There is parity throughout almost every professional class in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing series but occasionally, some racers are capable of dominant performances. Matt Smith is one of those racers and his latest victory at the Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals will go down as one of his most impressive performances. Smith qualified his Denso EBR in the top spot with a 6.814, four-hundredths ahead of the rest of the field and maintained that edge during Sunday’s eliminations to win for the 25th time in his career.
“I’ve tried since 2006 to win this race and I've never been able to do it,” said Smith, a three-time world champ. “I’ve watched my dad do it a couple times and it means a lot to win it. I’ve always wanted to win Gainesville and leave with the points lead, and I was able to do it. Right now, I think Team MSR has the best team out here and we have the power to win this thing. We’ve just to keep everything together, but we have the power to win races and win a championship.”
Historically, Smith hasn’t had much luck against arch-rival and six-time world champ Andrew Hines with just 14 wins in 49-career races. Smith was also 0-6 in finals against the Harley rider but enjoyed perhaps his most significant advantage of his career this time and made it stick for a one-sided 6.843 to 6.927 victory. As an added bonus, Smith also got to share the winner’s circle celebration with his father Rickie, who won in the E3 Spark Plugs Pro Mod series.
Smith has had arguably the best bike in the class this season but putting together four competitive runs on race day has been a challenge. He came into the final of the season’s first Pro Stock Motorcycle event with a significant edge over first-time finalist Ryan Oehler in both performance and experience, but came away empty-handed. This time, Smith did not miss the mark with overpowering wins against Kelly Clontz, John Hall, and his teammate, Scotty Pollacheck. Smith was solidly in the 6.8s all day including a 6.859 against Indy winner Pollacheck, who ran 6.903.
Hines is the sport’s most successful Pro Stock Motorcycle racer with 56-career victories including two in Gainesville, but his Harley-Davidson FXDR appeared to be off a tick this weekend. Hines, who also made history at Gainesville Raceway in 2005 when he recorded the sport’s first six-second elapsed time, qualified sixth. His most impressive performance came in the quarterfinals where he took a holeshot win over teammate Eddie Krawiec. Hines other teammate, Angelle Sampey, outran him by a tenth of a second in their semifinal match, but Sampey’s run came with a -.006 red-light.
With just three events in the books before Gainesville the Pro Stock Motorcycle points battle was very much up in the air with the top six riders separated by just 47-points. Smith obviously did the most damage with his victory, but Hines, Pollacheck, Sampey, Krawiec, and Oehler are still very much in the hunt.