MESA, Ariz. — During a weekend when she yielded her claim as motorsports’ most successful woman, Angelle Sampey certainly didn’t take a back seat.
The three-time NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle champion made her Top Alcohol Dragster debut during the Oct. 12-15 Stampede of Speed Texas FallNationals – and promptly defeated No. 1 qualifier Mike Coughlin and then beat racing icon Tony Stewart, a class rookie but a three-time winner already this season.
When Sampey announced plans to switch from two wheels to four, she half-jokingly said she wanted to “kick Tony Stewart’s ass.” She checked off a few boxes in a couple of days’ time and closed the event with a semifinal finish.
Houston native Erica Enders claimed the Pro Stock trophy that weekend at Texas Motorplex, breaking a 46-victory tie with Sampey to become motorsports’ most successful woman. Now, that distinction promises to go back and forth between the two close friends, as Sampey has rejuvenated her drag-racing career.
Since the Vance & Hines team, which had long been her nemesis, hired her and then let her go last November, Sampey had started to settle into a niche as ambassador for Mission Foods and its #2Fast2Tasty Challenge.
While once she had grown accustomed to receiving winner’s medals, champion hats and oversized ceremonial checks, she was the one draping beribboned medals around the necks of other racers and posing for promotional photos with other winners.
But the sideline was no place for Sampey and Top Fuel team owner Antron Brown — a three-time champ and former bike competitor himself — recognized that. He tapped her to inaugurate his AB Motorsports Accelerate program. But when he suggested she follow his move and transition from a motorcycle to a car, she resisted.
The conversation went like this:
SAMPEY: I have no desire whatsoever to drive a car. I love motorcycles.
BROWN: What is there left for you to do in the bike class? Why don’t you consider driving a car?
SAMPEY: I just don’t want to.
SAMPEY: I’m afraid of it.
BROWN: What are you afraid of?
SAMPEY: Crashing. Dying.
BROWN: Well, let me put it to you this way: When’s the last time you’ve seen somebody fall off of an A/Fuel dragster?
Eventually, Sampey relented.
“He kept pushing and pushing and pushing until finally I said, ‘OK, I’ll try it.’ And then the first test session, I was petrified, literally knees shaking in the car,” she said. “It took the first two runs to finally start calming the shakes. And the third run, we were sitting there waiting to go, and he’s bending over, talking to me in the car, saying, ‘You feeling OK? You ready? You excited?’ And I literally wanted to punch him in his face and say, ‘You need to get away from me right now, because I can’t even believe I’m doing this.’
“But it just took that first day,” Sampey continued. “We did four runs that day and after the fourth run, I was like, ‘Oh my God — I love this.’ I went from literally saying, ‘Oh my God. I’ve got to do this again’ to ‘Oh my God, I can’t wait to do this again.’”
That weekend in Texas, racing in a car Michalek brothers Corey and Kyle loaned her, brought a fresh enthusiasm:
“I have never been so excited to get on the race track ever in my whole career,” Sampey said. “I have been a nervous wreck for 26 years and it’s not until the bike starts that I can start to calm down and get myself out of that. But usually I wake up in the morning and I am nervous and my stomach’s turning, because all I can think about is how bad I want to win, and ‘Don’t screw this up.’”
That first weekend in the dragster, Sampey said, “I woke up two hours earlier than I wanted to, and I was so excited to get to the race track and couldn’t wait to get in the car. And when I got in the car today, there were no nerves. It was all happy, all fun. I am so happy to be here. I haven’t felt that in a long time.”
Sampey was scheduled to race again at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and, eventually, she plans to step up to a Top Fuel dragster.
This story appeared in the Nov 15, 2023, edition of the SPEED SPORT Insider.