The way Matt Hartford sees it, there is no way he should have gone five races deep into the 2021 season without as much as a semifinal to show for it. Hartford attributed his slow start to a combination of bad luck and minor mechanical gremlins, specifically a pair of defective line-locks that cost at least two or three possible victories.
Hartford managed to shake off his early misfortunes to win in Houston for the second time in his career. During Monday’s rain-delayed final round at the Mopar Express Lane NHRA SpringNationals presented by Pennzoil, Hartford made a withdrawal from the luck bank when both he and final-round opponent Deric Kramer shook the tires. Hartford recovered more quickly than his rival and nursed his Total Seal Camaro to the finish line for career win No. 4.
“We’ve had the power to win all year, but not the luck,” said Hartford. “We had a line-lock problem that was really hard to diagnose. We changed everything, and the problem was still there. As it turns out, we had two defective pieces. That’s really rare, but that’s what we’ve been dealing with.
“I just wish my wife, Amber, was here,” said Hartford. “This Wally is going back home to Scottsdale [Ariz.] for her. Texas has been great to us, I won my first race here. My lights today were pretty decent for a change. Normally, they’re not that good. And that Boninfante clutch, that thing works. We’ve got a great team, and everyone has jelled together. The KB team also creates incredible horsepower. Both Deric and I are KB lease customers, and we were quick all day.”
Hartford has also been without key members of his crew for much of this season. Crew chief Eddie Guarnaccia has missed some events and so has Hartford’s right-hand man, Kris Ingaldson, who has been unable to travel from his home in Canada to the U.S. for events. In Houston, Hartford’s crew was intact, and it obviously made a difference.
Unlike their nitro counterparts, Pro Stock teams in Houston were able to get two qualifying runs in, and Hartford put himself in a favorable position with a fifth-best 6.566. Of course, that didn’t guarantee an easy path to the final round as Hartford’s Monday began with a win against Kenny Delco and also included tough battles against four-time and current champ Erica Enders and defending Houston winner Aaron Stanfield.
Hartford can chalk both wins up to a quick clutch foot as he used a .013 light to barely edge Enders and was even quicker in the semifinals with a .008 opposite Stanfield’s Janac Bros. Camaro.
For all the discussion about the up-and-coming young stars in the Pro Stock class, there is still plenty of room for some of the class’s more experienced racers to shine. Hartford and Kramer each proved that in Houston. Kramer, off to a solid start this year with semifinals in Gainesville and Atlanta, topped Bruno Massel and points leader Greg Anderson before taking a 6.576 to 6.576 holeshot win against Kyle Koretsky in the semifinals.