Smith Riding Toward Sixth NHRA Bike Championship

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, November 12 2022

Matt Smith has eyes on a sixth championship. (File photo)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Matt Smith’s workmanlike bid for a record-tying sixth NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle world championship remained on-course Friday after the opening two rounds of time trials for the season-ending 57th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals.

Point-leader Smith is second on the provisional 16-bike ladder after a quarter-mile pass of 6.719-seconds at 202.70 mph, the latter figure setting the track speed record for Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. Three-time world champion Angelle Sampey earned the provisional pole with a track-record elapsed time of 6.703-seconds at 201.61 mph in a battle of Pro Stock Bike royalty.

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A sixth championship would tie Smith with retired Andrew Hines and the late Dave Schultz for most in the two-wheel category in NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series history. Smith began the weekend with a solid 104-point lead over Joey Gladstone in an event awarding expanded qualifying bonus points and 30 points per round during Sunday’s eliminations.

Smith could clinch with a first-round victory Sunday aboard his Buell in the finale of the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

“I feel comfortable and confident on a track where we’ve done really well,” said Smith, who has five career wins at the legendary Southern California facility. “I’m coming in with the mindset of running my race and try to stay focused on winning. If I do my job, we’ll be OK. There can be a lot on your mind, but I’m going to rely on my experience and we’ll see what happens.”

Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) also emerged as provisional No. 1 qualifiers at the 22nd and final event in the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season. Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Bob Tasca III (Funny Car), Anderson and Smith won last year’s season-ender, while Torrence, Ron Capps (Funny Car), Anderson and Smith claimed world titles as well.

Smith’s four wins this season have been highlighted by a Round 3 victory in the Countdown at the NHRA Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill., on Oct. 2. He has advanced to three finals this postseason, taking control down the stretch in a class featuring multiple lead swaps among popular veteran Steve Johnson, Gladstone, Sampey and Smith during the 16-race regular season.

Gladstone is in the midst of a breakout season with three victories but needs an incredible weekend _ plus a massive slip-up from Smith _ to claim his first world title. Gladstone finished Friday among the non-qualified riders, in 17th, heading into Saturday’s final two rounds of time trials.

Smith _ who celebrated his 50th birthday Friday _ has managed to win the race at Pomona and clinch the world title during the same weekend three different times.

“It’s huge to win the race and win the championship all in the same weekend,” said Smith, a resident of King, N.C., and son of NHRA Pro Modified world champion Rickie Smith. “We’ve done it numerous times and we’ve got a good tradition of being able to do that. Hopefully, we can do it again. The first half of the year we tested a lot of different things, but it’s one of those deals where you have to stay focused and do your job.”

Smith’s competitors include wife Angie, who finished Friday third on the ladder aboard her EBR at 6.744-seconds and 201.97 mph.

Matt Smith _ who has more 200 mph runs than anyone in PSB history _ admittedly remains focused on that sixth championship. “It would mean a lot to get a sixth title and be in the all-time club with Andrew and Dave,” Smith said. “I grew up watching Dave race and he was one of my mentors. I wanted to be like him. All in all, it’s been a good deal to get to this point and I’m excited to hopefully put my name in that hat.”

Sampey, meanwhile, is looking to close-out the season with her sixth pole, 59th in her career and second victory of 2022 aboard her Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki.

“I was very excited to see that run because this weekend I’m on a mission to change things,” Sampey said. “My team has given me a Suzuki to win the race. I’ve had the best bike at almost every race this year but haven’t delivered like I should have. This team deserves a championship, and I didn’t deliver. My goal is to win this race and then be able to have a relaxing offseason knowing that we turned things around. I want to erase the past and gain some momentum.”

Hector Arana Jr., winner of the two most recent Countdown races, is 13th on the ladder aboard his Buell after a best pass of 6.977 at 196.87.

This weekend’s television coverage includes two hours of qualifying action Sunday on FOX Sports 1 at 2 p.m. (EST) leading into three hours of eliminations at 4 p.m.

Top Fuel point-leader Brittany Force claimed the provisional pole in style Friday, re-setting the national speed record as she chases a second world championship.

Force earned six of a maximum eight qualifying bonus points to extend her lead ever-so-slightly over Justin Ashley. After a solid 1,000-foot run in 3.742-seconds during the first session, Brit drove her David Grubnic and Mac Savage-tuned dragster through the timers in 3.641-seconds at 338.44 mph _ bumping-up the record of 338.43 mph she set last month at the Midwest Nationals at Madison, Ill.

“Setting another new speed record is pretty incredible,” said Force, the 2017 world champion and driver of the dragster fielded by John Force Racing. “I’m just very proud of this Monster Energy team and what we’ve accomplished. We’re chasing a championship that’s going to lock-up on Sunday and I’m excited about it. My mindset is where it’s been all season long _ the confidence I have with this team. We know how to get this car down (the track). We know how to turn win lights on. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I’m confident with these guys that we can get the job done. It’s going to be fun.”

Force, who began the weekend with a seven-point advantage over Ashley, is working on securing her 10th pole of the season and 42nd in her career.

“It’s big to grab those points wherever we can. And it’s pretty awesome to run that mph and break the record at my home track where I grew up racing,” said Force, a 36-year-old resident of Yorba Linda, Calif. “I love this place and that run, we planned to push the car and it worked out. But it’s going to come down to race day and we’re going to try to hunt this thing down. This is a great start for our team.”

Four-time/reigning world champion Steve Torrence _ who started the weekend 87 points behind Force _ currently is second at 3.656-seconds and 333.33 mph in his family-owned  dragster. Leah Pruett of Tony Stewart Racing is third after a pass of 3.669 at 329.67. Ashley, the 2020 Rookie of the Year seeking his first Top Fuel title, sits in the seventh spot after two sessions.

Two-time Funny Car world champion Cruz Pedregon is hoping his weekend in Pomona will trigger a momentum shift heading into the offseason. “The Cruzer” put down a pair of 3.84-second 1,000-foot runs Friday, including a class-best 3.840 at 322.58 mph in his Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat.

Pedregon is chasing his first No. 1 qualifier of the season and 63rd in a career featuring world titles in 1992 and 2008. This season has been a disappointment for the 59-year-old native of Gardena, Calif., after he contended for a championship in 2021. Pedregon’s fourth-place finish last season was his best since 2013.

“To say I’m happy and excited and relieved all in one would be an understatement,” said Pedregon, who won the 1992 championship as a Funny Car rookie. “I’ve been surprised before at the finish line but not like that. It was such a great run and honestly, the car had a cylinder out about three-quarter track on that first (run). So, had we been able to put the back half of this second run with the first one I would have been a little bit better.”

Three-time world champion Matt Hagan of Tony Stewart Racing moved into the No. 2 spot after his best pass of 3.844 at 323.58. It also sent Hagan’s Dodge Charger past two-time/reigning world champ Ron Capps and his Toyota GR Supra in the overall standings. Hagan now is 59 points _ less than two rounds of racing with Pomona paying points-and-a-half _ behind leader Robert Hight heading into Saturday.

Hight, bidding for his fourth world title, is in the fifth spot after posting numbers of 3.866 and 333.25 in his John Force Racing Chevrolet Camaro SS.

In Pro Stock, five-time world champion Greg Anderson shot into provisional P1 with a stellar quarter-mile pass of 6.509-seconds at 211.00 mph in his Chevrolet Camaro. Anderson, of Ken Black Racing, is looking to secure his fourth pole in 2022 and 122nd in his career. The 2021 world champ, Anderson has logged 13 of his record-setting 100 “Factory Hot Rod” victories at Pomona.

“There is a lot of history at the place, both here at the Auto Club Finals and the Winternationals,” said Anderson, a 61-year-old resident of Charlotte, N.C. “That’s where you used to show up in February and see how you stack-up against everyone else. Nine out of 10 times the championship is decided here. Obviously, that didn’t happen this year.”

Arch-rival Erica Enders of Elite Motorsports secured her fifth world title during the Nevada NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 30.

“The championship is over but there are a lot of ‘crumbs’ to fight for,” Anderson said. “Championships are great but we come to the track to win races and that’s our goal this weekend. I made two good runs today and now we just need to keep it up the rest of the weekend.”

Dallas Glenn impressed in the second session as well, as Anderson’s KB Racing teammate went to second at 6.514 at 210.77 in his Camaro. Troy Coughlin Jr.’s 6.520 at 211.36 placed the Elite Motorsports driver third in his Camaro heading into Saturday’s final two sessions.

Enders, who has posted a career-best 10 victories this season, is seventh on the provisional ladder at 6.541 at 211.00 mph in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Camaro.


Friday’s qualifying results after the first two of four rounds of time trials for the 57th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif. The race is the last of 22 national events in the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series and Round 6 of the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Qualifying, with DNQs listed, will continue Saturday for Sunday’s final eliminations:

Top Fuel _ 1. Brittany Force, 3.641-seconds, 338.94 mph; 2. Steve Torrence, 3.656, 333.33; 3. Leah Pruett, 3.669, 329.67; 4. Mike Salinas, 3.679, 329.58; 5. Doug Kalitta, 3.699, 328.94; 6. Austin Prock, 3.705, 332.43; 7. Justin Ashley, 3.706, 329.42; 8. Antron Brown, 3.715, 332.10; 9. Clay Millican, 3.715, 325.61; 10. Josh Hart, 3.718, 335.07; 11. Shawn Langdon, 3.751, 324.59; 12. Tony Schumacher, 3.759, 325.61; 13. Alex Laughlin, 3.796, 294.56; 14. Krista Baldwin, 3.863, 306.95; 15. Ron August, 4.113, 269.56; 16. Maurice Dupont, 4.422, 191.65. 

Not Qualified _ 17. Cameron Ferre, 5.112, 146.46; 18. Steven Chrisman, 7.797, 70.47.

Funny Car _ 1. Cruz Pedregon, Dodge Charger, 3.840, 322.58; 2. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.844, 323.58; 3. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.856, 322.65; 4. John Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.864, 333.49; 5. Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.866, 333.25; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.882, 333.58; 7. Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Supra, 3.897, 328.38; 8. J.R. Todd, Supra, 3.917, 329.26; 9. Blake Alexander, Mustang, 3.919, 322.11; 10. Jim Campbell, Charger, 3.920, 320.89; 11. Chad Green, Mustang, 3.957, 325.30; 12. Paul Lee, Charger, 3.991, 318.92; 13. Jeff Arend, Chevy Monte Carlo, 4.067, 306.40; 14. Jason Rupert, Mustang, 4.159, 246.84; 15. Bobby Bode, Mustang, 4.360, 198.15; 16. Ron Capps, Supra, 4.897, 156.43. 

Not Qualified _ 17. Steven Densham, 9.399, 68.77; 18. Terry Haddock, broke.

Pro Stock _ 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.509, 211.00; 2. Dallas Glenn, Camaro, 6.514, 210.77; 3. Troy Coughlin Jr., Camaro, 6.520, 211.36; 4. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.526, 209.20; 5. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.528, 210.11; 6. Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.540, 210.83; 7. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.541, 211.00; 8. Fernando Cuadra Jr., Ford Mustang, 6.549, 209.72; 9. Cristian Cuadra, Mustang, 6.553, 209.49; 10. Kyle Koretsky, Camaro, 6.555, 209.95; 11. Mason McGaha, Camaro, 6.557, 210.73; 12. Camrie Caruso, Camaro, 6.558, 210.73; 13. Fernando Cuadra, Mustang, 6.571, 210.24; 14. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.602, 208.62; 15. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.653, 208.04; 16. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 7.099, 148.72. 

Not Qualified _ 17. Matt Hartford, 7.571, 189.23; 18. Shane Tucker, 10.188, 82.40.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Angelle Sampey, Suzuki, 6.703, 201.61; 2. Matt Smith, Buell, 6.719, 202.70; 3. Angie Smith, EBR, 6.744, 201.97; 4. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.797, 198.26; 5. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.815, 197.51; 6. Marc Ingwersen, EBR, 6.828, 195.00; 7. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.840, 192.93; 8. Gaige Herrera, Suzuki, 6.871, 193.85; 9. Ryan Oehler, EBR, 6.877, 196.56; 10. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 6.885, 192.91; 11. Freddie Camarena, Suzuki, 6.953, 194.35; 12. Chris Bostick, Suzuki, 6.965, 190.43; 13. Hector Arana Jr., Buell, 6.977, 196.87; 14. Katie Justice, Suzuki, 7.107, 190.51; 15. Michael Phillips, Buell, 7.111, 189.58; 16. Eddie Krawiec, Suzuki, 7.263, 196.47. 

Not Qualified _ 17. Joey Gladstone, 7.568, 134.35; 18. Jianna Evaristo, 9.398, 93.99.


Sept. 15-18 _ Pep Boys NHRA Nationals, Maple Grove Raceway, Reading, Pa: Austin Prock (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Joey Gladstone (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sept. 23-25 _ Charlotte NHRA Nationals, zMAX Dragway, Concord, N.C.: Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Aaron Stanfield (Pro Stock).

Sept. 30-Oct. 2 _ NHRA Midwest Nationals, World Wide Technology Raceway, Madison, Ill.: Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Oct. 13-16 _ Texas NHRA FallNationals, Texas Motorplex, Ennis: Justin Ashley (Top Fuel); Ron Capps (Funny Car); Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Oct. 27-30 _ NHRA Nevada Nationals, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway: Brittany Force (Top Fuel); Matt Hagan (Funny Car); Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Nov. 10-13 _ Auto Club NHRA Finals, Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif.

Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1995) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients includes Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y.) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service, Ford Racing and Used Car Dealer magazine).


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, November 12 2022
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