Smith Takes Pole, Johnson Wins Oscar

Defending NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle champ (and Gateway winner) Matt Smith is known for putting on quite a show. I’m told his repertoire at Maple Grove consisted of a display of raw emotion when confronted with race-winning Suzuki performance. But in qualifying at World Wide Technology Raceway, Smith confined his performance to Gateway’s 1320 foot stage.

Matthew found his 60 foot in Q3 (1.061) and took #1 qualifier by a whopping .037 over Friday leader Steve Johnson. Steve—whose oeuvre generally consists of comedy rather than drama—proceeded to flail around on camera during Smith’s top end interview as if he was on fire—an apparent allusion to Matt’s Maple Grove act.

Smith’s true achilles heal bit him in Q4 when the transmission broke. But he and Johnson both retained their positions in the order with laps of 6.801 at 198.93 mph and 6.838 at 196.02, respectively.

It is Smith’s fourth No. 1 qualifier this season and 35th in his career. He’ll face off with Jianna Salinas to open eliminations.

Jianna Salinas. Gary Stoffer admitted that he and Greg Underdahl have let her down every way possible this weekend, including leaving the clutch plug loose, which sent her spinning in her own oil in Q2.

“Our confidence is really high,” Smith said. “Ever since I’ve been coming here I’ve been successful, and I just really like this place. We come into this race knowing this is one of our better tracks and we put our good motor in, and today we got it. Everything’s fine (after the tranny failure) and we’ll be ready to go four rounds tomorrow.

“We need to win the race. We were 23 points out coming into this race, but our goal is to turn on four winlights.”

Here is Smith’s full media center interview:

Here’s video of Smith’s pass, courtesy of NHRA:

Andrew Hines

Andrew Hines is third with a 6.851 at 195.82, and points leader Jerry Savoie qualified fifth after a run of 6.869 at 196.13.

Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Matt Smith, EBR, 6.801, 198.93  vs. 16. Jianna Salinas, Suzuki, 7.160, 186.23; 2. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.838, 196.02  vs. 15. Andie Rawlings, Suzuki, 7.140, 185.05; 3. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.851, 195.82  vs. 14. Michael Ray, Victory, 6.993, 191.51; 4. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.859, 194.97  vs. 13. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 6.941, 192.96; 5. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.869, 196.13  vs. 12. Hector Arana Jr, EBR, 6.939, 194.94; 6. Angie Smith, EBR, 6.874, 196.96  vs. 11. Hector Arana, EBR, 6.937, 195.36; 7. Angelle Sampey, Harley-Davidson, 6.874, 192.77  vs. 10. Scotty Pollacheck, EBR, 6.890, 195.14; 8. Ryan Oehler, EBR, 6.886, 196.44  vs. 9.Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.886, 195.76.

Ryan Oehler’s bike was dropping a cylinder on Saturday, so they changed the motor, all the boxes, and completely rewired the bike on Saturday night. As the bike was completely stripped and Oehler was wiring it, I said “Sure would suck to do all this work and find that the chassis is magnetized.” Oehler gave me a look, took a small allen wrench to the chassis and “Schving!” it clung to the chromoly. Still, the bike performed well on Saturday and Oehler sits 8th, facing Karen Stoffer in E1.

Karen Stoffer is predicting that Tropical Storm Karen and Hurricane Jerry will swamp Gateway this weekend.
Michael Ray says that his 6.99 at 191 pass on the MSR Victory-bodied bike is the quickest ever for a MaxxECU with all the N.R.M.F. features deactivated

Matt’s dad Rickie Smith also qualified #1 in Pro Mod with a run of 5.724 at 252.43 in his nitrous-huffing Camaro. It’s the second #1 qualifier of the season and ninth in his career for the three-time world champ. Defending event winner and points leader Stevie “Fast” Jackson is a spot behind after going 5.734 at 251.49.

Rick Hord’s wild Pro Mod ride:

John Force went to the top spot in Funny Car on his final qualifying run, going 3.842-seconds at 334.40 mph in his PEAK Chevrolet Camaro to earn his fourth No. 1 qualifier this season and 159th in his career. The 16-time world champ started the weekend second in points, going to the final round in three of the past four races, and will meet Terry Haddock to open eliminations on Sunday. Matt Hagan qualified second with a 3.854 at 333.08, while Bob Tasca III qualified third with a career-best pass of 3.855 at 327.51. Points leader Jack Beckman is ninth after going 3.894 at 326.16.

“It was a good night for me, and I do love this, I do love the fans and I love driving these racecars,” Force said. “We’ve got a real good team and we’re out there fighting the fight. I’m excited I get to drive a car that’s this good. I’m happy tonight and we gobbled up some points.”

Tim Wilkerson’s big explosion:

Funny Car — 1. John Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.842, 334.40  vs. 16. Terry Haddock, Ford Mustang, 4.232, 285.11; 2. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.854, 333.08  vs. 15. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.038, 314.90; 3. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.855, 327.51  vs. 14. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 4.014, 320.05; 4. Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.877, 334.90  vs. 13. Bob Bode, Mustang, 3.967, 322.96; 5. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.877, 332.84  vs. 12. Blake Alexander, Mustang, 3.960, 323.43; 6. Jonnie Lindberg, Mustang, 3.878, 328.46  vs. 11. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.949, 309.91; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.889, 324.59  vs. 10. Shawn Langdon, Toyota Camry, 3.905, 330.72; 8. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.890, 333.58  vs. 9. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.894, 326.16. Did Not Qualify: 17. Dale Creasy Jr., 4.258, 237.05; 18. Jack Wyatt, 7.335, 98.44.

Top Fuel’s Mike Salinas went 3.687 at 330.55 in his Scrappers Racing dragster on Saturday, earning his fifth No. 1 qualifier this season and sixth overall. Salinas, who entered the weekend sixth in points, will meet Cameron Ferre to start eliminations as he seeks his third win in a breakout 2019 season. Billy Torrence, who was the provisional No. 1 qualifier on Friday, is second thanks to his run of 3.699 at 321.88, while rookie Austin Prock is third with his pass of 3.707 at 332.10. Points leader Doug Kalitta will start eliminations from 10th after going 3.741 at 327.59.

“The car is really smooth and really fast, and it has more in it,” Salinas said. “The guys are doing a great job, and we’re ready for the Countdown. We have a fast car and it’s really nice to be a part of it. I’m just happy to be with this group. I’m learning so much and (crew chief) Alan Johnson is teaching me so much. It was really, really fast, smooth and clean, and I think we’re going to have a really fast car for raceday.”

Luigi Novelli’s big Friday explosion:

Top Fuel — 1. Mike Salinas, 3.687 seconds, 330.55 mph  vs. 16. Cameron Ferre, 3.973, 301.20; 2. Billy Torrence, 3.699, 321.88  vs. 15. Kyle Wurtzel, 3.877, 309.42; 3. Austin Prock, 3.707, 332.10 vs. 14. T.J. Zizzo, 3.791, 323.43; 4. Brittany Force, 3.708, 331.12  vs. 13. Pat Dakin, 3.758, 328.22; 5. Steve Torrence, 3.708, 327.90  vs. 12. Scott Palmer, 3.753, 329.42; 6. Leah Pritchett, 3.709, 327.51  vs. 11. Antron Brown, 3.748, 326.32; 7. Richie Crampton, 3.710, 324.75  vs. 10. Doug Kalitta, 3.741, 327.59; 8. Clay Millican, 3.721, 325.06  vs. 9. Terry McMillen, 3.727, 329.10.  Did Not Qualify: 17. Luigi Novelli, 3.978, 293.98; 18. Lex Joon, 4.143, 212.16; 19. Chris Karamesines, 4.910, 147.68.

In Pro Stock Car, Erica Enders maintained an impressive qualifying pace through the first two races of the Countdown to the Championship, earning her second straight No. 1 qualifier with a run of 6.552 at 209.85 in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Camaro. It is Enders’ second straight No. 1 qualifier and 21st of her career, as the two-time world champ had the quickest runs in three of the four qualifying sessions. She will face off with Alan Prusiensky in the first round of eliminations. Her Elite Motorsports teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. qualified second with a 6.558 at 208.01, while points leader Jason Line will start raceday from third after going 6.560 at 209.52.

“My guys just keep powering through all the hard stuff, and they have their confidence and swagger back,” Enders said. “In turn, that gives me mine and it’s just been fun to crawl our way back to the top. To go low three of the sessions and accumulate nine bonus points, I’m thrilled. I’ve got a great racecar underneath me and I’m ready for raceday. Every point matters and just having that confidence means everything. That’s what it’s all about, having that positive mental attitude.”

Pro Stock Car — 1. Erica Enders, Chevy Camaro, 6.552, 209.85  vs. 16. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.649, 208.01; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.558, 208.01  vs. 15. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.633, 207.30; 3. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.560, 209.52  vs. 14. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.631, 207.98; 4. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.563, 211.10  vs. 13. Fernando Cuadra Jr., Camaro, 6.630, 208.17; 5. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.572, 208.88  vs. 12. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.602, 208.97; 6. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.572, 208.26  vs. 11. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.601, 208.88; 7. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.575, 209.10  vs. 10. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.590, 208.39; 8. Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.580, 207.66 vs. 9. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.586, 207.69. Did Not Qualify: 17. Cristian Cuadra, 6.661, 205.04; 18. Wally Stroupe, 6.673, 205.94; 19. Robert River, 6.843, 202.73.

The staff at Gateway continues to show the know how to promote a motor race to the St. Louis audience, as Saturday was a sell-out for a fourth straight year. “The St. Louis racing community continues to show the world that they are a die-hard racing town,” said Gateway’s Executive Vice President and General Manager Chris Blair. “The AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals has firmly established itself as one of the must-attend events on the NHRA Mello Yello Championship Tour and our venue continues to show that we are the premier motorsports showplace in the Midwest.”

story, video and photos by Tim Hailey with help from NHRA

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