Defending NHRA Pro Stock Champ Matt Smith Looking To Keep Things Rolling Heading To Gainesville

Story By: NHRA – GAINESVILLE, FL – After waiting for years to find success at Gainesville Raceway, Pro Stock Motorcycle veteran Matt Smith has now proven to be unbeatable as of late at the historic track.

The five-time and defending world champ has won the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals the past two years and is after a third straight victory at this weekend’s event in Gainesville.

Another win on his Denso Auto Parts/Stockseth/Matt Smith Racing EBR would be a big deal for Smith, who has his sights set on another fast start to the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season. The Gatornationals marks the season debut for the Pro Stock Motorcycle category and it’s always a meaningful race for the NHRA stars. Smith could never finish the job in previous years, but that all changed in 2020 and 2021.

“It’s been pretty awesome to get wins in Gainesville the last two years,” Smith said. “My whole life, that’s one of those races we’ve always wanted to win but it had always eluded me. Everyone in our class wants to win in Gainesville and Indy. If you can win at those places, you’ve accomplished something. We had ran well in Gainesville before but couldn’t cap it off until these last two years and those have meant a lot.”

Josh Hart (Top Fuel), J.R. Todd (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) all won a race that will be shown on the FOX broadcast network and Fox Sports 1 (FS1) this year. The Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout takes place live on FOX on Saturday, March 12 and eliminations will be shown at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday, March 13 on FS1. It’s the third race of the 2022 NHRA season, but the first for the Pro Stock Motorcycle category and Smith has no plans of letting up.

He was dominant a year ago, winning six races and advancing to eight final rounds. But repeating that success won’t be easy and Smith is aware of that, especially with a contingent of riders showing impressive progress on Suzuki motorcycles. That includes the likes of six-time Gatornationals winner Eddie Krawiec, Angelle Sampey and Steve Johnson, but Smith likes his four-bike team, which consists of his wife, Angie, Jimmy Underdahl, who will be running a Suzuki, and Jianna Salinas.

“The Suzuki bikes are going to be tough to beat,” Smith said. “But we’ve had a very positive off-season and I love the challenges in this class. I can see the potential of the Suzuki bike and it’s really unbelievable, so hopefully I’ll have mine later in the year.”

Pro Stock’s Aaron Stanfield has enjoyed a stellar start to 2022, winning in Phoenix and taking over the points lead in the process. He’s been to the final round in each of the first two races, putting him firmly in the championship conversation. Stanfield won three races last year in his Janac Brothers Chevrolet Camaro, but the Elite Motorsports standout continues to make consistent improvements in his young career.

His Elite Motorsports teammate, four-time world champ Erica Enders, won in Pomona to open the year, and is one of the marquee challengers Stanfield will take on in Gainesville. Other top drivers include last year’s winner and defending world champ Greg Anderson, who is a win shy of 100, Kyle Koretsky, 2021 NHRA Rookie of the Year Dallas Glenn, Troy Coughlin Jr. and Mason McGaha. But Stanfield, who is also the two-time defending world champ in the Constant Aviation Factory Stock Showdown category, loves the challenge and is eager to try and win for the first time in Gainesville.

“I know we work really hard and I’m very competitive,” Stanfield said. “I don’t like losing and we’re just going to keep chipping away at it and try to stay consistent and good. When I show up to the race track, I want to win, and I want to be the best. The long-term goal is to win a championship and several other races, but that’s the goal for several other drivers. If we can keep doing what we’ve been doing, and I can be a little better behind the wheel we’re going to be tough to beat.”

Josh Hart had a magical start to his Top Fuel career, winning in his debut last year in Gainesville. He’ll try to repeat that against a loaded class that features standouts like Steve Torrence, the defending four-time world champ, Pomona winner Justin Ashley, Phoenix winner Mike Salinas and Brittany Force.

The Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout, an eight-car, one-day specialty race features a star-studded lineup, including Torrence, Force, Salinas, Ashley, three-time champ Antron Brown, nine-time race winner Leah Pruett, 49-time event winner Doug Kalitta and former world champ Shawn Langdon.

In Funny Car, J.R. Todd will try and join an elite list of drivers who have record-to-back wins at the Gatornationals. Trying to stop him is an impressive list, starting with points leader Robert Hight, who has won the first two events of the year, Ron Capps, John Force, who has won eight times in Gainesville, and Phoenix runner-up Matt Hagan.

The event also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, as well as the Constant Aviation Factory Stock Showdown and the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series. The Hot Rod Junction will be bringing more than 50 historical cars to the race, including show cars and cackle cars. The Electric Exhibition presented by Pep Boys Electric Vehicle Service will take also place in Gainesville.

To get ready for the Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout, a special photo of all eight participants will take place at 2 p.m. on Friday, March 11, with a special autograph session featuring the eight star drivers taking place at the Pep Boys Midway Display the next day at 10 a.m. Earlier on Saturday, Toyota-sponsored drivers will be signing autographs at 9 a.m. at the Toyota Midway Display.

Race fans will also get to enjoy a pair of concerts during the weekend as part of the NHRA Concert Series presented by 8-Track Entertainment. Country music star Eddie Montgomery of Montgomery Gentry will take the stage at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, March 11. BoomTown Saints will open for Montgomery on Friday and will also take to the NHRA stage at 2:45 p.m. on Saturday. Tickets for the concert are included with the price of admission to the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals.

NHRA fans can attend Total Seal Tech Talk with Pro Stock’s Matt Hartford at 1 p.m. on Friday, March 11 to learn more about how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. Gainesville Raceway will also host the special pre-race ceremonies that introduce and celebrate each of the drivers racing for the prestigious Wally on Sunday and includes the SealMaster Track Walk, which benefits the Darrell Gwynn Foundation in Gainesville. As part of the pre-race ceremonies on Sunday, reigning world champs Torrence, Capps, Anderson and M. Smith will be receiving their championship rings as well. The final can’t-miss experience of any NHRA event is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes, where fans are invited to congratulate the event winners celebrating their Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals victories.

As always, fans also get an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet at Gainesville Raceway. This unique opportunity gives fans a unique chance to see teams in action and service their hot rods between rounds, get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers and more. Fans can also visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create an exciting atmosphere that includes interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family. The new Pep Boys midway display will include tire change challenges, oil change challenges, a slot car track and much more, adding even more excitement to the midway.

NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature one round at 4:00 p.m. ET on Friday, March 11 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, March 12 at 10:30 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 13. Television coverage includes qualifying action on FS1 at 10 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, and then eliminations action at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday.

The first round of the Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout will take place at 11:45 a.m. on Saturday, March 12 with the semifinals set to follow at 1:30 p.m. The final round is slated for 3:15 p.m. and will be shown live on the FOX broadcast network. FOX will have coverage of the entire Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout starting at 2 p.m. ET on Saturday.

 

PEP BOYS NHRA TOP FUEL ALL-STAR CALLOUT BREAKDOWN

The Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout takes place on Saturday, March 12 at the upcoming Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at historic Gainesville Raceway. It is a unique specialty race within a race featuring eight star drivers competing for a big money and memorable victory before eliminations takes place for the Gatornationals the next day.

 

FAST FACTS

Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout Final Standings

  1. Steve Torrence
  2. Brittany Force
  3. Mike Salinas
  4. Justin Ashley
  5. Antron Brown
  6. Leah Pruett
  7. Doug Kalitta
  8. Shawn Langdon

 

  • Torrence will make the first selection to call out his opening-round opponent, getting his choice of the seven other drivers before the first round of qualifying in Gainesville at 5 p.m. on Friday. Brittany Force would get the next pick if she were not called out by Torrence, followed by Salinas until all first-round matchups are set.
  • The driver who makes the quickest winning run in the first round will get the chance to select their semifinal opponent, automatically locking in the other matchup.
  • The first round takes place at 11:45 a.m. ET on Saturday, March 12, with the semifinals set to follow at 1:30 p.m. The final round is slated for 3:15 p.m. The FOX broadcast network will have coverage starting at 2 p.m. ET on Saturday, March 12.

 

PEP BOYS NHRA TOP FUEL ALL-STAR CALLOUT BY THE NUMBERS

  • The total purse is $130,000, with $80,000 going to the winner.
  • Steve Torrence has advanced to three Top Fuel shootout final rounds, winning the specialty race in Indy in 2017, also winning the event that year. Torrence is also the four-time defending world champ and has 51 career wins.
  • Brittany Force has qualified for four Top Fuel specialty events in her career. Force is an 11-time event winner and the 2017 world champ.
  • Mike Salinas will make his first appearance in a specialty race. He has four career Top Fuel wins, including the most recent race in Phoenix.
  • Justin Ashley will also be making his first appearance in a specialty event. He won the season-opening race in Pomona and is the 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year.
  • Antron Brown won the Top Fuel specialty race in 2015, defeating Doug Kalitta in the final round. Brown, who has appeared in six TF specialty events, is a three-time world champ and has 68 career wins, including 52 in Top Fuel.
  • Leah Pruett has qualified for a pair of Top Fuel specialty races, advancing to the final round in 2016. Pruett has nine career Top Fuel wins.
  • Doug Kalitta is a veteran of the Top Fuel specialty races, making his first appearance in 1998. He has advanced to six final rounds in those 14 appearances, winning three of them, including 1998, giving him the most of any driver in the field. Kalitta has 49 career Top Fuel victories.
  • Shawn Langdon has qualified for four specialty races in Top Fuel, beating Steve Torrence in the final round in 2013 in Indy. He also won the race that weekend en route to a world championship. Langdon has 17 career wins.

 

DRIVER COMMENTS ON THE PEP BOYS NHRA TOP FUEL ALL-STAR CALLOUT

 

Steve Torrence, driver of the 11,000-horsepower Capco Contractors dragster
On his excitement for the specialty race: “I’m really looking forward to this. The callout has definitely put some pressure on everybody to get in, then to figure out who you want to race, not make it personal, but make it interesting.

On selecting his first-round opponent: “I don’t think we’re going to make that decision until the last minute. I believe that going to Gainesville, it’s going to kind of be up in the air because there’s so many good cars and you really need to look at track conditions, see what the weather is going to throw at you and make a decision based on what each car and each driver has done in the past. You’ve guys like Justin Ashley that are just an assassin on the tree and (Antron), and Langdon will surgically remove your head at the starting line if given the opportunity. So, we’re going to see what’s going to be conducive to giving us the best opportunity to win one round and see if we can go into that second round and maybe in the final.”

On the level of competition in the eight-car field: “There’s no slouches in this whole pack. This is the baddest (drivers) out there and anybody can pick you off at any time. They’ll take off on you and outrun you so bad that you’re sitting around wondering what just happened. With the way that the cars are running right now, the competition in the in the class is so stout. Everybody’s going to be throwing down as hard as they possibly can. So, I think it’s going to be a great show for the fans.”

 

Brittany Force, driver of the Monster Energy/Flav-R-Pac dragster
On the unique aspect of the callout: “It’s definitely different and that’s the exciting part about it. The callout gives it an edge, makes it exciting and I think you’ll see some rivalries, for sure.”

 

Mike Salinas, driver of the Scrappers Racing dragster
On what he’s expecting: “There’s a lot of fast cars out here and everybody is no joke. You’ve got to cut lights and you better have your ‘A’ game or you’re going to be left behind. This is going to be fun.”

 

Justin Ashley, driver of the Phillips Connect powered by Vita C Shot dragster
On the talent involved in the callout: It’s an all-star race for a reason. You look at the seeds one through eight and there is no margin for error. The call out portion of it is super exciting for the NHRA drivers because we’ve never gotten an opportunity to do anything like this before. It’s not personal, it’s strictly business. We all have a mutual respect, but nobody fears each other, and, of course, we have the utmost confidence in our team.

On the strategy involved for the specialty race: “There is no using Friday, Saturday to prepare for Sunday. You better be ready with your tune up on the track and you better be ready on lights from a driver’s perspective. I’m sure it’ll take some time to get ready, but we don’t really have that luxury of time. So, it’s just going to be up to us do the very best that we can and make the right calls.”

 

Antron Brown, driver of the Matco Tools dragster
On his excitement for the specialty race: “You at that (winner’s) check and you’re like, ‘Man, this check has a lot of zeroes and now even means more right now (as a team owner). because we all have bills to pay. I don’t know about all these other these other cats and jokers right now, but I’m looking at them like they’re taking my lunch money from me. So, I want to come up and I don’t care who it is, I want to smack them down to the best of my ability. It’s going to be a lot of fun and we’re hungry, and it’s going to be quite interesting.”

On his strategy for success: “At the end of the day, you want to set yourself up for the best position to win. We’re making decisions before we even run one round of qualifying. So, when you look at it, from that standpoint, you maybe need to do a little research to see how some of these teams ran at Gainesville over the past years. The crazy part is, you’re going to be coming in where you’re not going to have all these runs, so you’re not going to know where you’re at on Tree, or how the car is performing. So, there’s a lot of variables to go from, and all I can tell you is right now that all the competition we have in this top eight, it’s literally anybody’s race the way these cars are right now. Whoever hits it, right, leaves first on tree could pick up that check. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m going to be walking around putting some holes in some Goodyear tires.”

 

Leah Pruett, driver of the Dodge Power Brokers dragster
On her excitement for the callout: “It’s something new and exclusive to the NHRA. With the top-eight being able to qualify into it, it’ll have a different format than what we’re used to. It’ll be a little more outlaw-style and allow us to put on our racer hats, and that’s what excites us about it. For this Dodge team to be qualified into it, it says a lot about our program.”

On what it would mean to win: “Just to have a chance at getting those extra funds for TSR means a lot. The money can go toward our backup car, research and development, and extra test sessions. We have very qualified people on our team and those extra resources matter. The guys out here work for a bonus, and this is a bonus race for everyone across the board.”

 

Doug Kalitta, driver of the Mac Tools dragster
On his excitement for the callout: “I love the specialty races. There are seven other really tough drivers in this thing, and you will have to be ready if you want to get those three win lights. I am glad Shawn and I made it and we will see what we can do on Saturday.”

On what it will take to win: “Everybody’s hungry out there right now and I’m going to have to definitely be up on the wheel. We got a lot of great drivers coming in. It’s going to be a lot of fun, (and) you know, Gainesville is a great place to race, and we’ve got a lot of history there.”

 

Shawn Langdon, driver of the DHL dragster
On his mindset as the eighth seed: “Everybody that’s in is very deserving of being in it. So, I think I probably have the easiest position being in the eighth spot that I don’t have to call anybody out sometimes. You know, you don’t want to bite off more than you can chew. You don’t want to put your foot in your mouth calling somebody out. So, I feel like I’m in a pretty easy position. We’re just going to go out there and do the best that we can (and) make the best run possible. We kind of have some theories on how the choices are going to go down, about who we could potentially get, but we’ll have to wait until Saturday to see.”

On the unknown aspect of the callout: The callouts will make this a fun event for sure, and you won’t know who you are racing against until the picks are made. I feel good about my position because there is no pressure. As the No. 8 driver, I will either get picked or be in the last pair. I am just looking forward to putting on a good show for the fans. There will definitely be some strategy involved for sure.

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