Sonoma: Round 15 preview

SMITH ON HOT STREAK HEADING INTO FRAM-AUTOLITE NHRA NATIONALS AT INFINEON RACEWAY SONOMA, Calif. -- Matt Smith is having a season unlike one he has ever had, or anyone has had in a while, heading into the FRAM-Autolite...


SONOMA, Calif. -- Matt Smith is having a season unlike one he has ever had, or anyone has had in a while, heading into the FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals.

Following the event in Denver, Smith, the rider of the Torco Race Fuels Buell, has been in six final rounds out of eight races for the Pro Stock Motorcycles. He has won two of those (St. Louis and Denver). This equates to him having been in 75% of the final rounds and he has won 33% of those he has been in.

So far, 14 races are complete for the other three POWERade Series categories and the POWERade Series now heads to the beautiful wine country of northern California for the 20th annual FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals, July 27-29 at Infineon Raceway. The $1.3 million race, which will be televised in high definition on ESPN2, is the 15th of 23 events in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Smith has already clinched a berth in the Top 8 of the inaugural POWERade Countdown to the Championship. He has held the top position since his win in St. Louis and his nearest competitor, Angelle Sampey, is over 100 points behind him.

"It's been an awesome year," said Smith. "It's unbelievable how the year as been. I have been in six finals in eight races. That's a pretty big record. I have not had that many finals in my whole career. We will keep trying to do well. And we will have a really, really good shot at winning the championship."

Smith has some emotional reasons for wanting to come out and win the race this year at Sonoma. The first reason is that he had an experience with Eric Medlen last year, who died earlier this year in a Funny Car testing accident in Gainesville, Fla., which he will cherish forever.

"I want to conquer two things in Sonoma," said Smith. "First, my teammate Chip Ellis won in Sonoma last year, and he was sharing the winner's circle interview with Eric Medlen. Eric wanted to play the guitar and sing a song, but he didn't have a pick. I got one out of my shoe and gave it to Eric to play. He gave it back to me a little after that race. So, to win in Sonoma would be just incredible."

A second reason Smith would like to win is for family pride. His father, Rickie, races Pro Stock and has some history with Infineon Raceway. Rickie won for the first time at Infineon in 1993.

"It would be great to win in Sonoma because that is the very first race Dad ever won in NHRA," Smith said.

Infineon Raceway is a track where Smith expects big things to happen.

"The track is awesome," said Smith. "I think if we have good weather where it's not too hot and we have a tailwind like last year, we could have some bikes run 6.80s. The air needs to be good and the weather needs to be right. We will see 6.90s for sure. That has been run at every track except Denver."

Smith knows that without the help of others he wouldn't be doing what he loves to do, which is ride motorcycles professionally.

"I want to thank Evan Knoll and Torco, Mac Tools, Red Line Oils, and Mark Stockseth, the owner of the bike," said Smith. "I especially want to thank my Dad, Rickie. I couldn't be here without him."

Defending race winners include J.R. Todd (Top Fuel); Medlen (Funny Car); Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Ellis (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

After the FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals have concluded, there will be just two races remaining in the Countdown regular season: the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals (Aug. 9-12 in Brainerd, Minn.) and the Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals (Aug. 16-19 in Reading, Pa.).

There will be a lot of riders battling Smith for the win in Sonoma. More importantly there will riders just trying to maintain their positions in the Top 8 of the Countdown to the Championship. Battling Smith will be last year's event winner Ellis, Angelle Sampey and her U.S. Army teammate Antron Brown, who is just outside of the Top 8 by three points. Steve Johnson will try to get off the precarious eighth position with a good performance, and a rider who recently returned to racing, Peggy Llewellyn, will also try and make her move into one of the coveted positions.

Top Fuel has been dominated by Rod Fuller in his Peterson CAT dragster, but others looking to challenge him will be last year's winner Todd, 2006 world champion Tony Schumacher, and three drivers battling for the last position in the Countdown: Dave Grubnic, Whit Bazemore and Melanie Troxel.

Funny Car has been an up in the air circus all season. The only sure thing is that it won't be known until the race in Reading, Pa., who will make the Top 8 of the Countdown to the Championship. Ron Capps and Robert Hight have been battling for the top position all season. The fight for number eight is completely up in the air since only 44 points separate the number eight (John Force) through number 9 (Cruz Pedregon) positions. Jack Beckman, winner at Denver and Seattle and driver of the Mail Terminal Services Dodge Charger, has the opportunity at Sonoma to do what only one Funny Car driver has ever done, sweep the Western Swing. Force swept the grueling trio of races, Denver-Seattle-Sonoma, in 1994. Only five drivers in NHRA history have ever swept the Western Swing: Joe Amato (Top Fuel 1991); John Force (Funny Car 1994); Cory McClenathan (Top Fuel 1997); Larry Dixon (Top Fuel 2003); and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock, 2004).

In Pro Stock, three-time POWERade Series world champion Greg Anderson has led the way all year with an astonishing six wins in six final round appearances. Other drivers looking to win in Sonoma will be last year's winner Line, Jeg Coughlin and Erica Enders and Seattle winner Dave Connolly.

SCHEDULE: Professional qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3:45 and 7 p.m. on July 27, and 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. on July 28. Eliminations start at noon on July 29.

TICKETS: For tickets, call Infineon Raceway, at (800) 870-7223. Tickets also are available at

ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise one and a half hours of qualifying at 6 p.m. (ET) on July 28. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will air NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute pre-race show, at 11 a.m. (ET), followed by three hours of eliminations coverage at 8 p.m. (ET) on July 29.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Antron Brown , Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Joe Amato , Greg Anderson , Cruz Pedregon , Jack Beckman , Jason Line , Matthew Smith , Eric Medlen , Steve Johnson , Chip Ellis , Robert Hight , Rod Fuller , J.R. Todd , Angelle Sampey