HeadLine News

Friday, December 17, 2004 - 08:18:33 AM EDT

Tim Hailey, Dragbike.com


NHRA Drama Part 2: The Star Break Up and What Happens Next
By Tim Hailey

Continued from part 1.

"I never say never, cause never's a very long time," George Bryce said in response to Mike Lozano's prediction that "I don't think you'll see George Bryce build another Suzuki Pro Stock motorcycle." But Angelle Savoie, now headed for a seat at Antron Brown and Mark Peiser's Team 23, once said that she would never race for a team other than Star.

"As long as my team offers me a job," Angelle clarified. "As long as you provide me a bike, I'm going to race. But he put my bike up for sale."

George and Angelle in happier times

"I kept asking George 'Are we racing or are we not?' He'd say 'I don't know. We need a sponsor.' Later I'd say 'Are we racing or are we not? You've got to tell me so I know what I'm going to do?' He said 'What's four championships going to do for you that three won't?' And I've never heard George say anything like that before. Finally he said 'We're not going to race.' I started crying and I cried for 3 days."

Now, the original impetus for this long, rambling story was in fact the Star Racing break-up. Angelle is on record as wanting to start a family with husband Nicky, and George has Star Racing's long-term interests to mind. But Angelle really wasn't ready to quit.

So, continuing to make a fool of myself by insisting on looking for a current beneath the surface, I now imagined that George was doing a passive/aggressive thing with Angelle, that maybe he had his eye on something else. I could just see the two of them in this intense conversation, with George occasionally gazing over Suzuki dealer Angelle's shoulder at the S&S V-twins taking shape in the corner of the shop. 

"The decision to dissolve our race team had nothing to do with V-twins," said George, bursting my visionary balloon. "The reason was 100% because we couldn't afford to go racing the way we wanted to."

"George didn't want to keep spending the money and I understand," said Angelle. "We've been trying to get a sponsor since Winston. We've had two bad experiences with Close Call and CVEC."

The loss of Winston sponsorship as a result of the tobacco settlement was obviously a huge blow to the team. Winston spent a lot of money making Angelle a celebrity. And beyond money lining their pockets and supporting a top shelf racing effort, the Winston deal brought George and Angelle unmatched exposure. While the other Pro Stock bikers were pitted out in the weeds (quite literally at Maple Grove), Star Racing was sharing a canopy with Alan Johnson and Gary Scelzi's Top Fuel team. Ask Scelzi about life after Winston.

"Everybody can get along with everybody when you're kicking ass," said George. 

Mohegan Sun Casino jumped in as a primary sponsor the last three races of this past season, but George suspects they won't be following Angelle to Team 23. "I don't think so," said Bryce. "They were pretty much dealing with me on that. We agreed to bring a lot of people to the casino. There's so much to getting and keeping a sponsor. It's all about return on the investment. At the racetrack she did great with that, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. There's so much that goes on outside of the racetrack to make a sponsor happy. But I told Angelle 'If you work as hard at securing a sponsorship as you did winning championships, you'll get the results you want.'"

But immediately following the break-up, Angelle wanted to find a ride. "George said 'It's going to be OK. It's not the end of the world. You can do some TV broadcasting or find a ride with another team,'" reported Savoie, who owns a Suzuki dealership (Angelle's Motorsports) in Houma, Louisiana. "'What other team would I race with George? What am I going to do?' I talked to Antron. He was scared when he heard that I wasn't going to race, just like I was scared when I heard that Matt wasn't going to race. We were all scared for the class. He said they had another bike and maybe we could get sponsorship with two bikes that we couldn't get separately with one. As soon as we started talking about it the phone started ringing off the hook."

Angelle Savoie and Antron Brown, once competitors, will be racing on the same team.

"She called and she was upset," said Brown, Angelle's cousin by marriage. "She was going to look for a job doing some TV announcing or something. She wanted to work with somebody she trusted. She'd worked with (Team 23 chief mechanic) Mark Peiser before (at Star). She got really excited about the whole deal.

"We still need some money, some major sponsorship money," continued Antron, who refused to divulge any information about his mystery investor. "He was helping us out last year. He loaned the money so that we could get our team going."

The word on the street at the first of the year was that Team 23 was switching from Vance & Hines powerplants to motors from either Star or Greg Cope. "We're building our own motors," reports Brown.

"Angelle has proven that she can do just about anything," said George. "She's a product of the way we go racing. It'll be entertaining to watch her carry that out. If she continues to be successful, she'll continue to have lots of fans. I got in on the beginning of that deal. I am her biggest fan and I'd like for her to do good." 

"Everybody wants to look for something bad in all of this. Dave Feazell called to talk about his new chassis and he said 'OK George, now tell me the dirt.' It's only human nature." 

"George is everything, the wind beneath my wings," Angelle said after winning at Maple Grove in October, 2001. "He's the reason for everything I've done-coach, dad, financial advisor. George and I have fought like cats and dogs. We've raced together, fought together, cried together, prayed together…"

But now it's a new season. "Now I get to work on stuff that pays," said Bryce. "I'm building engines for Chris Reuter and whoever buys my championship bike. It's not done yet. Whoever's interested in a deal that big, I'll give them a lot of help."

"I couldn't quit racing even though I desperately want to," said Angelle, who lives in a country house in Louisiana's Lafourche parish. "I want to have a family, but Ncky and I talked about it and we decided we'd have to put it off for a couple of years."

George Bryce will be seen riding Harleys
around the pits more and more

"I'm going to spread myself out a little more," said George. "I've got a no-wheelie bar Buell that I'll be riding (in Street Pro at the AHDRA race in Gainesville) and trying to set a record with. If I slow it down too much I might put Freddie (Collis) on it."

On the Return Road Back to "The Issue"

Collis is pre-entered for the Gators on the 2002 Star Racing championship winning Suzuki listed under the Area 51 Motorsports banner. "Area 51 is two guys that sell planes out in Dallas," said Bryce. "They're trying to purchase that motorcycle and run that bike with one of my engines."

If that sale goes through soon, look for Collis and Bryce to be testing that bike at the Gainesville Prostar race. Bryce, at least, will also be sticking around for the AHDRA race midweek. "I'm bringing the Buell (built for Jordan Cruz), a Nitro Harley and, hopefully, a Pro Stock. And some beer. My favorite is Bud Light, but I've been migrating towards the (Michelob) Ultra. I like their commercials, with everybody working out and sweating and drinking beer. Everybody wants to look like that. That's the same as the Soloflex commercial, but with beer." And just how did this guy, with a beautiful, popular woman in the seat, not get a sponsor?

No doubt the pits during the long Prostar/AHDRA back-to-back events at Gainesville will be rife with further speculation. And like Larry McBride said: "It's good for all motorcycle racing."

"We plan to have a real presence at the NHRA events," said AHDRA's Lisa Hegler. "And Screamin' Eagle will be at Gainesville (AHDRA race) in full force, along with Willie G. (Davidson)."

And how will the motorcycle industry's presence look at NHRA POWERade events in the coming years?

Suzuki's Pat Alexander points to a "nitro at half of the events, Pro Stock at the other half" mix. "Everybody could live with that since Pro Stock Bike doesn't cover the whole series," said Alexander. "There could be a situation where the two could share the customer base."

Alexander points out that Suzuki is the official motorcycle of the NHRA and is a contingency sponsor, but not a class sponsor. "Other than 95% of the bikes having Suzuki powerplants," he laughed.

Terry Vance agrees that a competitive, multi-manufacturer class is best for the NHRA. "That's a real no-brainer statement there," agreed Bryce. "That's a pretty safe bet."

"The Pro Stock class is going to flourish when a Harley-Davidson can compete with a Suzuki," said Vance. "Once we crack the code, and it ain't easy, we're going to be making history. And that's what it's all about."

"I don't think it's that far away," said Bryce. "Last year Feazell was 4/10ths behind the Suzukis. This year at the Gators I think he'll be 2/10ths behind. That's a big jump in a short time."

Tom Bradford would also like to maintain the status quo. "The dream for us and S&S is to qualify and win against Suzukis. If they make it an all-Harley deal, to me it's gonna take it away a little."

"It is just my personal opinion that the NHRA will move to an all-Harley class at the national level," said Scooter Kizer. "They'll move the inline stuff to the Sport Compact series. They'll run some events with Top Fuel, some with Pro Stock. They'll still call it Pro Stock. They'll definitely chose Harley over Suzuki and a couple of Kaws."

"I'm just happy to be there," Mike Lozano said about the NHRA, but he doesn't think that inline bikes will soon be able to say the same. "They just may not be at the POWERade races. They might be at the Summit import races."

"What would be really cool would be to have a TL-1000 body with an S&S V-twin in it," said Bryce. Hmmm. George is ready for anything, but what does he think will actually happen? "I haven't a clue. These are turbulent times."

Tim Hailey can be contacted at timhailey@earthlink.net

Part 1


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