|Shortly after winning in Englishtown, Matt Smith lost his primary sponsor.
When Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Matt Smith won the NHRA SuperNationals in Englishtown earlier this season, he tallied a 13th victory in the category and jumped from eighth in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series standings to fifth. He was pumped up, but the elation was not to last for long.
Two days after beating then-points leader Karen Stoffer on a holeshot in the final at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, Smith, the 2007 world champion, received word that his sponsorship had dried up. The news was unexpected but fit a pattern of the highs and lows that Smith had been experiencing in recent times.
After successfully racing Pro Mod in Qatar during the winter – Smith drove both a car and motorcycle in the Arabian Drag Racing League during the off-season and set the record for the doorslammers with a 3.558 – the King, N.C.-based competitor was surprised and excited to learn in the eleventh hour that he would be among the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle title challengers for 2011 with the help of Al-Anabi Racing.
"We struggled the first part of the year because we didn't plan on running Pro Stock Bike," said Smith, who made the field at each of the first three events but was unable to garner more than a round-win in an outing until the SuperNationals.
"All of our stuff was kind of behind, but right before Englishtown, we found some power, and we ran good. When we got the call after that saying our sponsorship was done, at that point, I was frustrated and shocked more than anything, but we rebounded, and our team is looking good. I think we have a bike that can win the championship this year; you've just got to have funding to get to these races."
Smith bounced back from the disappointment and recorded a semifinal finish on his now stealth-black Buell in Norwalk.
Smith was down on financial support leaving New Jersey, but the Buell that he had debuted at the fall event in Las Vegas last season was lacking little. He rebounded from the startling news with a final-round finish in Norwalk, where he qualified No. 3 and had one of the quickest mounts during eliminations – he shone as low of the round in the semifinals – but broke a transmission gear in the final next to event winner Eddie Krawiec.
The points earned in Norwalk edged Smith up another position in the race to the Countdown to the Championship, into fourth, and in Chicago, he was at it again, blasting to the semifinals from the top half of the field and getting a fingerhold on another position higher in the standings. Smith, third after Chicago, had inched to within three rounds of the lead.
"Our goal at this moment is top 10, and right now, we're looking pretty good for that," said Smith.
The seasoned rider and his wife, fellow Pro Stock Motorcycle competitor Angie Smith, are hoping to take a bite out of the Western Swing and race at the upcoming Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals in Denver and the FRAM/Autolite NHRA Nationals in Sonoma. The Denver event holds fond memories for the engine builder/rider/tuner: He won back-to-back events at Denver's Bandimere Speedway, in 2008 and 2007, when he was also the leader during qualifying.
"I seem to run good there," said Smith. "We had a problem with our electrical [system] last year, but I think we could have won it then. Every year I've won up there, I did it when we had our own stuff.
"I'm approaching Denver a little different this year – if we go, we may not race every qualifying pass, and I can't run my best motor because you have to rev them so high. I can't afford to do that with our best stuff, so I'll save the motor that we found a lot of power in for Sonoma because you can give up horsepower in Denver and still run good."
The cautious strategy will allow Smith to save dollars at a facility where he understands the requirements of the conditions, and it will help to preserve his good form as the rest of the season plays out. Though Smith said that if he is leading the points, he will be pushing to get to every race, the tentative plan is to compete at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil in Indianapolis and the fall event at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte.
Smith has been working on getting his NHRA Pro Mod license.
Countdown aside, Indy will be a major focus for Smith this year because he recently earned his license to compete in the NHRA Get Screened America Pro Mod Drag Racing Series and intends to debut in the category at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. Smith balked at the idea of pressure in pulling double duty at one of the most spotlighted events on the tour.
"Oh no," he said. "This is going to be fun. Dad [Rickie] is doing good and is ahead of schedule on healing [following a Pro Mod crash in Bristol], and he'll be at Indy with me, so it should be a good time driving the car and the bike. We'd like to win a championship for somebody with that bike, not just for ourselves but for a sponsor. We've got the power, and I believe we can do it, but hopefully, someone will come onboard and give us that chance."