Matt Smith had some major goals for the 2022 season of the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series. To begin with, he and wife Angie started the season targeting a No. 1 and No. 2 finish in the Pro Stock Motorcycle points, and they nearly pulled it off. In the end, Smith earned his third consecutive and sixth overall Pro Stock Motorcycle title, and Angie landed in the No. 3 position with a career-best finish.
The second monumental item on the list was to successfully transition from the V-Twin brand to Suzuki. Smith not only rides his Pro Stock Motorcycle, but he also tunes all of the bikes in camp, which means mastering the new combination wasn’t something to which he could devote all of his attention.
Jianna Evaristo was the Matt Smith Racing team’s third rider for most of the season, and for the first part of the year, Jimmy Underdahl, who raced alongside Evaristo for Team Scrappers, was also part of the fold. Towards the end of the season, veteran rider Chip Ellis came on board to ride a Suzuki for the purpose of gathering data while Smith continued his championship quest aboard the DENSO Auto Parts V-Twin Buell. All along, it’s been important to Smith to learn the intricacies of the Suzuki, and he was on and off of one throughout his championship season.
“I knew the V-Twins were at a disadvantage, so that’s why I ran my Suzuki as much as I did,” he said. “I needed to learn to do the tune-up because we have more power with the Suzuki on the dyno than we do with the V-Twin.”
Smith wasn’t able to get his new bike ready in time for the season-opening Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, and so instead he hopped on the Suzuki of teammate Jianna Salinas, who would miss the race as she was healing from a crash during preseason testing. Weather became an extremely limiting factor, and the eliminations ladder was set on the previous season’s final standings. As the incoming points leader, Smith was the No. 1 qualifier, but without any qualifying passes on the new motorcycle, he lost in the first round.
It was a hugely frustrating beginning, but Smith rebounded with intensity at the very next race, the NHRA SpringNationals in Houston. It was an eventful affair as he debuted his Suzuki and immediately began picking up round-wins. When he lost an engine in the semifinals and didn’t have a backup due to parts shortages, Smith was back on his V-Twin for the final.
“We got beat by Steve Johnson, but we went back and ran the Suzuki all the way up to Richmond, and I won that race,” he said. “At Denver, I pulled the V-Twin out because of altitude, and I won that race. I think Dave Schultz might have been the only other one to win on two different brands in the same season, but I’m happy to be the second one to do it.”
After Denver, Smith returned to the Suzuki for two races and won one round at each event. For the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals, he was back on the V-Twin and immediately knew it was the right decision. Starting from the No. 2 spot, he powered his way to the winner’s circle – his second victory in Indy – and reclaimed the points lead.
“That was a big goal for me – everybody wants to win Indy,” he said. “If you can’t win the championship, the next best thing is winning Indy. I don’t know if it was the turning point, but once we did that and took over the points lead, we only gave it up one other time.”
In a very strong performance aboard his V-Twin, Smith was the No. 1 qualifier in Reading, St. Louis, and at the fall race in Las Vegas. He qualified second at each of the other two Countdown to the Championship races, Dallas and Pomona.
Although he stumbled slightly in Reading with a second-round exit, he came out guns blazing in St. Louis to win the event, then he logged a runner-up in Las Vegas to set up smooth sailing at the Auto Club NHRA Finals. All he had to do was qualify and win the first round, and he accomplished that with a decisive victory over Michael Phillips.
“This season was about learning the tune-up on the Suzuki,” he said. “I’ve raced my whole life on a V-Twin, and the Suzuki is such a different platform that I really didn’t know how to run one. I basically dedicated this year to learn with Jianna, help them get their bike right on the Suzuki platform, and dedicate my bike to the same thing. I learned a lot and won a race with it, and it’s fast – but it’s not to where I want it to be to run for a championship. Switching back to the V-Twin [for the Countdown] turned out to be the right call.”
With a sixth Pro Stock Motorcycle championship in hand, Smith tied the late Dave Schultz and Andrew Hines as the only riders to have ever won as many titles.
“I didn’t know if we could win the championship this year, to be honest, so I didn’t even think about that much,” said Smith. “I knew we had a good bike, but my goal was just to run the best we could. It’s sunk in now. I tied two of the greatest of all time.
“Me and Andrew Hines grew up watching Dave Schultz, and now I put Andrew in that category. Hands down, I think he’s the greatest of all time right now in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Andrew has six championships, but he’s also got 56 race wins. I’m glad he’s retired because that gives me a chance to maybe catch him.”
That’s just another item on an ever-shifting to-do list for the North Carolina native. When Smith made his Pro Stock Motorcycle debut in Gainesville in 2004, his mission was to qualify. When he joined forces with Mark Stockseth to start their own team in 2007, the goal became to win a race.
“We ended up winning four races, nine No. 1 qualifiers, and winning the championship that year,” he said. “Now we have six of these things. I’m so thankful for Mark Stockseth, Denso, Lucas Oil, Greg Butcher Trucking, Smiths Trucking.
“I’m going to focus really, really hard on the Suzuki bikes next year. I don’t even want to run my V-Twin. I’m going ‘do or die’ next year. My next goal in life is to win a championship on a Suzuki, so that’s what I’m going to be trying for.”