Val Smeland woke up on Monday morning at Indy as the No. 12 ranked driver in the Pro Stock class, and though mathematically alive, he had little to no hope of making it into the Countdown to the Championship. In a bizarre twist of fate, Smeland will race for the Mello Yello Pro Stock championship after beating Seattle winner Matt Hartford in one of the biggest upsets of the day. Smeland’s win, combined with losses, by teammate Kenny Delco and 11th place Fernando Cuadra Sr., proved to be the perfect combination that allowed Smeland to qualify for the upcoming six-race playoff.
Taken solely on its own merit, Smeland’s win over Hartford was newsworthy. Both cars lost traction off the starting line, and Smeland was able to recover to earn the win, 7.176 to 7.684. The race more closely resembled a Funny Car pedal-fest than a Pro Stock race. Smeland flirted with the centerline a couple of times but managed to keep his Camaro between the lines to earn the victory. His spot in the playoffs was confirmed a few minutes later when Delco red-lighted by two-thousandths of a second against low qualifier and championship leader Bo Butner.
“I don’t even know what to say, I’m completely in shock right now,” said Smeland, who also reached the quarterfinal round in Pomona, where he upset low qualifier Rodger Brogdon and again in Denver, where he stopped Chris McGaha. “What a wild ride that was. Normally, I’d never drive like that; no way. I just didn’t see him. When the car got sideways, I lifted and I still didn’t see him, so I hit it again. Then, it got sideways again, and I corrected one more time and hit it again. I still didn’t see him. I kept waiting for him to come around me, but it didn’t happen. I’m totally in shock. I still can’t believe I’m in the Countdown.”
As excited as Smeland is to make the Countdown for the first time in his career, he can’t help but feel empathy good friend and teammate Delco, who overcame a devastating accident in Denver to maintain his spot in the Championship heading into Indy. After the Denver crash, Delco had a spare car brought from New York to Sonoma, Calif., so that he could continue his championship pursuit.
“I do feel really bad about that,” said Smeland. “There is no one out here who deserves [to make the Countdown] as much as Kenny does. He deserves it after everything he’s been through. I feel bad about that but at least we put one of our cars into the Countdown. I can’t thank Kenny enough for all he’s done to help me.”
Smeland, like Delco, decided to up his commitment to the Pro Stock class this season after the schedule was reduced from 24 to 18 races. Smeland, who uses engines built by Pro Stock veteran Frank Iaconio, and also relies on the support of his wife, Donna, as well as Ron Capossela, John Cerbone, Jim and Jamie Yates, Chris Wilke, Randy Johnson, and Brian Moody. Smeland, like Delco, competed in 11 of the first 12 races of the year including the 65th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. He qualified at all 11 including a best of 11th in Denver.