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NHRA: Matt Smith ready to put championship defense in high gear this weekend


There’s something about Sonoma Raceway that seems to bring out the best in NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Matt Smith.

It was at Sonoma last year that set the North Carolina resident on the path to what would eventually become his third career PSM championship.

Smith took a major step towards his title last season by winning the eight-bike Mickey Thompson Tire Pro Bike Battle, a race-within-a-race during the annual NHRA Sonoma Nationals that earned Smith $25,000.

Smith is once again back in Sonoma this week looking for a repeat win performance in the Pro Bike Battle, as well as give him a big shot forward towards winning a fourth season championship, as well.

“(Winning the Pro Bike Battle) assured us we could really go after that championship last year,” Smith said in a media release. “To me, when we beat (runner-up Eddie Krawiec), it really showed us we could race for a championship and have a chance to win it.

“Last year was the first time anyone on my team won the bike battle, and it was just great to finally win it. We really appreciate Mickey Thompson doing this for the class. It’s been a good journey and a good fit for the class. So to get that win, it was pretty awesome. If you do well at Sonoma, you know you’re in a good spot come Indy.”

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Indy is the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, the biggest race of the season not only for its iconic status, but also because it’s the final regular season race before the start of the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Smith now finds himself in the same position that he was in at this time last year. He not only comes into this weekend’s race in Sonoma ranked fourth in the Pro Stock Motorcycle standings (17 points out of third and is 239 behind series leader Andrew Hines), Smith is also gearing up for the next four races: Sonoma, Seattle, Brainerd (Minnesota) and Indianapolis.

How he does in those races – much like how he approached last year’s upcoming events at this time – could go a long way towards his goal of repeating as PSM champ.

This Saturday, he’ll once again compete and also seek to repeat as winner in the Pro Bike Battle. And Smith is definitely in it to win it, bringing the same motorcycle and motor that he rode to a national record of 201.76 mph in Gainesville, Florida this past March.

“All of our new motors are pretty good, but we have one that just stands out,” said Smith, who has 23 career wins. “That’s the one we ran at the end of last year, and we ran it again at Gainesville and broke the (speed) record again.

“I put it back in at Chicago and won that race. It’s going back in the bike in Sonoma, and I think it’s going to be fast, so we feel good about it.”

Can lightning strike again for Smith at Sonoma? Can he not only win the PBB, but also use it as a launch pad toward earning title No. 4?

“Sonoma has always been a big bike race and I think we’re in a great spot,” Smith said. “Angie (his wife, a fellow PSM competitor) ran really well at Norwalk, and we finally got Scotty’s (teammate Scotty Pollacheck) bike to perform like it should.

“We qualified all the bikes in the top seven and everyone won in the first round, and I think we’re right where we need to be. With the way the Countdown is, you’ve got to be good at the end of the year.”

NOTES: Defending Top Fuel champ Steve Torrence goes for his 10th win in the first 15 races of the season this weekend. Torrence also won at Sonoma last year. … 16-time Funny Car champ John Force once again renews his quest to earn a milestone 150th career win. … The first two rounds of qualifying take place Friday at 3:15 and 6:15 p.m. PT, the final two rounds on Saturday at 1:20 and 4:20 p.m. ET, with final eliminations scheduled Sunday at 11 a.m. PT. Also, the Mickey Thompson Tire Pro Bike Battle takes place Saturday with the first round at 1:15 p.m. PT, the semifinals follow at 4:15 p.m. PT, and the finals slated for 5:30 p.m. PT.

Follow @JerryBonkowski