What a day of Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying to open the 2023 NHRA season on Friday at the Gatornationals at Florida’s Gainesville Raceway! Steve Johnson came out on top—just barely—with two rock-solid 6.74s to look very race-ready on his Monster 4V Suzuki to take provisional #1.
But his 6.746 at 198.90 was a mere .001 ahead of rookie Chase Van Sant (featured photo above by David Edelstein), who enjoyed a 200 mph debut on Friday, going 6.747 at 200.80 on his Trick-Tools / White Alligator Racing Suzuki.
Signifying a bonafide youth movement, Gaige Herrera—in his first full year of PSM—sits third with a 6.749 at 200.59 on a Vance & Hines team bike.
But at the top sat Johnson, who had a few years of PSM racing under his belt before Van Sant was even born. But the wily veteran still has championship aspirations in a class filled with talent and remains focused on improvement.
“Our sport is so diverse and exciting,” Johnson said. “I would love to come out here and win a championship. I’ve seen the mistakes I’ve made, and the teams out here work so hard, so it’s not easy.
“We’ve got a lot of great new riders and it’s hard to ride these motorcycles perfectly. I rode pretty well today and, for me, it’s all about fundamentals and when you can concentrate on that, the motorcycle is going to have a really cool response.”
Here’s Johnson’s press conference:
A guy who has no trouble winning championships—Matt Smith—sits 4th with a 6.77 on his Suzuki while his teammate Jianna Evaristo sits a surprising 5th with a .78 after looking like her Suzuki smoked a bullet in Q1. Angie Smith is 6th on what was a strong if not earth shattering day for MSR.
Eddie Krawiec is just outside of the .70s with a 6.803, 200.98. Ryan Oehler showed big improvement from Q1 to 2, posting a 6.823 at 198.79 on his EBR.
How about Kelly and Chris Clontz? Kelly ran a career best 6.824 on her Suzuki, then sat out round 2. The Clontz bike is one of at least two Vance & Hines customers that are said to have had major reliability issues while testing in Orlando this week, and that may have been why they chose (or had no choice) to not make the round.
Joey Gladstone is another V&H bike that had Orlando troubles, where his Gen3 ‘Busa-bodied bike is reported to have chucked wrist pin and piston material into the airbox—twice! I’m told that they have a motor off the V&H team trailer this weekend, and that Andrew Hines is tuning it himself.
Gladstone’s Q1 6.846/195.56 was OK, but being 13th and over 2/100ths behind Clontz is probably not where the #2 plateholder expected to be. Things got worse when he spun off the line and moved toward the wall in a shut-off Q2 pass.
Qualifying ahead of Gladstone is Chip Ellis on an MSR EBR with a 6.826 at 199.37, Marc Ingwersen (EBR) at 6.828, 198.41, and Richard Gadson and his George Babor-built, Monster 4V Suzuki at 6.830, 197.31.
John Hall is 14th on the WAR Suzuki that Karen Stoffer rode last year with a 6.867 at 197.86, followed by Hector Arana Jr.’s EBR at 6.917, 195.3, and Ron Tornow’s now-EBR-bodied V-Twin at 6.922, 196.47.
Not Qualified are Chris Bostick, 7.066, 191.10, Malcolm Phillips Jr., 7.098, 192.66 and Lance Bonham at 7.401, 185.89.
Pro Stock Motorcycle order — 1. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.746, 198.90; 2. Chase Van Sant, Suzuki, 6.747, 200.80; 3. Gaige Herrera, Suzuki, 6.749, 200.59; 4. Matt Smith, Suzuki, 6.776, 201.58; 5. Jianna Evaristo, Suzuki, 6.789, 198.61; 6. Angie Smith, EBR, 6.792, 196.90; 7. Eddie Krawiec, Suzuki, 6.803, 200.98; 8. Ryan Oehler, EBR, 6.823, 198.79; 9. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 6.824, 196.36; 10. Chip Ellis, EBR, 6.826, 199.37; 11. Marc Ingwersen, EBR, 6.828, 198.41; 12. Richard Gadson, Suzuki, 6.830, 197.31; 13. Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, 6.846, 195.56; 14. John Hall, Suzuki, 6.867, 197.86; 15. Hector Arana Jr, EBR, 6.917, 195.39; 16. Ron Tornow, Victory, 6.922, 196.47.
Not Qualified: 17. Chris Bostick, 7.066, 191.10; 18. Malcolm Phillips Jr., 7.098, 192.66; 19. Lance Bonham, 7.401, 185.89.
story by Tim Hailey