Sharp Smith Takes Advantage of Opponent Failures

We’re a long way from deciding the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle championship, and Gaige Herrera is clearly the runaway dominator so far this year. But wily 6X champ and defending U.S. Nationals winner Matt Smith showed why you can never count him out. As his primary challengers fell by the wayside, Smith was there to take the big one, The Big Go at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park.

Herrera was Smith’s primary challenger, of course, and his seemingly unbeatable Vance & Hines Suzuki had a spark plug go bad against Smith in the semis. “Spark plug internally failed causing misfire,” according to Gaige, who qualified number 1 by over five hundredths compared to number 2—his teammate Eddie Krawiec.

The race between Smith and Herrera. Smith told me on Friday that his “good” motor, damaged on the Western Swing, was repaired, on the trailer, and ready if he needed it. He didn’t.
Hector Arana Jr’s Buell was strong at Indy.

Smith—who qualified fourth—faced number 3 qualifier Hector Arana Jr. in the final. Hector beat Matt’s wife Angie in the other semi after an interesting moment in the burnout box. MSR guest crewman Boo Brown started Angie’s bike, but the Arana’s hadn’t started Jr. yet and Matt shut Angie down until they did. Once started and staged, Hector nailed an .015 light and laid down his second 200 mph lap of the day to advance.

But Arana went slightly red in the final with a -.003, handing Matt and his Denso Auto Parts Suzuki the win with a 6.864 at 198.20 despite running quicker and faster with a 6.848 at 199.49. Here’s a video of the final:

Matthew also raced past both White Alligator Racing Suzukis. He and John Hall (celebrating the tenth anniversary of his own U.S. Nationals win against then-teammate Smith) both had .008 lights in E1, but Hall’s B.R.A.K.E.S. bike seemed to have the brakes on all weekend.

E2 between Van Sant and Smith

Rookie of the Year contender Chase Van Sant and his Trick-Tools Suzuki were up next. Chase took the tree by .010, but Smith’s Monster 4V Suzuki again had the legs to drive around Van Sant.

In addition to Angie, Arana Jr. knocked off Chris Bostick and Kelly Clontz to reach the finals for the second time in 2023 and 32nd time overall.

Matt’s win was his first this season, the 37th in his career, and his second straight (third overall) at Indy. “I’m not surprised at all,” Smith said. “I’ve got good power. This is our second year with the Suzuki program and we’ve got great power.

“The problem is that I can’t figure out how to make the clutch work. I need the parts to test because we’re not getting our 60-foot times where we need them. I think a 1.09 was my best and that’s not good enough.”

No matter how you slice it, Gaige is still #1 for now.

Herrera will open the playoffs as the points leader, with Smith second with encouraging momentum as he looks for a record seventh Pro Stock Motorcycle championship and fourth in a row. “I’ve always said you need to be good at the last six races to win a championship, so now it’s time to turn it up,” said Matt.

Here’s Matt’s full press conference:

The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series opens its Countdown to the Championship playoffs with the 38th annual Pep Boys NHRA Nationals on Sept. 14-17 at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Penn.


ROUND ONE — Ron Tornow, 7.005, 193.02 def. Jianna Evaristo, Suzuki, 7.121, 167.05; Angie Smith, 6.913, 196.47 def. Marc Ingwersen, 6.931, 195.99; Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 7.453, 172.72 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 9.039, 97.53; Chase Van Sant, Suzuki, 6.857, 197.33 def. Ryan Oehler, 7.044, 193.21; Matt Smith, Suzuki, 6.888, 198.44 def. John Hall, 7.217, 192.66; Hector Arana Jr, 6.882, 200.29 def. Chris Bostick, 6.962, 190.14; Eddie Krawiec, Suzuki, 6.870, 198.50 def. Bud Yoder II, Buell, 7.028, 191.95; Gaige Herrera, Suzuki, 6.793, 198.58 def. Cory Reed, Suzuki, 7.091, 189.79;

QUARTERFINALS — Arana Jr, 6.828, 199.79 def. Clontz, 6.956, 194.58; A. Smith, 6.932, 196.62 def. Krawiec, 7.059, 198.47; M. Smith, 6.866, 198.20 def. Van Sant, 6.894, 196.04; Herrera, 6.768, 199.29 def. Tornow, 6.991, 193.46;

SEMIFINALS — Arana Jr, 6.896, 200.14 def. A. Smith, 6.925, 196.22; M. Smith, 6.876, 198.35 def. Herrera, 6.920, 197.97;

FINAL — M. Smith, 6.864, 198.20 def. Arana Jr, Foul – Red Light.

Pro Stock Motorcycle points

1. Gaige Herrera, 1,055; 2. Matt Smith, 729; 3. Hector Arana Jr, 717; 4. Eddie Krawiec, 657; 5. Angie Smith, 617; 6. Steve Johnson, 535; 7. Chase Van Sant, 503; 8. Marc Ingwersen, 393; 9. Jianna Evaristo, 391; 10. Kelly Clontz, 373. 11. Ryan Oehler. 12. Chris Bostick.

Mark Paquette and Bud Yoder! Bud’s first time ever riding a wheelie bar bike and it’s a Pro Stock Motorcycle. Mark’s time away with the bike has been to put good use, as this Wally is for Best Engineered. A vast array of components on the bike have been 3D printed out of carbon fiber. Bud does the CAD drawings and Mark uses his medical instruments company to do the printing. “We can design, test and adjust things right away with no machining,” said Mark. And then there’s all that FuelTech magic wired into the bike. A work in progress, the team was happy just to qualify with original Buell body.

Great to see Cory Reed back in action after his devastating leg injury a couple of years ago. He rode Michael Phillips’ 2 valve Suzuki. “He just needed to bust a nut,” Phillips said about Reed. Cory, who’s young child is battling leukemia, was wearing a special helmet to be auctioned off to benefit St. Jude Hospital.
It was a cathartic weekend for Reed and his teammate Joey Gladstone, who recently lost his infant son Carson.
My first thought when I saw Joey in the staging lanes was “Damn it! We should have made a sticker!” So with Chris Bostick’s help, this simple vinyl cut was quickly made to memorialize the young Carson Gladstone. This one is on Ryan Oehler’s bike, one of many to show their support.

Chris Bostick and Les Stimac
Brett Ware!
There’s a price to being wrong, and in this case it’s $20. At Joliet I bet Angelle Sampey that she would be back on a Vance & Hines Suzuki for the Countdown. It made sense to me since V&H often has a blocker and Angelle has a professional relationship with their sponsor Mission. And although Mission does indeed want Angelle back on track, as we’ve seen the plan is to get her behind the wheel as a Top Fuel teammate to Antron Brown. “Antron has been trying to get me to do this forever,” Angelle told me. “I was trying to put together some bike deals and he would tell me ‘Girl, don’t get back on one of those bikes!’ So when Mission said they would support this, I texted Antron ‘OK, time to put up,’ and he called me right away.” So we all have that to look forward to. And IF V&H had asked her to ride a third bike in the Countdown? “I wouldn’t do it,” she said flat out.

He’s a 6X champ for a reason……Matt Smith crunching data late night in front of his portable AC.
It’s not all work, though. Here’s the MSR team celebrating the win at Texas Roadhouse.

photos by Tim Hailey, story by Hailey and NHRA, video by NHRA

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