Matt Smith and drama are close friends, so Matt couldn’t win this NHRA championship the normal way—he had to start the season with a DNQ.
Matt was slated to race Joe Riccardi’s Suzuki this season, but their first race together at the Gatornationals showed a pairing that was already in jeopardy when Smith finished 17th in the order.
When Matt tested very quickly on his S&S Gen2-powered Victory and brought it to the next race in Charlotte, the relationship with Riccardi completely collapsed. Cops were called, Marellis were left at truck stops—you name it.
Once back with his own program, Smith showed raw power amidst reliability problems. A mid-season change from the cumbersome Victory bodywork to the slippery new EBR produced big speed, so all Smith had to do was keep the bike launching without bogging, shifting without breaking, and running all the way to the finishline.
Four race victories (three during the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship) and five No. 1 qualifiers later, Matthew secured his third NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle world championship in the final round of eliminations at the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
Smith powered his Elite Motorsports DENSO Auto Parts EBR to a 6.765 at 201.22 national speed record pass to defeat defending world champion Eddie Krawiec, who would have been champion if he’d won the final.
“Man, we went through a lot today,” Matt said. His round 1 pairing seemed like it would be smooth enough. He was lined up with wife Angie, who dutifully killed her Buell before the tree cam down. Cue the drama, as according to dragracecentral.com, “Matt’s engine skyrockets on the shift and goes hard on the rev limiter”—a broken air shifter line the culprit. A broken fuel line plagued the team at Maple Grove in September.
Second round seemed efficient with another 200 mph pass (Matt joined the Denso 200 MPH Club during Pomona qualifying) in a win over Hector Arana Sr, but according to Matt the transmission broke at the finishline.
Smith faced a challenge from championship contender LE Tonglet in the semi, but Tonglet’s White Alligator Racing/NitroFish smoked a Suzuki motor. “We hit the rev-limiter at the finishline and I said ‘Oh Lord.’ We took the rev-limiter off, we’re going for it.”
Then came the win against Krawiec in the final. “I was in the same situation in ’07,” said Matt about running the final for all the marbles. He also won the 2013 championship. “But this time it was my birthday. I just stayed focussed on my lane. It didn’t matter who was over there, I just had to do my job: try to hit the tree, hit my shiftlight, keep the bike straight, keep good and tucked, and put a number up.”
“We fell just short of finishing off the year with the championship, but it sure was fun fighting for it with Matt,” Krawiec said on Facebook. “I must say Matt did have it all together this weekend, did a great job all weekend to make it happen. Congrats to the whole team.
“This winter we will do our best to put in the work and be back in 2019 ready to go. Thanks to all our Harley-Davidson fans for your support.”
“Harley-Davidson is a class act,” said Matt. “And to beat the people that get millions of dollars every year for the last 18 years, and we’re doing it on nickels and dimes—that shows what the team and people I’ve got behind me, that help me do what I do.
“My guys did their job and we fixed all of the stuff that broke and ended up putting up three 200 mph runs today,” said Matt. “It’s a testament to our team and all the guys behind the scenes. Some of them have to remain anonymous because I don’t want the other teams to go and get them—that’s what happens. Big money teams will hire those people right out beneath you.
“We should have won Reading if the fuel line wouldn’t have broke, but we didn’t. All the other championships were clinched by the second round today, but I guess the fans needed another championship to stick around for in dramatic fashion (did Matt just say “dramatic?”). It was just meant to be.
“With the way the season started, to where we’re at now, we are having the time of our life right now. Praise the Lord, praise our team, and praise everybody who helps me.
“The last time, in 2013, my dad (Pro Mod star Rickie Smith) and I both won the championship together. I really wish we could have done it again this year, but he fell about 7 points short. He’ll be back next year in a big, bad twin-turbo car, so maybe we can do it again next year.
“We’ve got a fast motorcycle. We’re gonna be back next year and defend our championship. Hopefully a sponsor will come along and jump on our bike. We’re the world champs, so hopefully someone will recognize that we’re a great team and a good commodity to their product and get on board.”
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE:
ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.837, 193.99 def. Joey Gladstone, Buell, Foul – Red Light; Hector Arana, 6.877, 197.45 def. Chip Ellis, Harley-Davidson, Foul – Red Light; Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.865, 195.87 def. Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, 6.892, 194.27; LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.846, 196.62 def. Ryan Oehler, Buell, 6.927, 194.46; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.822, 197.13 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.976, 192.36; Hector Arana Jr, 6.827, 197.28 def. Freddie Camarena, Suzuki, 7.029, 192.77; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.802, 197.54 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.937, 192.66; Matt Smith, 8.367, 111.80 def. Angie Smith, Buell, Broke;
QUARTERFINALS — M. Smith, 6.795, 200.29 def. Arana, 6.869, 195.22; Arana Jr, 6.944, 193.77 def. Sampey, 6.921, 194.52; Tonglet, 6.866, 196.36 def. Hines, 6.859, 196.27; Krawiec, 6.793, 198.20 def. Savoie, 6.873, 194.46;
SEMIFINALS — M. Smith, 6.766, 200.02 def. Tonglet, 7.128, 156.28; Krawiec, 6.862, 197.22 def. Arana Jr, 6.919, 196.22;
FINAL — M. Smith, 6.765, 201.22 def. Krawiec, 6.812, 198.35.
Pro Stock Motorcycle final points:
- Matt Smith, 2,666; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 2,627; 3. Hector Arana Jr, 2,536; 4. LE Tonglet, 2,532; 5. Jerry Savoie, 2,464; 6. Andrew Hines, 2,450; 7. Angelle Sampey, 2,349; 8. Angie Smith, 2,303; 9. Steve Johnson, 2,290; 10. Scotty Pollacheck, 2,258.
Summit Pro Bike
NHDRO sportsman stud John “Spooky” Markham represented Division 2 well at Pomona, winning the Summit Pro Bike championship against Division 3’s Jeremy Hicks in the final. Spooky’s near-perfect .002 reaction time on his iconic Kawasaki Razor forced Hicks to break out aboard his Suzuki.
“Thanks to NHRA, Division 2 and Rich Shaffer, Rick and Charlotte from Music City Raceway, my sponsors Millienium Trailers, Ray Mancini at Xtreme motorsports, Kenny Schwartz , Dan Rudd at MPS, my employer geothermal earthworks, my beautiful wife and my three boys Kalob, Dalton and Caeson,, and my #1 fanmy mother and my step father Charles for helping me with my trip to Pomona, and of course God for the countless blessings, and awesome media such as eatmyink.com!
Summit Pro Bike FINAL — John Markham, Razor, 8.764, 145.69 def. Jeremy Hicks, Busa, 8.115, 151.73.
J.R. Todd clinched his first career NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car world championship title during the first round of eliminations. Robert Hight, the defending category champion, was second in points in the category and smoked the tires against Bob Tasca III during the opening round of eliminations which guaranteed the title crown to Todd.
“People kept asking, ‘what do you need to do to clinch?’” Todd stated. “I’m like, we need to win the race. We need to not worry about what we need to clinch it. Seeing Robert smoke the tires first round was instant relief. My crew was racing smart and the Yella Fellas do an awesome job preparing the thing today. They stayed focused all day long because there were a lot of distractions around our pit area and they did their job. The other teams at Kalitta Motorsports came over to help and I can’t thank them enough. It’s a huge family over there and we’ve all got each other’s backs and it’s awesome to have that kind of support.”
Todd went on to dominate the season ending event with a run of 3.872 at 329.10 taking down the defending two-time event champion Tommy Johnson Jr.’s Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T. He finishes the season with six race wins, the first coming at the DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Las Vegas. Todd also won the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals for the second year in a row and three events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship, two runner-up finishes and a solo No. 1 qualifier.
FUNNY CAR RESULTS:
ROUND ONE — Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.988, 316.52 def. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 5.383, 143.86; J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 3.938, 315.64 def. Jim Campbell, Dodge Charger, 9.664, 74.83; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.904, 325.61 def. Ray Martin, Camry, Broke; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.912, 255.00 def. Jeff Arend, Chevy Monte Carlo, 8.366, 61.13; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.905, 327.59 def. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.034, 281.36; Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.941, 328.78 def. Bob Bode, Mustang, 5.304, 138.40; John Force, Camaro, 3.955, 330.47 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.444, 201.76; Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.918, 326.71 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.115, 255.19;
QUARTERFINALS — Todd, 3.952, 321.50 def. Tasca III, 3.962, 323.12; Capps, 3.921, 323.04 def. Langdon, 3.967, 322.81; Johnson Jr., 3.913, 324.90 def. C. Force, 3.942, 321.50; Beckman, 3.936, 318.99 def. J. Force, 4.023, 321.81;
SEMIFINALS — Todd, 3.889, 328.14 def. Capps, 3.932, 316.97; Johnson Jr., 3.913, 325.06 def. Beckman, 3.919, 322.42;
FINAL — Todd, 3.872, 329.10 def. Johnson Jr., 3.889, 327.51.
Funny Car final points
- J.R. Todd, 2,726; 2. Robert Hight, 2,532; 3. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,519; 4. Ron Capps, 2,510; 5. Tim Wilkerson, 2,418; 6. Courtney Force, 2,409; 7. Jack Beckman, 2,405; 8. Matt Hagan, 2,371; 9. John Force, 2,356; 10. Shawn Langdon, 2,285.
In Top Fuel, Steve Torrence made NHRA history by sweeping all six playoff races during the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship. He raced his Capco Contractors/Torrence Racing dragster to a holeshot win of 3.702 at 330.07 against NHRA’s winningest Top Fuel driver Tony Schumacher’s run of 3.700 at 331.61 in the final round. This Torrence’s 11th win of the season, 27th of his career and first at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
“It has truly been unbelievable,” Torrence stated. “To go out and do what those Capco boys have accomplished is solely by the grace of the good Lord. We’ve won some rounds that we probably should not have won. We are truly blessed to be able to do what we’re doing. We’re going to be in the history books. Nobody can beat us; they can only tie us. That’s a pretty cool stat to put behind your name.”
Torrence’s path to victory included wins against Cameron Ferre, teammate and father Billy Torrence and 2017 world champion Brittany Force. Schumacher took out Scott Palmer, Bill Litton and Blake Alexander before falling to Torrence in the finals.
TOP FUEL RESULTS:
ROUND ONE — Blake Alexander, 3.702, 328.70 def. Mike Salinas, 3.736, 325.22; Antron Brown, 3.720, 331.12 def. Doug Kalitta, 3.727, 325.85; Bill Litton, 3.979, 309.56 def. Leah Pritchett, Foul – Centerline; Clay Millican, 3.748, 327.35 def. Terry McMillen, 3.823, 313.88; Brittany Force, 3.702, 330.88 def. Shawn Reed, 3.803, 318.84; Steve Torrence, 3.995, 322.88 def. Cameron Ferre, 10.300, 75.44; Billy Torrence, 3.706, 327.27 def. Richie Crampton, 3.743, 325.22; Tony Schumacher, 3.694, 332.34 def. Scott Palmer, 3.736, 327.27;
QUARTERFINALS — Alexander, 3.744, 328.94 def. Millican, 3.736, 327.51; S. Torrence, 3.674, 331.20 def. B. Torrence, 3.712, 329.10; Schumacher, 4.667, 156.10 def. Litton, Broke; Force, 3.687, 333.00 def. Brown, 4.159, 200.62;
SEMIFINALS — Schumacher, 3.705, 332.26 def. Alexander, 3.764, 322.88; S. Torrence, 3.705, 328.78 def. Force, 3.708, 332.18;
FINAL — S. Torrence, 3.702, 330.07 def. Schumacher, 3.700, 331.61.
Top Fuel final points
- Steve Torrence, 2,900; 2. Tony Schumacher, 2,596; 3. Clay Millican, 2,573; 4. Leah Pritchett, 2,456; 5. Brittany Force, 2,417; 6. Antron Brown, 2,378; 7. Mike Salinas, 2,308; 8. Doug Kalitta, 2,308; 9. Terry McMillen, 2,301; 10. Scott Palmer, 2,231.
Pro Stock Car
Tanner Gray won the Pro Stock Car portion of the race in his Gray Motorsports Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro with a run of 6.519 at 211.86 to defeat Drew Skillman’s pass of 6.524 at 211.03. The 2018 world champion notched his eighth victory of the season, 13th of his two-year career and first at the Auto Club NHRA Finals.
“This was probably the most relaxed Sunday I’ve had ever,” Gray said. “For me, I just wanted to enjoy the moment. That was the last time I was going to race with a lot of those guys. We wrapped up the championship during qualifying and I just wanted to enjoy it. We had already won seven races and that’s really good and obviously I wanted to win more but at the same time I wanted to enjoy the time I had with the guys and make the most out of it.”
Gray drove past his father Shane Gray, Erica Enders and Jason Line before entering his second consecutive final round appearance at the event. Skillman defeated Alan Prusiensky, veteran Greg Anderson and No. 1 qualifier Jeg Coughlin Jr. before falling in the finals.
PRO STOCK CAR RESULTS:
ROUND ONE — Bo Butner, Chevy Camaro, 6.522, 212.26 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 11.592, 77.76; Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.552, 210.64 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.546, 211.39; Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.531, 210.57 def. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.549, 211.00; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.525, 212.26 def. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.608, 209.88; Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.515, 211.59 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 11.796, 75.91; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.517, 211.13 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.568, 211.03; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.518, 212.19 def. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 9.984, 92.09; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.516, 211.96 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 12.694, 69.89;
QUARTERFINALS — Line, 6.537, 212.03 def. Laughlin, 6.560, 210.87; T. Gray, 6.563, 210.73 def. Enders, 6.562, 211.23; Coughlin, 6.525, 211.39 def. Butner, 6.546, 211.86; Skillman, 6.535, 210.77 def. Anderson, 6.548, 212.33;
SEMIFINALS — T. Gray, 6.535, 211.63 def. Line, 13.224, 65.77; Skillman, 6.534, 211.10 def. Coughlin, Broke;
FINAL — T. Gray, 6.519, 211.86 def. Skillman, Foul – Red Light.
Pro Stock Car final points
- Tanner Gray, 2,758; 2. Jeg Coughlin, 2,571; 3. Drew Skillman, 2,559; 4. Erica Enders, 2,525; 5. Jason Line, 2,472; 6. Vincent Nobile, 2,452; 7. Greg Anderson, 2,418; 8. Bo Butner, 2,379; 9. Deric Kramer, 2,268; 10. Chris McGaha, 2,184.
Top Alcohol Dragster — James Stevens, 5.281, 275.17 def. Julie Nataas, 5.402, 271.19.
Top Alcohol Funny Car — Shane Westerfield, Chevy Camaro, 5.446, 271.30 def. Ulf Leanders, Camaro, 6.120, 249.72.
Competition Eliminator — David Rampy, Bantam Roadster, 8.318, 112.44 def. Doug Lambeck, Pontiac Sunfire, Foul – Red Light.
Super Stock — Steve Wann, Plymouth Fury, 9.782, 131.39 def. Gary Emmons, Ford Mustang, 8.780, 156.08.
Stock Eliminator — Jeff Taylor, Chevy Camaro, 9.267, 143.51 def. Ryan Mangus, Camaro, Foul – Red Light.
Super Comp — Chad Webber, Dragster, 8.916, 164.51 def. Tony Helms, Dragster, 8.942, 176.03.
Super Gas — Roger Kato, Chevy Cavalier, 9.945, 174.98 def. Greg Ventura, Chevy Nova, 9.897, 144.03
Summit Super Pro — Pat Oswmundson, Dragster, 8.806, 169.53 def. Jeremy Hancock, Dragster, 7.087, 182.38.
Summit Pro — Nelson Belot Jr., Olds Cutlass, 9.037, 148.46 def. Dustin Loynes, Pontiac Firebird, 9.756, 132.43.
Summit Sportsman — Brian Hendrickson, Dodge Demon, 12.556, 105.72 def. Brent Erickson, Dodge Dart, 12.096, 108.02.
The 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season will kick off with the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals Feb. 7-10 at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
photos by Tim Hailey story by NHRA and Hailey