Kelly Clontz, who made her NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle debut last year with a trio of outings, will run the entire schedule this season in partnership with Joe Riccardi’s San Marino Excavating team in a bid to make the Countdown to the Championship and an eye on winning the Auto Club Road to the Future Award as the year’s top rookie.
After 14 seasons as a Sportsman Motorcycle drag racer, Clontz made her first dip into Pro Stock Motorcycle racing last year, qualifying at her debut in Englishtown and then again in Charlotte and Reading.
Along with her husband Chris, Kelly owns her own Suzuki TL and Vance & Hines motor but will be pitting with Riccardi’s team, where Chris (also a sportsman racer) began wrenching for the 2017 season.
Riccardi (pictured right) is also partnered with two-time NHRA champ Matt Smith this year, and Smith will be lending his broad tuning and riding experience to the San Marino team.
“I’m really looking forward to getting some coaching from Matt and his wife, Angie,” said Clontz, who has already picked up some tips in February testing at Bradenton. “That will be a huge part of our program this year, having that veteran support and knowledge.”
“Kelly has come a long way since she got her license a little over a year ago,” noted Riccard. “She has really improved since her first NHRA race at Englishtown to Bradenton testing last month. Now she’s got the support and the resources to be successful.”
“I think she will do well,” echoed Matt. “She wants to learn and she wants to be better, and that’s the attitude it takes.”
Last year’s Pro Stock passes were the first time Clontz had ever shifted gears competitively on a motorcycle; her sportsman bikes having relied on auto-shift. “That’s a learning curve,” laughed Kelly. “It happens quick. At first the sound of the motor was making me feel like it was revving too high, and I was short-shifting. It’s hard to trust that shift-light.
“The ultimate goal for me last year was just getting comfortable on the bike, because it’s such a different ride,” she added. “My riding style had to completely change. I now have a big tire bike, a clutch lever, I’m shifting by hand, and the power is so much more than what I’m used to. The Pro Stock cuts a full second off of my Top Sportsman elapsed time.
“Last year it was just getting laps, going A to B, and getting comfortable. Everybody thinks that riding a Pro Stock bike is just letting the clutch go and hitting the button. I’ve heard that so many times. There are so many things to stay on top of riding a Pro Stock Motorcycle—you have no idea. It’s not that simple.”
Hitting Suzuki shift points will be a refresher course for Smith as well, who’s been racing low-revving Buells and Victories for a very long time.
“Matt came back around after his first pass on my bike and said ‘The shift-light isn’t working,’” laughed Riccardi. “I said ‘It’s working, you’re just not waiting for it.’”
Smith, who last rode a Suzuki Pro Stock Motorcycle for Don Schumacher Racing in 2009, and last tuned one in 2005 ,will start the season on the Suzuki that Riccardi has campaigned previously before switching to a brand new Vance & Hines chassis assembled by Smith, Riccardi and V&H’s Mike Mullaney. The new bike should be ready for the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals.