I’m no mathematician, but I’m told that Jay Turner Racing (JTR) rider Randal Andras has the 2020 NHRA Top Fuel Harley (TFH) championship already sewn up with two races yet to go.
The choice may not be so clear-cut in Pro Stock Motorcycle (PSM), but it is clear that Matt Smith Racing (MSR) is the class of the field. Smith leads his MSR teammate Scotty Pollacheck by 21 points. And despite never looking impressive, Andrew Hines and his Harley are lurking only 7 points behind Pollacheck.
But first, Fast Coonass Andras. “He has had a phenomenal year,” said outgoing 2X champ Tii Tharpe. “An 84% win rate has got to be a record!”
All the smooth performance that Tharpe showed in his two championship years somehow transferred into the leathers of Andras. Randal may have to make a move or two early in his runs, but for most of the track he couldn’t look more comfortable—legs relaxed out to the sides while he keeps the “trottle”pinned to the end.
And he needed to keep it pinned to win against Chris Smith in the final of this past weekend’s COVID19-delayed NHRA AMALIE Motor Oil Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway in Florida. Smith’s 229.24 in the final was top MPH for the event, but he gave up .023 at the tree and ran a 6.317 to Andras’quicker 6.272.
It was an eventful weekend for Tennessee racer Smith, who was pulled off after the burnout in Q1. The EM box on his JTR mount was not shifting the bike for some reason, and a lot of head scratching back in the pits led to Chris manually shifting in Q2.
“I believe we had a throttle position sensor stop working properly,”JTR tuner Rex Harris said later. “So we moved the activation from the TPS to an MSD output. The shift output was only seeing a signal sporadically. Apparently, the MSD test we do generates significantly more electromagnetic interference than when the bike is running. So the system seemed to work properly idling and on the track, just not when the HEI test was running.”
After making the shift, Smith’s thumb dropped down and hit the parachute button at about 1000 feet. The pass was still good enough to qualify fourth on a weekend that stunningly saw Tharpe fail to do so—the ninth qualifier in an eight-bike field.
“I misaligned my axle terribly on the first run,” Tharpe said about a pass he shut off at about 150 feet. We thought we were safe on the second, but it rattled the tire and dropped a hole. Hard with only two chances on different days, but that is also an equalizer.”
Indeed, so much idle time between Friday and Saturday’s one-a-day TFH qualifiers led to lots of pit talk about event scheduling, how NHRA spends money, pointless Zoom meetings, etc.
Bob Malloy has always been the most meticulous cook in the TFH pits, and occasionally his lightweight, high-gear-only Buell is the hottest cooking tool on the track.
That was the case in Q2, which saw ET record-holder Malloy shoot to number one with a 6.27, well ahead of Andras’ 6.41 in number two.
Malloy faced Rich Vreeland in round one of eliminations. Both of Rich’s qualifying passes found him completely off, then completely back in the throttle, and the team chose to make a gear change for raceday. It worked, and Rich jumped from his qualifying best of 7.24 to a 6.69 at 211—a great leap but not great enough to get past Malloy’s 6.33 at 222.
Then Malloy had Smith in the semi. “I ran a .42 the previous round, so we knew were going to have to step it up against Bob,” said Chris. “I also knew I was going to have to cut a great light to give myself a shot at winning. Rex (Harris) put a good tune in it and we knew were going to run quicker.”
Smith left .034 quicker than Malloy, and both bikes were close all the way down the track. “When I hit the throttle I knew I had left on him, but he quickly pulled up beside me and was there till about 300 feet. So I knew he had made it past the spin zone, but I lost sight of him so I knew it was going to be a close one. The bike started to drift towards the centerline but I knew I had to stay in it or he would come around me.”
From my vantage point, I was certain that Smith would have to let out. “No, never lifted, just rode through it,”reported Chris. “Luckily I got it off the line and held it off for the win.”
Malloy and the quickest bike in the field were out in round 2 for the second race in a row. “I feel like I have a bike that can win anywhere,”said Bob. “It’s just a matter of making the right decisions at the right time.
“I should have run MUCH quicker. We just made the wrong (gearing) call. I had two tenths in reserve.”
Like Tharpe, Andras’ first qualifying pass was a disaster. But after that he was smooth sailing, defeating Rickey “Sharky” House in E1 and team boss/points rival Jay Turner in E2 before the win over Smith in the final.
“Thought it might be my weekend,” said Chris, who definitely will get his weekend one day. “Came up just a little bit short but Jay Turner and his team worked their butts this weekend to put me on a super-fast motorcycle. I really appreciate everyone’s help—
Jay, Rex, Buddy Johnson and Frankie Smith.”
“JTR keeps winning the big trophy—back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back!” said Tharpe. “Congratulations to Mr. Andras.”
No one is more at ease than Randal as he parades around the JTR compound in his collection of Hawaiian shirts, even when—and maybe especially when—he’s spending quality time with Michael Phillips. Michael signed off on Randal’s first NHRA license back around 2000 at State Capitol Raceway in Baton Rouge.
All-star trash-talking PSM racer Phillips stuck with the TFH team deep into the night, igniting Piedmont nostalgia for Turner and opening up the possibility that we might see Michael on a nitro Harley. JTR all-arounder and stud rider Mark Conner was all for it. “I’ll get him up to speed,” said Conner. “Michael can definitely ride one of these.”
Hellooooooo Aruba—let’s grab some headlines!
Michael also found time to trash talk with his own E1 opponent Angelle Sampey. Angelle may have gotten the best of Mike when she said “You better bring ALL your manhood” out the window of Vance & Hines’ stretch Transit van.
And the next morning, Michael’s manhood redlit by -.028. Angelle then went on to beat Angie Smith before she also redlit by -.006 against teammate Hines in the semi.
Hines and his Harley had nothing for Smith, neither at the start (.025 to .045 in Matt’s favor) or the finish, with Matthew winning with a 6.843 at 196.99 to Hines’ 6.927 at 194.63.
Smith joined his dad in the Gainesville winners circle (if there was one in these COVID19 restricted times) for the third time after Rickie won Pro Mod.
It was No. 1 qualifier Matt’s 25th career victory, continuing a stretch that also saw him win the Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle at the most recent race. He knocked off Kelly Clontz, John Hall and Scotty Pollacheck to reach the final round before his wire-to-wire win against Hines. Smith also moved into the points lead with his first-ever Gators win.
“I’ve tried since 2006 to win this race and I’ve never been able to do it,”said Matt, a three-time world champ. “I’ve watched my dad do it a couple times and it means a lot to win it. I’ve always wanted to win Gainesville and leave with the points lead, and I was able to do it.
“Right now, I think Team MSR has the best team out here and we have the power to win this thing. We’ve just to keep everything together, but we have the power to win races and win a championship.”
Hear more from Matt in this video:
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
ROUND ONE — John Hall, Suzuki, 6.980, 190.03 def. Ryan Oehler, 7.105, 189.02; Angie Smith, 6.895, 197.05 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.957, 191.08; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.851, 195.79 def. Hector Arana Jr, 6.920, 195.36; Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.924, 189.58 def. Chris Bostick, Suzuki, 6.972, 192.66; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.846, 197.36 def. Marc Ingwersen, Foul – Red Light; Scotty Pollacheck, 7.382, 177.23 def. Hector Arana, Broke; Angelle Sampey, Harley-Davidson, 6.856, 196.59 def. Michael Phillips, Suzuki, Foul – Red Light; Matt Smith, 6.860, 198.20 def. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 7.015, 190.35;
QUARTERFINALS — Pollacheck, 6.898, 194.63 def. Savoie, 6.972, 189.36; M. Smith, 6.828, 197.77 def. Hall, Foul – Red Light; Sampey, 6.907, 194.83 def. A. Smith, 6.906, 195.85; Hines, 6.912, 195.05 def. Krawiec, 6.894, 195.93;
SEMIFINALS — Hines, 6.941, 194.74 def. Sampey, Foul – Red Light; M. Smith, 6.859, 196.73 def. Pollacheck, 6.903, 195.68;
FINAL — M. Smith, 6.843, 196.99 def. Hines, 6.927, 194.63.
Multi-time world champ Rickie Smith raced to his first win of the 2020 E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series season, beating Mike Janis in the final round.
It was the fourth race of the season in the class and Smith became the fourth different winner, going 5.801-seconds at 249.63 mph in his nitrous-huffing Camaro to defeat former world champ Janis.
Smith, racing for just the second time in 2020, reached his 25th career final round with victories against Doug Winters, Jim Whitely and No. 1 qualifier Brandon Snider. He never trailed in the final and rolled to his first win this season and 16th in his stellar NHRA Pro Mod career.
“I’m just amazed that God has let me do this for this long,”Smith said. “You’ve just got to not make mistakes and stay focused. The older you get, the harder it is to stay focused. But I’m so tickled about this.”
Janis advanced to his 12th career final round with wins against Kris Thorne, Chad Green, and Khalid Al-Balooshi. Janis also jumped into the points lead and now holds a 16-point advantage against reigning world champion Stevie “Fast”Jackson with three races remaining in 2020.
ROUND ONE — Rickie Smith, Chevy Camaro, 5.784, 249.81 def. Doug Winters, Chevy Chevelle, 5.976, 238.72; Steve Jackson, Camaro, 5.810, 242.50 def. Justin Jones, Chevy Corvette, 5.866, 246.75; Brandon Snider, Corvette, 5.793, 245.45 def. Todd Tutterow, Camaro, 6.317, 180.91; Mike Janis, Camaro, 5.790, 248.16 def. Kris Thorne, Camaro, 5.880, 253.75; Jim Whiteley, Corvette, 5.856, 243.81 def. Steve Matusek, Ford Mustang, 5.850, 247.34; Chad Green, Corvette, 5.795, 248.80 def. Tommy Daprile, Camaro, 5.849, 244.56; Khalid alBalooshi, Camaro, 5.739, 249.67 def. Clint Satterfield, Camaro, 5.860, 239.87; Jeffery Barker, Camaro, 5.819, 250.41 def. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 8.740, 100.49;
QUARTERFINALS — alBalooshi, 5.834, 216.31 def. Jackson, 6.071, 212.93; Smith, 5.793, 249.07 def. Whiteley, 10.302, 83.64; Janis,╩╩def. Green, Foul – Red Light; Snider, 5.788, 245.36 def. Barker, 5.821, 250.60;
SEMIFINALS — Janis, 5.818, 246.98 def. alBalooshi, 5.762, 248.80; Smith, 5.815, 249.53 def. Snider, 5.803, 244.25;
FINAL — Smith, 5.801, 249.63 def. Janis, 6.868, 127.14.
ROUND ONE — Leah Pruett, 4.152, 300.13 def. Joe Morrison, 4.583, 248.66; Doug Foley, 3.897, 322.27 def. Arthur Allen, 4.086, 237.30; Clay Millican, 7.266, 79.85 was unopposed; Antron Brown, 3.821, 325.06 def. Cameron Ferre, 8.300, 74.27; Billy Torrence, 3.851, 319.98 def. Todd Paton, 4.486, 186.59; Steve Torrence, 3.787, 319.45 def. Tony Schumacher, 4.868, 158.04; Terry McMillen, 3.747, 321.27 def. Doug Kalitta, 3.877, 310.91; Shawn Langdon, 3.849, 301.54 def. Justin Ashley, 3.957, 256.89;
QUARTERFINALS — Pruett, 3.788, 321.96 def. Millican, 3.788, 315.86; B. Torrence, 3.778, 324.20 def. Langdon, 3.847, 315.49; McMillen, 3.827, 310.63 def. Brown, 4.575, 178.05; S. Torrence, 3.761, 322.73 def. Foley, 3.903, 317.27;
SEMIFINALS — B. Torrence, 3.817, 321.88 def. McMillen, 3.841, 311.34; S. Torrence, 3.772, 324.36 def. Pruett, 3.812, 310.20;
FINAL — S. Torrence, 3.809, 322.11 def. B. Torrence, 3.810, 320.74.
ROUND ONE — Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.987, 314.83 def. Terry Haddock, Mustang, 12.078, 88.12; Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.971, 323.97 def. Dave Richards, Mustang, 7.059, 88.09; Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.915, 327.90 was unopposed; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.999, 325.14 def. John Smith, Charger, 4.024, 302.21; Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 4.051, 312.28 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 7.184, 85.45; Blake Alexander, Mustang, 5.118, 183.52 def. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 8.664, 90.03; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.962, 320.66 def. J.R. Todd, Camry, 4.006, 321.58; Jack Beckman, Charger,
3.921, 325.92 def. Paul Lee, Charger, 4.135, 261.67;
QUARTERFINALS — Hagan, 3.954, 325.37 def. Beckman, 4.134, 242.67; Wilkerson, 3.949, 325.22 def. Johnson Jr., 3.957, 318.84; Tasca III, 3.967, 323.89 def. Alexander, 4.084, 309.34; Capps, 3.968, 325.22 def. DeJoria, 4.014, 319.98;
SEMIFINALS — Wilkerson, 3.958, 325.61 def. Tasca III, 3.955, 324.51; Capps, 3.898, 329.99 def. Hagan, 4.016, 312.64;
FINAL — Capps, 3.937, 323.12 def. Wilkerson, 3.945, 325.92.
ROUND ONE — Chris McGaha, Chevy Camaro, 6.633, 207.15 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.617, 206.83 def. Mason McGaha, Camaro, 6.636, 206.61; Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.630, 207.27 def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.641, 206.70; Kyle Koretsky, Camaro, 6.642, 206.13 def. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.813, 198.41; Cristian Cuadra, Ford Mustang, 6.689, 206.48 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.610, 207.69 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.629, 207.72; Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.622, 208.42 def. Bob Benza, Camaro, 6.837, 204.45; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.605, 207.46 def. Troy Coughlin Jr., Mustang, 6.655, 206.48;
QUARTERFINALS — Stanfield, 6.626, 207.40 def. C. Cuadra, Broke; Kramer, 6.641, 207.69 def. C. McGaha, 6.647, 207.34; Laughlin, 6.619, 207.30 def. Koretsky, 6.640, 206.64; Line, 6.651, 206.86 def. Enders, 6.642, 206.04;
SEMIFINALS — Stanfield, 6.634, 206.54 def. Line, 6.659, 196.85; Laughlin, 6.641, 206.76 def. Kramer, 6.613, 207.85; FINAL — Laughlin, 7.068, 204.76 def. Stanfield, 14.002, 60.60.
story, photos and video by Tim Hailey with help from NHRA