Matt Smith hopes home-track advantage pays off at zMAX Dragway

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The reigning world champion in Pro Stock Motorcycle, won the inaugural race at the track in the class in 2010.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Matt Smith feels right at home at zMAX Dragway, in part because he lives an hour away from the track that annually hosts the thrilling NHRA Four-Wide Nationals. That comfort level also comes from the fact that Smith, the reigning world champion in Pro Stock Motorcycle, won the inaugural race at the track in the class in 2010.

But with a testing schedule that includes frequent visits to nearby zMAX Dragway, the site of the only four-lane, all-concrete dragstrip, Smith revealed perhaps the most important reason why the facility could practically be considered a second home for his Matt Smith Racing/Stockseth Racing Buell.

“Since this track has been built I’ve probably made the most passes on it than anybody out there,” Smith said, referencing his team’s testing schedule at the track. “I feel confident we’re going to run well. It’s a really big race for us and we’re going to hit it hard and go for that No. 1 spot right away in qualifying. We’ve got a target on our back this year but the best thing we can do is throw our best shot out there.”

Matt Smith
Matt Smith

Photo by: Michael C. Johnson

The NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, which take place this weekend in Charlotte, is the second of 16 races for the PSM class on the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series circuit. A year ago Spencer Massey (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (PSM) won at the Four-Wide Nationals, which will once again be televised on ESPN2.

For a variety of reasons, including each of the ones listed above, the Four-Wide Nationals is a favorite for Smith, who also won a world championship in 2007. Smith has embraced the unique and exciting challenges the races provides, and has zeroed in on what it takes to be successful at an event that can be a sensory overload for competitors.

“I love the Four-Wide race,” Smith said. “It’s just one of those races where I felt comfortable right off the bat. The key to being successful is running your own lane. If you focus on lane and do your job, it can be just like any other track. Once you start overthinking at a track like this that’s when you’re going to be in trouble. We have a great team that doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. We’ve been consistent at going down the race track and that’s huge in a race like this.”

Smith also enters the Four-Wide Nationals with a chip on his shoulder after a self-admitted disappointing effort at the PSM opener in Gainesville. After qualifying second, Smith bowed out with a red light in the second round, denying the chance for Smith’s three-bike team, which includes John Hall and Gainesville finalist Scotty Pollacheck, to advance to the semifinals.

It will be a four-bike team in Charlotte, as Smith’s wife, Angie, will also compete against a loaded field. The top names in the two-wheeled class will be stacked across all four lanes and defending event champion Arana Jr. will face tough competition in his quest to repeat. Everyone is currently chasing points leader Steven Johnson and the likes of Eddie Krawiec, Andrew Hines, Michael Ray and more of the two-wheel contingent will also try to add their names to the winner’s list.

“I messed up on the tree at Gainesville,” Smith said. “We’ve got two brand new motors and the biggest thing I wanted to work on since Gainesville is my reaction times. We’ve got a good baseline on these new motors now and it should be a really good weekend.”

In Top Fuel, there’s been nobody better at the NHRA Four-Wide than Massey, who has won two straight years in his Battery Extender powered by Schumacher Electric dragster. He will face tough competition from the likes of points leader Doug Kalitta, who has three final round appearances in four events, teammate Tony Schumacher, who picked up his first victory in 2014 at Las Vegas, defending Top Fuel world champ Shawn Langdon, 2012 champ Antron Brown, Steve Torrence, Khalid alBalooshi and Brittany Force.

In Funny Car, Four-Wide Nationals winner and former world champ Robert Hight takes the points lead into Charlotte and has posted three final round appearances in 2014. His teammate and defending world champion John Force is second and was the first Four-Wide winner in the class. Other top stars in the class include Alexis DeJoria, who won for the second time in 2014 at Las Vegas, Ron Capps, defending event winner Hagan, Courtney Force, Del Worsham, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Jack Beckman.

With defending event champ Edwards taking a break from competition and local favorite and two-time winner Greg Anderson still recovering from heart surgery, the Pro Stock field will be loaded with drivers trying to race to their first four-wide win. Points leader Erica Enders-Stevens comes to Charlotte on the heels of a memorable weekend in Las Vegas of winning the K & N Challenge as well as the event. Other top competitors include Allen Johnson, reigning world champion Jeg Coughlin, Jason Line, V Gaines, Shane Gray, Vincent Nobile, Dave Connolly and Jimmy Alund.

As always, fans will have the chance to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy cherished face time with their favorite NHRA drivers.

Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.

Mello Yello Series qualifying begins Friday, April 11, with sessions at 1:15 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, April 12, at 1:15 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for noon on Sunday, April 13.

NHRA

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Tags hector arana jr., matt smith, nhra, zmax dragway

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