HOUSTON (May 1) – Karen Stoffer is having such a good time racing the GEICO Suzuki, it's almost like 2010 never happened.
"It's so much fun to ride right now," Stoffer said. "I want to race it as much as I can every weekend. It feels like more than a whole new year, it feels like a whole new life.
"It's a 180 degree turnaround from what was going on last year. The bike and I are in sync better than ever and I'm enjoying it immensely."
Stoffer reached the semifinals of the 24th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals on Sunday, marking the second straight race she's won at least two elimination rounds. It's a far cry from her 2010 season, which saw more gnashed teeth than smiles.
"We've started the year with back-to-back consistent races," Stoffer said. "We just had one issue where we had to abort one qualifying run; that's it. We're trying for consistency this year and we've accomplished it so far."
Morgan Lucas, Stoffer's GEICO teammate, reached the second round of Top Fuel eliminations for the first time since his victory in the season opener.
Stoffer had one of the fastest bikes on the property all weekend. She qualified No. 2 and easily beat Angie Smith in the first round before following it up with a victory over Shawn Gann.
However, Stoffer and her crew could see that the performance was slipping just a touch with each passing round.
"It's not the direction you want to go on elimination day," she said. "You want to get faster and faster. It bit us in the end."
In the first round, Stoffer ran a 6.880 second pass at 196.62 mph to win by almost .2 seconds over Smith and claim low ET of the round. In the second, she ran a 6.904 at 195.73 which beat Gann's 6.975 at 190.54 mph.
In the semifinals against eventual race winner Andrew Hines, the lag caught up to the GEICO Suzuki. Stoffer got off the line first but could only muster a 6.974 at 195.59 mph lap, which wasn't enough to stay ahead of Hines, who ran a 6.888 at 195.70 mph.
"We still had a good, consistent bike, it was just a little off on the tuneup," Stoffer said. "We spun the rear tire pretty hard against Andrew.
"We are still feeling good and we're looking forward to another strong outing in Atlanta."
Lucas had a wild ride in the GEICO/Lucas Oil dragster in his first round win over Terry McMillen before a clutch issue proved to be his undoing in against quarterfinal foe Tony Schumacher.
Lucas and McMillen were the first pair out on a track that was unpredictable at best. The pair put on a show for the fans as they smoked, pedaled and weaved their way down the track. Lucas won on the most unlikeliest of hole shots. McMillen's 5.530 second pass at 146.93 mph was quicker than Lucas' 5.624 at 177.56 mph, but Lucas' .074 second reaction time was more than enough of cushion against McMillen's .348 reaction.
"We just shook the tires loose," Lucas said. "The track was way better than it had been all weekend. We just underestimated it a little bit.
"We learned a lot all weekend. We went down three out of four runs in qualifying, it's testimony to the progress we made in testing."
In the second round, Schumacher sailed down with a 3.991 second pass at 298.93 mph was too much for Lucas' wounded dragster, which ran a 4.938 at 157.65 mph.
"Losing still stinks, but we're happy to get that first round loss monkey off our back," Lucas said. "We're going to get out of here with our heads held high and look forward to our next race."
Up next for both Lucas and Stoffer is the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals May 13-15 from Atlanta Dragway.
Stoffer stays hot, secures No. 2 starting slot; Lucas also looking sharp
HOUSTON (April 30) -- GEICO teammates Karen Stoffer and Morgan Lucas will charge into race day at the 24th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals with some considerable momentum after concluding Saturday's qualifying rounds with big passes.
Both racers overcame hot and humid conditions at the southeast Texas speedplant to earn contender status in the fifth of 22 races on the NHRA drag racing tour.
Third in the world rankings in Pro Stock Motorcycle, Stoffer picked up where she left off at the season-opening Gatornationals with a No. 2 qualifying effort. Her quickest run on the GEICO Suzuki put a 6.868 at 195.28 mph on the scoreboard. She'll open elimination action against Angie Smith, who went 7.028 at 186.85 mph.
"We're really pleased," Stoffer said. "One of our primary goals is to be consistent, even when the weather changes. It was really good yesterday and then hot and humid today. We had issues in (today's) first round and didn't get down the track -- never a good thing -- but rebounded right away and made a great pass in Round 4, considering the conditions, so that was encouraging.
"I feel comfortable and relaxed on the bike. I told Gary (Stoffer, crew chief/husband) that this race has been the best one I've had in a long time. Just two really good days so far. Now we need to carry this into race day, keep having fun, and win some rounds."
Lucas successfully guided his GEICO/Lucas Oil Top Fuel dragster down both lanes of the very tricky racetrack, considerably lifting the spirits of his team. His best pass was a 3.897-second jaunt at 315.34 mph, placing him ninth in the field. Lucas also earned a few bonus points for being one of the top three qualifiers in two different rounds.
"We've gone from three races in a row where we had trouble getting down the track with any consistency at all to making three good, solid qualifying runs here so we're really happy," Lucas said. "Dickie (Venables, crew chief) is learning a lot about these dragsters each race and we're coming along really well. That's exciting for the driver because you know you have a car under you."
Elimination action begins at 11 a.m. CDT and Lucas and opponent Terry McMillen will likely be the first pair down the track. McMillen qualified slightly better with a run of 3.889 seconds at 314.02 mph.
"We'll need to shift gears now and get ready for race day," Lucas said. "I feel like we have a car that can win from anywhere. We're mid-pack, and even though we don't have lane choice I think we have a good chance. The weather is so unpredictable this time of year in Texas and you have to be prepared for anything. We will be."
Sizzling Stoffer has GEICO Suzuki poised for another big race
(April 27) -- It's likely that no rider in the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle class wanted a five-week break between the season opener and this weekend's 24th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals less than GEICO Suzuki rider Karen Stoffer.
The hugely popular pro reached the finals of the Tire Kingdom Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., coming in second to race winner Eddie Krawiec. Five weeks later, the red-hot rider finally returns to action at Royal Purple Raceway in the Houston suburb of Baytown.
"There were probably two people who didn't want a break, Eddie and myself," Stoffer said with a chuckle. "But, yeah, it was definitely different. It was kind of like a little mini-break when we really didn't need it, but now we're back to racing again, thank goodness."
Stoffer hopes to build off her Gainesville momentum in Houston, even though it seems forever since she gripped the throttle.
"There is definitely some value in momentum," Stoffer said. "For us, particularly our team, we've never had a real a strong suit of consistency, so momentum really doesn't play into it if you don't have some consistency. Hopefully, that changed this year. That's the goal. We're attacking it a little differently."
If Gainesville is any indication, it could be a banner year for Stoffer. She likes racing in Houston, as does her crew chief/husband Gary Stoffer.
"Gary is good at tuning cooler tracks, but he's been known to tune very, very well at Houston," Stoffer said. "Houston's always been good to us. As the heat increases and moisture increases in the air, it definitely becomes more of a tuner's race for our naturally-aspirated Suzukis, Buells, and Harleys.
"Gary likes the track, we like the track. I don't think it'll be a challenge for us. We're going to do our thing, and hopefully go down the track as many times as we possibly can on the weekend."
As part of the race weekend, Stoffer will take part in an autograph session at Minute Maid Park, home of major-league baseball's Houston Astros, as part of NHRA Night at 6:30 p.m. Thursday inside the ballpark.
"It'll be great to meet the fans in a different setting," Stoffer said, "so we're excited to get there and hopefully convert some new supporters over for the weekend."
Photo by Matt Polio, www.dragbikephotos.com