AIMExpo: Angelle Sampey Not Done Racing Pro Stock Dragbikes

AIMExpo: Angelle Sampey Not Done Racing Pro Stock Dragbikes

© 2023, Roadracing World Publishing, Inc. By Michael Gougis:.

Copyright 2023, Roadracing World Publishing, Inc.

by Michael Gougis

Three-time National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Pro Stock National Champion Angelle Sampey says that while she lost her ride after winning only one race in 2022, her new goal is to own her own racing team and bring her career win total to an even 50.

“I’m not done yet. I don’t feel like I’m done. I feel like I’ve got a lot to prove,” Sampey, 52, told the audience at the keynote address for the AIMExpo in Las Vegas, Nevada. “I am going to prove everyone who says to me, ‘Isn’t it time to give this up?’ completely and utterly wrong. I scratched and clawed my way in there. And I made it happen by absolutely never taking no for an answer. It’s only fair that I chase my dreams, too.”

Sampey is the winningest female racer in history, with 46 NHRA race wins to her credit. She was still blindingly quick in 2022, setting a new track record in qualifying at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California, ripping off a 6.703 second, 201.61 mph blast during the NHRA Auto Club Finals. It was the sixth time in 2022 that she was top qualifier, and the 59th time in her career that she finished qualifying on top of the charts.

But the single win over the course of the season did not meet the expectations of the Vance & Hines/Mission Suzuki team, and it did not meet her own high standards for herself, she told the audience. In retrospect, she put a lot of pressure on herself, and it led to jumped starts and slow starts, which plagued her throughout the season.

“I tried too hard. I got a lot of red lights. A lot of late lights. It was rough,” she said.

Losing a professional ride for a racer is a uniquely painful moment. Sampey was honest, brutally so, about how much it hurt. She shared the stage with a show version of the Hayabusa she raced in 2022, and when she walked on stage, she sat as far from it as she could – and that was deliberate, she told the crowd.

In a question-and-answer session with Kerry Graeber, Suzuki Motors of America, Inc. Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Sampey outlined her career on two wheels, which has been marked by a determination to overcome obstacles from the very beginning.

Sampey started racing at six years old, and the first obstacle was overcoming the family’s presumption that her brother would be the motorcycle racer in the family. But his desire to race waned, and hers grew. She would eventually own her own Suzuki GS1100 dragbike, which she sold to finance her attendance at the Frank Hawley drag racing school. This presented another obstacle, she says. Not only was she a female in a male-dominated sport, her size worried the school, which insisted that she visit them in person so they could decide whether they would accept her as a student.

Her description of trying to hustle a 400-horsepower dragbike down the track was analogous to the debates over minimum combined rider-machine weights in road racing. (WorldSBK recently decided to not impose such weight restrictions in the Superbike class.) Let alone the 3.5 Gs of force at the start, the near impossibility of steering a machine with a fat, flat slick on the rear, she was barely 100 pounds without gear. And that meant her dragbike frequently carried up to 80 pounds of lead to bring the rider-bike weight up to the class minimum of 625 pounds, she said.

“Here I was, the smallest, weakest rider in the field, on the heaviest machine out there,” she said. “I had to be faster with my corrections, make bigger corrections than the other riders.”

 

Angelle Sampey met with fans after her presentation, including this young one. Photo by Michael Gougis.
Angelle Sampey met with fans after her presentation, including this young one. Photo by Michael Gougis.

 

In 2010, Sampey retired and had a daughter, and thought her racing days were behind her. “I was in love with my life,” she said. Then a call came with an offer to return to racing, and she thought, “It was the most perfect opportunity to show my daughter what she was capable of,” she says.

Sampey did two part-time seasons before returning full-time in 2016. Despite being sick and weak, she won the Summernational Pro Stock race, her first win in nine years. She was in tears in the post-race interview (“I’m so sorry for the people who don’t like to see me cry, look away,” she said on camera, “I know it’s 42 wins, but it feels like the first win ever…”) and still is still emotional when she talks about that moment in her career and talking to her daughter afterward.

“I was telling her, mommy won the real trophy and she’s bringing it home for you. And she still has that trophy, under a sign that says dreams come true if you work for them,” Sampey says. Having a mom who is a National Champion drag racer wasn’t that big a deal for her daughter, Ava, Sampey says, until it was career day at school. After she appeared and talked about being a racer, she says, “Then, I was the cool mom!”

Sampey had a simple message to the dealers in attendance for the presentation: Don’t overlook the women who walk into the dealership. In an interview after her presentation, Sampey talked about riding a Harley-Davidson for two seasons, winning races, but when she would visit the local Harley dealership while traveling to events, the salespeople not only didn’t recognize her, they didn’t even greet her or introduce themselves to her.

“That’s been very tough for my whole career, to get people to believe in me,” she says. “That woman who comes through the door? She’s going to be scared to death to walk into that dealership and ask about a motorcycle because of that stigma. That someone isn’t going to take her seriously. That if she shows an interest in a GSX-R1000, someone’s going to say that she shouldn’t be on it. It’s changing, but it needs to change more. Don’t look past them. Speak to me, not my husband.”

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