Matt Smith Goes Back-To-Back At NHRA Gatornationals
By Kevin McKenna | Photos by Matt Polito
The landscape of the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle class has changed dramatically in the last few months with the introduction of the new four-valve Suzuki cylinder head and the loss of the Factory Harley-Davidson team, but one thing that has remained constant is Matt Smith’s ability to win races. The reigning and four-time Camping World NHRA Drag Racing Series Champion kicked off the 2021 season at Gainesville Raceway, March 12-14, with a convincing victory aboard his Denso EBR. Six months after winning the Covid-delayed 2020 Gatornationals, Smith earned the 27th title of his career when he stopped Ryan Oehler in Sunday’s final round. Smith rode to a 6.785 elapsed time to easily cover Oehler, who ran 6.869 on his Flyin’ Ryan EBR.
“I knew I just had to race my lane,” Smith said. “This Denso EBR was running on mean this weekend. I was not getting the E.T. I wanted, but we were running the big speeds. I also have to thank Cory [Reed] and Joey [Gladstone] for loaning me a front wheel and brakes. I wouldn’t have won this race without you.”
Smith qualified number two with a solid 6.76, slightly behind the pace set by Angelle Sampey on the new Vance & Hines/Mission Foods Suzuki. Smith rode his way to the final by defeating Jimmy Underdahl, Hector Arana Jr. and Steve Johnson. Smith also ran over 200-mph during qualifying and on all four elimination runs. Smith’s 6.811 easily covered Underdahl’s 6.91 best. Arana Jr. put up more of a fight in the quarterfinals, but Smith left first and rolled to a 6.808 victory. Johnson also proved to be no match for the power of Smith’s V-twin EBR. Smith has now won back-to-back Gainesville titles, but this marks the first time he’s left the first race of the season as the points leader.
A year ago, Oehler sprinted to the early-season points lead in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class when he won the first of four events held at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, and after his performance in Gainesville, he figures to be among the class leaders again this season. Oehler raced to his third career final round with wins against Jerry Savoie and Karen Stoffer. He may not have needed it, both Oehler also caught a break in the semifinals when Indy champ Scotty Pollacheck lost oil pressure on his Denso EBR and didn’t leave the starting line.
The Gainesville event also marked the first time in nearly two decades that the class did not feature a Harley-Davidson motorcycle or a member of the Hines family. Vance & Hines teammates Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec were in Gainesville working as co-crew chiefs on Sampey’s new bike, but both are expected to rejoin the tour within the next two races. During qualifying, Sampey became the fifth rider to join the Denso 200-mph Pro Stock Motorcycle Club and the first rider to accomplish the feat on a Suzuki.
The season will continue racing action at the DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, April 16-18.
The following is from Vance & Hines:
Sampey notched a major personal accomplishment using the new motor and Vance & Hines chassis when the three-time champion made her first-ever run of 200 mph.
Sampey is one of only six riders to hit 200 mphand only the second female to do so. Sampey was celebrated as part of the Denso Spark Plugs 200 MPH Club on Saturday.