Mike Janis clinched his first E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Modified championship at the NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, capping an epic points battle between he and three-time series champ Rickie Smith.
Janis, who previous best championship finish was second in 2015, entered the event with a 24-point lead and added three more tallies to that lead by qualifying fifth to Smith’s white-knuckle 14th spot, setting up an easy scenario: Smith needed to win two more rounds than Janis to pass him.
All of the cards seemed to be in Janis’ favor until he was upset in round one by Mark Caruso, 5.76 to 5.78. Smith then took to the stage and scored a stunning holeshot victory over No. 3 qualifier and recent Dallas event winner Jeremy Ray. “Trickie Rickie” drilled Ray on the Tree with a .018 light and took the win, 5.782 to 5.731.
Smith, however, could not get around recent NHRA Carolina Nationals champ Rick Hord, who beat him 5.75 to 5.84 in round two, to seal the championship in Janis’ favor.
“After losing first round we were all down because our hopes of winning the championship seemed like they were down to nothing,” said Janis, who watched the climactic second-round from the top end, to either accept the champion’s trophy or congratulate Smith. “It looked like Rickie had Rick beat and then Hord went by him right at the end. I thought, ‘This can’t be true.’ I can’t express my happiness. I’ve won races before but this is the cream of the crop. It’s an incredible feeling. “
"I can’t thank KH and Qatar for all of the R&D. We were there all winter working on the car and had a great season over there and won their championship, then came here and won this one. I can’t thank E3 for all the support they’ve given this series; Pro mod has been fantastic. Danny Rowe and the whole [Real Pro Mod Association] have put a lot of effort into it.
“The whole season we’ve been going rounds and the car and crew have been flawless, which gives me a lot of confidence,. I’ve had so much support family and friends this year.”
Both drivers were coming off forgettable 2017 campaigns, with Smith running just eight of 12 events as he battled back problems and Janis failing to qualify at five of the 12 races.
The season records of both are as different as their cars, with Smith using nitrous oxide as a power adder and Janis relying on a supercharger to make his power. Smith scored three event victories this season -- in Gainesville, Topeka, and Norwalk – while Janis notched just one, in Richmond, but Janis’ car had been more consistent throughout the season, suffering just one first-round loss to Smith’s four.