LE Tonglet races Karen Stoffer at Gainesville - Anne Proffit photoEnlarge Photo
He did it with his father/team owner Gary tuning his older Suzuki GSXR, brother GT as secondary crew member and with an admittedly down-on-power engine because they couldn't afford most of the Vance & Hines updates the other Suzuki riders were using.
When Tonglet won the vaunted Mac Tools US Nationals at Indianapolis that year, Kenny Koretsky's NItro Fish Racing came on board and gave the Tonglet family a small cash infusion they needed to beat the Harley-Davidson, Buell and better financed Suzuki riders and their teams.
When he won the championship, he did it on the basis of five victories--and earned the Auto Club Road to the Future rookie of the year award as well. Not bad for a 20-year-old!
Last year wasn't the best for the Tonglet team; they suffered through engine failures and plain old poor luck. Still the team made the Countdown to the Championship playoff series in Pro Stock Motorcycle and Tonglet went to four final rounds, winning them all. He finished seventh in the title chase, won last year by Vance & Hines' Eddie Krawiec on the factory Harley-Davidson Screamin' Eagle.
They were hoping the 2012 would be better, the Tonglet family was. The trio from Metairie, Louisiana showed up for the first round on the Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, FL and immediately looked quick in the first qualifying session, running second to Krawiec with a 6.894-second pass down the quarter-mile. That was as good as it got for Tonglet in qualifying, but he still ended up seventh and in the top half of the ladder, fastest and quickest of the six Suzuki riders to make the field of 16 in an over-subscribed 25-bike field.
Tonglet got through the first round of eliminations on Sunday at Gainesville, knocking fellow Louisianan and Buell rider Jerry Savoie out of the game. He then met eventual runner-up Andrew Hines' Harley-Davidson and lost buy a scant .0345 seconds to the three-time champion.
Unfortunately, it wasn't enough for Koretsky, who is dropping his backing of Tonglet's Pro Stock Motorcycle effective immediately. It was obvious to Koretsky that, even though Tonglet ran a strong race with his Suzuki GSXR, "It was not enough to overcome the apparent lack of parity in the class, and that it is making his chances of winning a race a seemingly insurmountable task," Koretsky's press release stated.
After the Gainesville race--and much discussion with team owner Gary Tonglet, GT and LE Tonglet--Koretsky went in a different direction. “Let me start by saying that this was no easy decision to make. I believe in the abilities of LE Tonglet and his family 110 percent," Koretsky said.
"To me, LE is the best rider in NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle racing, but in these hard economic times, I need to be smart with my money.
“Even the best riders cannot overcome the current separation of parity that now exists between the three manufacturer brands in Pro Stock Motorcycle. For this reason alone, I have regretfully decided to immediately cease all support for LE and his family.
“I hope that this very unfair and unfortunate non-parity situation can be resolved sometime in the near future so Nitro Fish can reconsider its position on this matter.”
It's been evident for some time that the Suzuki riders were at a disadvantage; only Tonglet, Mike Phillips and Karen Stoffer won using the brand's equipment last year. Gary Tonglet told me that he's been trying to speak with NHRA about keeping the Suzuki riders in the game, but "they just sat on it all winter long." Tonglet doesn't have the money to buy a Buell - and the Harley-Davidson motorcycles are reserved for Krawiec and Hines. "But I don't want one of those Buells; I like my Suzuki," he said.
The next race isn't a long haul for the Tonglet family, so they'll be at Houston for the 25th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals the weekend of April 27-29. After that? It all depends on what NHRA does. Koretsky would come back if there's parity, but at this point, nobody at NHRA is trying to give the Suzuki riders a chance.