BRAINERD, Minn. – After not qualifying five races ago, two-time Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion Matt Smith has come remarkably far in a short time.
The only thing left for him to do is to break through for his first victory of the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.
Since the low point of his season – not qualifying in Englishtown – Smith has been impressive on his Victory Magnum, advancing to three final rounds and grabbing two No. 1 qualifiers in the past four races.
Smith appears to be setting up for a spectacular finish to his season and plans on continuing his red-hot pace at this weekend’s Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway, where he is also a two-time winner.
“Our team is definitely going in the right direction and it’s a great feeling,” said Smith, who has jumped from 12th to fifth in the points standings. “After Englishtown, I was ready to sell everything. I was so frustrated because I know how hard we worked. I knew we had a good bike, but it was frustrating.”
“We want back to the wind tunnel, fixed it and made a bunch of changes. The hard work has paid off and the whole team is excited. Now we’ve been to three finals and I think we’re on the right track of competing for a championship.”
Brainerd marks the ninth of 16 races during the Pro Stock Motorcycle season and the penultimate event of the regular season before the six-race Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
It looks like perfect timing for Smith, who has been racing as well as anyone over the past two months.
Smith is coming off a razor-thin loss at the finish line in Sonoma to points leader and five-time season winner LE Tonglet, where he just missed out on the first 200 mph run as well, going 199.88.
It’s all given Smith added assurance that his bike is capable of running with and beating anyone in the loaded class, including reigning world champ Jerry Savoie, Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines.
“We’re very excited to compete for a championship,” said Smith, who has 18 career wins. “We started with this new motor last year and I didn’t think it would take off as quick as it has. It’s shown a lot of potential the last three or four races. I think we’re just breaking the tip of the iceberg and we’re excited about it. We’re right where we want to be. I feel like we can beat everyone in the class. We’re ready to fight this battle. Come the Countdown, we’ll be ready.”
Smith hopes his wife, Angie Smith, is part of the Countdown to the Championship equation as well, which makes this weekend’s event in Brainerd an important one.
She is currently 10th, holding a 22-point advantage over veteran Steve Johnson for the final spot. Having both bikes in the six-race playoffs would be a big thing for the duo, and that puts the onus on doing well in Brainerd.
“The motorcycle class has gotten really hard,” Smith said. “Angie’s in the top 10 right now and we want to maintain that. To be in the top 10, it’s a privilege in this class. There’s a lot of good two-bike teams, and it’s just getting harder and harder.”
“To be in the top 10, that’s pretty awesome. We have a couple new things we’re testing and we’re looking forward to this weekend.”
CREDIT: NHRA Communications