licensing in 2022 and had plans in motion but they did not come to fruition. More detours ensued, but Llewellyn stayed the course, and it was longtime friend and sponsor Bob LaGuardia, of Diamond Bar Choppers, who came through with the missing piece.
"He said, Gary [Stoffer] has a Suzuki, so we contacted him," explained Llewellyn. "That was on a Saturday evening, and by Sunday, I had my plans and a plane ticket to go down to Bradenton at the end of February of this year. The flight there, I was just like, 'Let me go back and make my mental runs.' That was something I learned when I rode with George Bryce. You make your mental runs; you don't have to be on a bike all the time to do that.
"The first time popping the clutch, it was surprising at first, but then it was like, oh yeah, this is how it's done. The next three passes, I was raring to go."
Llewellyn successfully renewed her license in late February, and although she hadn't been back on the motorcycle since, she was clearly in her element aboard the Suzuki and with Stoffer and Greg Underdahl behind her. In the first session on Friday at Route 66 Raceway, she made a clean and straight pass that netted a 6.975 at 185.79. Heading into the second day of the event, she is No. 13 in the qualifying order.
"My confidence right now is pretty even-keel," she said. "I don't want to be like, 'I'm BACK!' But I also don't want to act like I've never done this. I've done this. If you ask about my excitement level, though, it's through the roof.
"I'm just taking it as it comes. I'm a competitor, but right now, winning looks different for me. I got re-licensed; that's a win. I got the sponsorship to get to this race; that's a win. Making my first pass; that's a win. I still want to hoist a trophy, but I'm not going to try to grab everything all at one time. I want to enjoy the journey, too."