Matt Hartford has made 103 starts in his Pro Stock career, but none of those have taken place at Brainerd Int’l Raceway. That will change this weekend when he makes his Brainerd debut at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals. Hartford was the star of the Pro Stock class during the recent Western Swing with a win in Seattle and a runner-up finish in Sonoma. Hartford is now fourth in points and has already clinched a spot in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship for the first time in his career. Brainerd represents one of the most unique experiences on the NHRA tour, and Hartford feels he’s up to the challenge, including the infamous Brainerd Zoo, and accompanying craziness that goes with it.
“We obviously ran well in Denver and we were going to run well in Sonoma before driver error,” said Hartford, who picked up his first career win a year ago in Houston. “We still had a really fast car there and then in Seattle, we certainly had a really good Sunday. You take all that into consideration and we obviously have a lot of momentum going into Brainerd. We’re looking forward to going there and hopefully we can hold another Wally on Sunday. I’m definitely looking forward to it. The track produces some really good times and we feel like we can run really fast up there.”
The Brainerd race represents the 11th of 18 races during the 2019 Pro Stock season and it’s been a breakout campaign for Hartford and his Total Seal Piston Rings team, led by veteran crew chief Eddie Guaranaccia. The Seattle win came in Hartford’s fourth final round of 2019, and he’s routinely qualified in the top half of the field. Everything has come together nearly perfect for Hartford, who has praised the work Guarnaccia. It’s been an enjoyable process, but the fact he’s done it with a close-knit group has made this season that much more rewarding for Hartford.
“To go to four final rounds this year and win one of them, it definitely says we have a strong team and a championship-caliber team,” Hartford said. “To be able to have my team and my group of friends and family around me, and have this opportunity, it’s the most exciting part. The meaning behind all this is you’re with your closest friends and family and you’re representing your sponsors and your family. The relationships are just so strong and to have a chance to win with them, that’s the powerful meaning for me.”
Hartford, though, is nowhere near finished heading to the penultimate race of the regular season. He had championship aspirations to start the year and that hasn’t changed, especially sitting just 90-points behind leader Bo Butner. That means Hartford will need a strong showing in Brainerd debut, the only track on the NHRA circuit where he’s never raced.
“We ran really well throughout many of the races last year and ran well at the end of last year,” Hartford said. “We knew we just needed to learn to qualify just a little bit better and race just a little bit better, and maybe make smarter decisions as the rounds go on. It was just a learning curve for all us, and the more you go rounds the more you learn this.”