After not qualifying five races ago, two-time Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion Matt Smith has come remarkably far in a short time. The only thing left for him is to break through for his first victory of the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.
Since the low point of the season — not qualifying in Englishtown — Smith has been impressive on his Victory Magnum, advancing to three final rounds and grabbing two No. 1 qualifiers in the past four races. Smith appears to be setting up for a spectacular finish to his 2017 season and plans on continuing his red-hot pace at this weekend’s Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd Int’l Raceway, where he is also a two-time winner.
“Our team is definitely going in the right direction, and it’s a great feeling,” said Smith, who has jumped from 12th to fifth in the points standings. “After Englishtown, I was ready to sell everything. I was so frustrated because I know how hard we worked. I knew we had a good bike, but it was frustrating. We went back to the wind tunnel, fixed it, and made a bunch of changes. The hard work has paid off, and the whole team is excited. Now we’ve been to three finals, and I think we’re on the right track of competing for a championship.”
Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Del Worsham (Funny Car), Drew Skillman (Pro Stock), and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live final eliminations coverage starting at 2 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Aug. 20. It is the ninth of 16 races during the Pro Stock Motorcycle season and the penultimate event of the regular season before the six-race Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
It looks like perfect timing for Smith, who has been racing as well as anyone over the past two months. He’s coming off a razor-thin loss at the finish line in Sonoma to points leader LE Tonglet, who has five wins in 2017, where he just missed out on the first 200-mph run as well, going 199.88. It’s all given Smith added assurance that his bike is capable of running with and beating anyone in the loaded class, including reigning world champ Jerry Savoie, Eddie Krawiec and Hines.
“We’re very excited to compete for a championship,” said Smith, who has 18 career wins. “We started with this new motor last year, and I didn’t think it would take off as quick as it has. It’s shown a lot of potential the last three to four races. I think we’re just breaking the tip of the iceberg, and we’re excited about it. We’re right where we want to be. I feel like we can beat everyone in the class. We’re ready to fight this battle. Come the Countdown, we’ll be ready.”
Smith hopes his wife, Angie, is part of the Countdown to the Championship equation as well, which makes this weekend’s event in Brainerd an important one. She is currently 10th, holding a 22-point advantage over veteran Steve Johnson for the final spot. Having both bikes in the six-race playoffs would be a big thing for the duo, and that puts the onus on doing well in Brainerd.
“The motorcycle class has gotten really hard,” Smith said. “Angie’s in the top 10 right now, and we want to maintain that. To be in the top 10, it’s a privilege in this class. There’s a lot of good two-bike teams, and it’s just getting harder and harder. To be in the top 10, that’s pretty awesome. We have a couple new things we’re testing, and we’re looking forward to this weekend.”
Force will look to defend her Top Fuel crown in Brainerd against the likes of points leader and back-to-back world champ Antron Brown and six-time 2017 winner Steve Torrence.
Worsham wants another Funny Car win at BIR to help jump into the top 10. Worsham sits 13th in points, with everyone looking to catch reigning world champ and six-time 2017 winner Ron Capps.
Skillman has been red-hot in Pro Stock, winning three of the past four races. He’s chasing points leader Bo Butner and teammate, rookie Tanner Gray, who each have three wins as well.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 2:45 and 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 18, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Aug. 19, at 12:45 and 3:45 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 20.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 218-824-RACE (7223) or 866-444-4455. Tickets also are available online at www.brainerdraceway.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate.