Call it the battle before the Battle as Pro Stock Motorcycle riders jockey to secure their final qualifying positions for the upcoming Mickey Thompson Tires Pro Bike Battle. The long-running race-within-a-race for Pro Stock Motorcycle competitors was originally scheduled to take place in Sonoma, was moved to the Denso U.S. Nationals on Saturday, Sept. 5 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. That means the final field of eight riders who will compete for the $25,000 top prize, will be set during qualifying for the upcoming Indy event on Aug. 7-8.
Currently, there are four riders locked into the field including world champions Matt Smith, Andrew Hines, Eddie Krawiec, and Jerry Savoie. While not mathematically assured of a starting spot, Angelle Sampey and class’ veteran Steve Johnson are comfortable as the No. 5 and No. 6 seeds. Smith also hasn’t officially locked up the No. 1 spot, but it would take a minor miracle to dislodge him from the pole. Leading reigning champ Andrew Hines by 65-points, Smith can clinch the top spot simply by qualifying 11th or better at the upcoming Indy event. For some perspective, Smith qualified in the top half of the field in 15 of 16 events during the 2019 season.
In last year’s Mickey Thompson Tire Pro Bike Battle, Hines won the all-Harley final against Vance & Hines teammate Krawiec. Hines also won the Battle in 2014 and 2016 while Smith earned the title in 2018, beating Krawiec in the final round. Riders earn their way into the specialty event based on points awarded for final qualifying positions at NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events. In addition to the $25,000 top prize, the runner-up will receive $10,000 out of a total purse of $61,000.
Currently, the real battle is taking place at the tail end of the field as there are two spots left open with five riders eligible to fill them. Following the recent E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals, Scotty Pollacheck and Hector Arana Jr. are seeded seventh and eighth respectively and they are separated by just five points, which is equal to just one qualifying spot. The riders who are outside the field, but remain mathematically eligible to qualify are Karen Stoffer, Angie Smith, and Ryan Oehler.
Arana Jr. currently enjoys a 35-point lead over Stoffer and Angie Smith and a 55-point lead over Oehler. Stoffer has stated publicly that she’s not racing in 2020 so that leaves Smith and Oehler with a shot to enter the field but both riders have their work cut out for them. Smith would need to qualify nine spots higher than Arana Jr. to knock him from the field and Oehler, coming off his first career win at the E3 NHRA Nationals at Indy, would need to out-qualify Arana by at least 11 spots to make the show. In other words, Arana Jr. and Pollacheck can clinch their spots in the field simply by earning top-half starting spots when the Mello Yello tour returns to Indy.
Hines, Krawiec, Matt Smith, and Arana Jr. have raced in every Pro Bike Battle field since the current format was introduced seven years ago. Sampey and Savoie will be making their fourth appearance in the event while Suzuki rider Johnson is in a prime position to make his third start.