A week after a frustrating loss in the final match of the Reading round, Smith Racing EBR’s Matt Smith quickly made up for a lost opportunity by winning his second NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle event of the season, the latest at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois, September 21-23. Smith was dominant all weekend and won the final round against Nitro Fish Suzuki’s LE Tonglet and more importantly, he took over the lead in the battle for the 2018 Mello Yello Championship with just four events remaining. The final round was one of the closest races of the year with Smith getting a slight starting line holeshot against Tonglet and holding on for a 6.877 to 6.867 victory. Traveling over 195-mph, the two bikes were separated by just .0006 of a second at the finish line. For Smith, it was another chapter in a season that has had its fair share of highs and lows.
2018 Gateway Motorsport Park NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle Results
“We started the year on a Suzuki and it was part of a partnership that fell apart,” Smith said. “I still don’t know what happened, but I found myself without a ride after the first race of the year. I had to pull my old bike out in Charlotte; we qualified well and went to semifinals there. Sometimes that [adversity] makes you work harder. It’s been one thing after another, but we don’t give up.
“The final was something else,” Smith said. “I have blinders on my helmet so I don’t get distracted. It’s too easy to look at what’s going on in the other lane and short-shift the bike or something. I never saw LE—I heard him, so I know he was close, but I never saw him. That would have been too close to tell anyway.”
Smith was fortunate to avoid the bad luck that sidelined several of the championship favorites in the first round of eliminations. Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson’s Eddie Krawiec, the incoming points leader, took a big hit when he red-lighted by just a thousandth of a second. Reading winner Hector Arana Jr. also went out after his Lucas Oil EBR stalled on the starting line. Sensing an opportunity to make a big move in the points, Smith was cautious to avoid a similar fate.
“Sitting up there, I watched Hector’s bike not leave the starting line and then Eddie red-lighted and I thought, ‘Wow, both of those guys are out. Just stay focused, cut a light and see if you can win the first round,’” said Smith. “We won that and then we won the second round and they told me I had the points lead after that. I had Chip [Ellis]. Harley has brought him out as a blocker. They have three bikes out here trying to whip up on us, but we’re going do our best. Then, I had LE in the final and that was a tight race.”
Smith, who now has 20 wins in his career, was fifth-quickest in qualifying with a 6.824, but he quickly attributed the lack of performance to a wounded engine. He also fell short of his goal to make his first 200-mph run although he ran over 198 to set the top speed of the race.
“We got here to St. Louis and hurt our good motor Friday night, and me and [wife] Angie stayed up all night fixing it,” Smith said. “We limped it through today and got by. Thankfully, I’ve got a couple of weeks to work on our stuff before the next race in Dallas. I told people after Indy, we’re going into the Countdown on a strong note. They know we’re here. The way I have it figured we can win three of the six Countdown races and win this championship. So far, we’ve been to two finals. That’s my goal. Just keep going to final rounds.”
Although he didn’t win, Tonglet helped himself in the points standings with his runner-up finish. After wins against Jimmy Underdahl, Smith’s wife, Angie, and White Alligator Suzuki’s Jerry Savoie, Tonglet, who has four wins this season, is second in the points standings, one round behind Smith.
“It sucks to lose the final, especially when it’s that close but we had a good weekend as far as the points are concerned,” Tonglet said. “We’re in this fight. We can win the championship but we’re going to need to get a break or two. The next time I get in a race that is so close, it needs to fall my way. That’s the difference between wining a championship and not winning it. You’ve got to win the close ones.”
Click here for complete results.