After picking up his first victory of the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season and also his first since 2016, two-time Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion Matt Smith is hopeful it is just the start of a memorable stretch that doesn’t stop anytime soon.
Smith showed impressive progress last weekend in Chicago, running strong numbers throughout eliminations to capture his 19th career victory. Heading to this weekend’s inaugural Virginia NHRA Nationals at Virginia Motorsports Park with renewed confidence on his Victory Magnum, Smith believes there is a golden opportunity to turn that victory into a solid run this summer.
“We’re just trying to win a race and do everything we can to survive out here,” Smith said. “We’ve got good power and we’ve had it the last 2-3 years. This motor is just very, very good and this thing can be really, really fast. When we get the new EBR bodywork, I think we’re going to pick up 2-3 more mph from what I’m understanding, so these guys better watch out when we get it.”
All the stars in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle will try to pick up wins at a race that will be televised on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including finals coverage beginning at 6 p.m. on Sunday. It is the fifth of 16 events during the 2018 Pro Stock Motorcycle season and also marks the category’s first time at the facility since 1998.
Smith’s season took a significant positive turn last weekend in Chicago, showing just how far he has come in a short time in 2018. He failed to qualify at the season-opening race for the class in Gainesville, but went to the final quad at the four-wide event in Charlotte and posted the lowest E.T. each round during eliminations in Chicago, capped off by his run of 6.816 at 195.87 mph in the final round to beat LE Tonglet. He also dipped into the 6.70s a handful of times, adding another strong building block to the weekend.
“I knew we had a good bike, I just missed the tune-up on Saturday (in Chicago),” said Smith, who is sixth in Pro Stock Motorcycle points. “I learned something, I applied it (on Sunday) and we were the quickest bike every round. It’s just a testament to my crew. These guys have stuck with me the last 3-4 years. We pulled this bike out and didn’t really work on it all winter, and it’s a fast hot rod. It’s hateful and we proved it (Sunday). We’re just very excited and (the win) was big for us.”
The next step is turning that into even more success, both on his bike and the motorcycle his wife, Angie, rides. She is currently 13th in points in a talent-rich class that also includes points leader Andrew Hines, defending world champion Eddie Krawiec, who has two wins this season, Scotty Pollacheck, Hector Arana Jr. and Charlotte winner Jerry Savoie. Smith is thrilled for Pro Stock Motorcycle’s first race at Virginia Motorsports Park in two decades, and he would like nothing more than to meet his wife in the final round in the category’s return to the facility.
“She has a great bike and her time is coming,” said Smith, a King, N.C. native. “We’ve got two fast hot rods. We’re going to be here and they’ll know who we are by the end of the year. We’ve been very fortunate and haven’t hurt a motor in a long, long time. We’ve got very reliable parts and everything is going good for us.”
Top Fuel standouts Tony Schumacher and Doug Kalitta both have wins at VMP, but everyone is hunting points leader Steve Torrence, who has three wins in 2018. Others to watch include Clay Millican, who has back-to-back wins, Leah Pritchett and defending world champ Brittany Force.
John Force has four Funny Car wins at the facility, while Cruz Pedregon, who won in Charlotte this year, also has a Virginia victory. But both are chasing Courtney Force, the current points leader who has two wins in 2018. Others to watch include Jack Beckman, Robert Hight and Matt Hagan.
Jeg Coughlin and Jason Line have Virginia Pro Stock victories, and Coughlin just won in Chicago to become the eighth winner in nine races in the class. Everyone is trying to track down points leader Greg Anderson, who is also seeking his first win of the year in Virginia.
The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service makes the fifth of 12 stops in 2018 at Virginia Motorsports Park. The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport.
Those in attendance will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with a few of the most renowned names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This will feature meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends scheduled to attend the Virginia NHRA Nationals include Joe Amato, Jim and Allison Lee, and Jim Yates.
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 2:45 and 5:15 p.m. on Friday, June 8, and the final two rounds of qualifying at 12:45 and 3:15 p.m. on Saturday, June 9. Final eliminations are scheduled for 12 p.m. on Sunday, June 10.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 800-884-NHRA (6472). Tickets also are available online at www.NHRA.com/tickets. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. All students can save 50 percent on general admission at the gate with a student ID. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate.