Matt Smith's First Win Sticks at Englishtown! Matt Smith thought his first NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle win came at the biggest race of them all last year when his winlight came on in the finals of the U.S. Nationals at Indy. But after reviewing ...
Matt Smith's First Win Sticks at Englishtown!
Matt Smith thought his first NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle win came at the biggest race of them all last year when his winlight came on in the finals of the U.S. Nationals at Indy. But after reviewing videotape that showed Steve Johnson actually crossing the finishline ahead of Smith, the NHRA awarded the win to Johnson. This time there was no question that Smith had his first win, as even runner-up Karen Stoffer saw that Matt's Torco Race Fuels/Skull Gear Buell was ahead at the stripe in the finals of the K&N Filters Supernationals at Englishtown, New Jersey.
Ellis Rides "The Galaxy"
While Matt's G2 teammate Chip Ellis had a rollercoaster weekend befitting The Galaxy that used to thrill at nearby Asbury Park, Smith and his bike were a model of consistency-a quality the team has lacked on raceday throughout much of the year. Chip's weekend started with a shutoff pass in round 1 of qualifying. "The bike didn't make the 2-3 shift," reported Chip's crew chief, Ken "Big" Johnson. "Not sure why that happened, it may be a fluke. Nothing's broken."
Round 2 was better for Ellis, as he moved from second-to-last in the order to ninth with a 7.082, but bike still shifted awkwardly. Meanwhile, Smith had the quickest V-Twin on the track, running a 7.066 in Q1 and an .030 in Q2 to sit third. "If this bike leaves, it's going in the 6's," Smith's crew chief Rick Maney said after the first round. "I saw it rattle the tire and I thought 'Man!' We just shot ourselves in the foot on that one. I would've lost a thousand dollars on that pass if I'd bet. I never would have thought anybody would have run an .02 (as round 1 leader Geno Scali did). I didn't think the track was there. The air was good, but I didn't think we'd have a track. I wish we'd have taken a tooth off. The bike took off too violent, there's too much track."
"And too much RPM at the top end," added Smith. "I went through the traps at 9300. But we're first in class. The computer said we left some on the table, so I'm looking forward to next round."
On Saturday it was Ellis's turn to lead not only the V-Twins, but the whole field as well. Chip clicked off a flawless 6.997 at 189.28 mph on the DRAG Specialties bike to leap ahead of Scali at the top of the order. "Well, I knew it was in there," said Johnson. "It shifted all five times on time that time, and that's what we were looking for. We were running out of things to change, and we never did nail it down to one thing that was causing the problem."
Meanwhile, Smith slowed somewhat to a 7.106 at only 175.41 mph when part of the valvetrain loosened inside the S&S motor. "Every time we change a rocker, we've got to put a wrench on the big bolt that holds the rocker stand down," G2's tuner extraordinaire George Bryce said to Smith. "It had unscrewed itself about 3 times."
"The crew did on outstanding job on the bikes," said George Smith, who along with Bryce is one of the two G's in G2. "Chip's 6.997 was the culmination of continued improvement in the electronics and interpreting the data to provide a consistent tune-up and fuel delivery. Matt's bike was on a similar pass until the valvetrain problem. Matt's bike ran a 4.47 in the eighth, and we could already see the rear cylinder falling off. We're very thankful that we have sponsors where we can run two bikes, 'cause there are definite tuning advantages."
By this time, the G2 pit was totally buzzing with activity. Blue shirted NHRA tech guys were swarming all over Chip's bike, eventually giving it the thumbs up. Bryce was darting from one corner of the pit to the other, cellphone pressed to his ear. "I got my fuel injection coach Steve Nichols on the phone. I got my wife Jackie on the phone. She and our daughter Julie are at Valdosta running the SEMDRA race. And I got David Barton on the phone. He's the son of the Hemi godfather Ray Barton. David and I are friends and he's here racing a stocker and hanging out with us."
At the other end of the pit, Maney was hammering loudly on the Torco/Skull Buell, trying to loosen a valve. "When they get loose like that, they really can get stuck in there," said Rick.
Qualifying round 4 turned suddenly hot and sunny, but the G2 team had all the right answers to the tuning challenge. "Thanks to Rick Maney. He had to put a new cylinder head on the bike," said Smith. "I'm happy. I fought to keep the bike in the lane the first three gears, but we were still second quickest (7.089) of the session. Chip was quickest and I was second. That's alright."
"We thought the heat was gonna be a little worse and we tuned it for that," said Ellis, who ran a 7.024 in Q4. "I think that's why we were a little bit faster than everybody that round. We've learned a lot about tune-ups this weekend for sure, and I think we're onto something. We really didn't show it yesterday because the bike didn't shift properly each pass. And I don't think the weather's gonna be as good tomorrow as it was today."
Raceday Rocket Ride
Ellis was right about Sunday's weather, as the heat and humidity increased insidiously as the day wore on. But what Chip didn't foresee was that he'd be out of his Vanson Leathers and in shorts and a tee shirt early. The team's hearts sunk when Chip lit the redeye in his round 1 pairing with number 16 qualifier Steve Johnson. "I don't know what happened," said Chip, who just shook his head and wouldn't speak immediately following the round. "That's the first redlight I've had all year, even during qualifying and all the runs we've made. I've struggled to try to get a good light, much less a redlight. I felt really good today, so I even asked Ken to make the bike react slower. So I don't know, just one of them deals. It just sucks because my bike was so fast all weekend, and I didn't even feel like I was trying to push the tree. I just went up there and did my normal deal and I saw it was red when I left. I couldn't believe it. But that's racin'. I'm gonna try to go over to St. Louis and redeem myself."
Ellis wasn't alone, as five first round PSM races were decided by the redlight. "As a relative newcomer to the NHRA, I find it disappointing to see so many good drag races won and lost because of redlights," said George Smith, who noted that the bikes react quicker than anything else on the POWERade tour.
Smith benefited from one of those redlights, as Michael Phillips pushed the tree to try and erase Matt's performance advantage. The Torco/Skull Gear Buell laid down a smooth 7.091 at 184.14 to gain lane choice over Antron Brown in round 2. "We're not changing anything, really," Maney said while working on the bike between rounds. "We ran it rich the first round 'cause we didn't know what it would do in this air. These bikes like it rich, they don't like to be lean. Chip's chain is a little stronger so we're robbing the chain off of his bike. We're pulling Chip's chain, so to speak."
Brown lit the redlight same as Phillips, but this time Smith slowed somewhat to a 7.176 and was vulnerable. Still, he advanced to face fellow Buell campaigner Tom Bradford in the semis. Bradford had lane choice. "I hope it goes faster than that lousy pass," Maney grumbled as he wrenched on the Buell for round 3. It did, and Smith's 7.12 carried him past Bradford to the final with Stoffer.
Based on semifinal numbers, the Torco/Skull Gear Buell had a substantial performance advantage over Stoffer's Suzuki. Matt's icily consistent .042, .044, and .043 lights through the first three rounds indicated that he was right in the zone to do the job. "George (Bryce) just wanted me to go up there and have another .04, .06 light, and he said the bike would perform," said Matt. "If we just ran what we ran the previous round, we'd be fine."
But Matt gave the team a bit of a scare with a languid .107 against Stoffer. "I don't know why that happened," said Matt. "I shouldn't have been that late, you know, but I just didn't want to redlight. And it worked out." Indeed it did, as a 7.111 erased Karen's .077 starting line advantage and gave Matt his first Wally for keeps after three runner-ups. "I could hear her down there and I was scared to look over in high gear. George always teaches us to pick a point down the track and focus on that," said Smith, who crashed at Englishtown three years ago, putting a footpeg all the way through his right foot and ending his season. "The first thing I asked is 'Are you sure I won?' and they said 'Yes.' They've got a TV down there now and you get to watch it when you stop the bike.
"It's a dream come true. I thought I had one last year at Indy, and to do this here where I wrecked, it's nice to be back. It's good to come back and conquer somewhere that kinda kicked your butt a couple years ago." Matt celebrated the Fathers Day win in the winners circle with his dad, Pro Stock Car driver Tricky Rickie Smith, and his own son Tristan.
"The V-twins definitely have an advantage when the air gets worse, as it did today," said Maney. "And the reason being is that we make up our ground in the short track, and the inlines do really good backhalf numbers, and that's really the difference. So when the air gets really bad, the volumetric efficiency drops at a higher rate on a four cylinder than it does on a twin. It's like when we go to Denver, we have the advantage over inlines. So when the air's good, it's anybody's game. But when the air gets bad, the V-Twins have the advantage."
"I want to thank George Bryce and George Smith and G2 for giving me the opportunity to be a crew chief on a championship contending machine," continued Maney, who won his own Pro Stock championship a few years ago in the AHDRA. "Congratulations to Matt Smith. He really deserves that win. And I'd like to thank the whole team-my mentor, Ken Johnson, and everybody. It's a team effort, it's not about one guy, one crew chief, or anything. It's a whole team, and I'm just excited to be part of it."
Matt gave a special shout-out to Evan Knoll, the head of Torco and Skull. The team called Knoll from the Englishtown winners circle.