Winningest female NHRA pro drag racer looks back on her career

Angelle Sampey, as the NHRA closes in on 100 wins by a female: 'I look at these girls and I'm very proud of them'

Winningest female NHRA pro drag racer looks back on her career

All Angelle Sampey simply wanted was an opportunity. When it came in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Pro Stock Motorcycle class, Sampey jumped at the chance. What followed was one of the most incredible runs in motorsports history, setting a standard in the class and continuing the excellence of female competitors in the NHRA.

Her 41 career victories are the most for a female competitor in the NHRA, helping making it possible for the historic 100th win by a female to take place at this weekend’s Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.

Female competitors currently have 99 NHRA professional victories with Sampey contributing an impressive number of those memorable wins. It took a steely resolve for Sampey to succeed when she entered the professional ranks and she sees a similar mindset in today’s female competitors.

“I wanted them to look at me as being as much of a threat as an Antron Brown,” said Sampey, who won three straight championships from 2000-2002. Sampey competed against Brown who raced in the two-wheel category from 1998-2007. “I wanted that threat to be equal. I look at all these girls and I’m very proud of them. I’m very happy NHRA gives us an opportunity to do this.”

All eyes at Atlanta Dragway will also be on the likes of Pro Stock points leader Erica Enders-Stevens, Alexis DeJoria and Courtney Force in Funny Car, Brittany Force in Top Fuel, and Katie Sullivan, Elvira Karlsson and Angie Smith in Pro Stock Motorcycle as the landmark 100th win by a female will be within reach.

Brown (Top Fuel), Johnny Gray (Funny Car) and Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the event that will once again be televised on ESPN2.

Sampey made her debut in July 1996, as Stephanie Reeves and Karen Stoffer joined her at the Mopar Mile-High Nationals in Denver. But Sampey’s affection for motorcycles and the Pro Stock Motorcycle class came long before that. Posters of class greats Dave Schultz, Terry Vance and John Myers hung on her wall as Sampey became infatuated with racing motorcycles at a young age.

“I started racing dirt bikes when I was six years old,” said Sampey, a New Orleans native. “I came out to the Cajun Nationals event in Baton Rouge and was introduced to the NHRA, watching Top Fuel and things like that. My uncle raced in the sportsman class on a motorcycle in Baton Rouge and that’s how I was introduced to racing a motorcycle on the track. I was 18 when I saw that, and I wanted to know how I could do it for a profession. I fell in love with the sport and with the category.”

When the opportunity came to race in Pro Stock Motorcycle, Sampey didn’t disappoint. Joining George Bryce’s Star Racing team to start her career, Sampey won her first race during her debut 1996 season before starting her championship run in 2000. She passed Shirley Muldowney for the most victories by a female in 2001, earning seven victories that year, which also stands as a record for most victories by a female in a single season.

Reflecting back, Sampey fondly recalled the opportunity Bryce offered and how she took advantage in ways nobody in the motorsports world could have imagined.

“Pretty much everybody in the world besides him laughed at me for wanting to do this,” said Sampey, who was also the first female to win a Pro Stock Motorcycle world championship. “George said I had all the things he couldn’t teach and all the things I was doing wrong he could teach that. We came together and became a pretty unstoppable force and we had a great seven years.”

With her place in NHRA history is firmly secured, Sampey also remains impressed with what the current crop of female racers are doing on the track.

“I’m a huge Erica Enders fan and I’m so proud of what she’s doing,” Sampey said. ‘But I don’t look at the girls and say, ‘Oh wow, look at what they’re doing,’ because I expect it from them. I look at them as racers and I think each female that’s out there probably feels the same way.”

Mello Yello Series qualifying begins Friday, May 16, with sessions at 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, May 17, at 12:30 and 3 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 18. Pro Mod qualifying is set for Friday, May 16 at 3:45 and 6 p.m. and Saturday, May 17 at 12:45 p.m. Pro Mod eliminations are scheduled for Saturday at 2:45 p.m.

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