The 3-time Pro Stock Champ gets her 43rd win two days after her 50th birthday, but not without drama
Words by Mitch Boehm Photos courtesy of Vance & Hines
“To win an NHRA drag race,” says Harley-Davidson/Vance & Hines factory dragrace pilot Angelle Sampey, “the stars have to absolutely align. Everything needs to go perfectly all day long…and right up until the Indy Final, they had. I kept thinking, ‘this is our day.’ And since I hadn’t won a race in four years, I wanted it so bad. But when I released the clutch lever in the burnout area it stayed against the grip – and I figured we were screwed!”
Things had gone well for Sampey right up until the Final on August 9 at the NHRA Indy Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis. She qualified fourth and rode to race-day wins against Steve Johnson, teammate Andrew Hines and Scotty Pollacheck to reach the Final – her 74th – versus Chris Bostick. But when the clutch issue happened, most of that hope vanished.
“I said to myself,” Sampey told us, “‘are you kidding me?’ After all the work and effort and struggles over the last couple of years, here we were with a shot at a win, a win I really needed, as I was beginning to doubt myself as to whether I could win again or not.”
The issue began in the paddock, where the team was hurrying to get Sampey’s FXDR ready for the Final. “The NHRA folks were rushing us because we were live on Fox,” Sampey told us, “and when the guys put the clutch cover back on something with the cable wasn’t right. When I get pushed out I always hold the clutch in just in case, and when I released it for my burnout … nothing. I started yelling for Andrew [Hines, a teammate and competitor who also tunes her bike], telling him the clutch was broken, and he and Eddie [Krawiec, also a teammate and competitor] got to work. The NHRA folks said ‘one minute!’ so it was really stressful, and I’m thinking, ‘well, crap, we were doing so well, it must be Chris’s day’. Andrew and Eddie kept working, going well over the minute the officials gave us, but I guess they figured it was good TV!”
“They were so calm,” Sampey added, “which actually calmed me down, ’cuz I’d been frantic, worrying they wouldn’t get it fixed and about the clutch, because the adjustment has to be just right or launching the bike is really tricky. Sometimes it’s the difference between a win and a loss. Anyway, Andrew said, ‘we got it! Just do your thing. It’s gonna be fun!’ And that helped.”
“So I rolled into staging, wondering about the clutch…and finally just said ‘Screw it. I’m gonna do what I always do!’ And that worked, ’cuz I did a zero-zero-one (0.001 reaction time) and did the best job I could on the run, getting my shifts just right. And when I saw the win lights go off I just lost it, screaming ‘It is my day, it is my day!’ in my helmet! The reporter at the end of the strip who interviewed me was laughing, ’cuz she’d heard me screaming as I slowed down.”
The win was Sampey’s 43rd, her first in four years, and her first with the Harley-Davidson/Vance & Hines team. After two rounds she’s currently second in points.
“As crazy as this year has been,” Sampey told us, “at least I got my win! Thank God! Honestly, I was starting to think I was done. I told my husband, ‘I’m not sure I can win any more. The competition is just too tough.’ I can ride and compete, and promote the team and Harley-Davidson. But I was doubting myself pretty badly. I’d worked so hard in the off-season, but then Gainesville was cancelled due to Covid after we tested there so well, and then I struggled again at Indy I. It was pretty depressing. But now I’m SO excited! Such an amazing weekend! And to top it off, my daughter was there to see it!
“So thank you Harley-Davidson and Vance & Hines! I told you I was going to do it. I’ll bet you thought I was dead, but I’m not dead! Happy Birthday to me!”