CONCORD, N.C. (Sept. 22, 2023) – Reigning Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion Matt Smith wasn’t at the first race in the class, but the six-time champ will be at the 500th official race for the category, which takes place at this weekend’s 15th annual betway NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway.
Smith also enters the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series event, which is the second in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs, with plenty of momentum, having won back-to-back events and jumping into the points lead for the first time this year on his Denso Auto Parts Suzuki.
Racing at his home track adds another great layer for Smith, who is tied for the most world championships in class history. He’s enjoyed a number of significant milestones in the category along the way and getting the victory at the 500th Pro Stock Motorcycle race this weekend in Charlotte would certainly be another.
“I’ve won No. 498 and 499, so it would be really nice to win the 500th race,” Smith said. “It would add even more to do it at my home track. To say you’ve won the 500th race in class history, that would be a pretty big accomplishment.
“It’s amazing at what has happened in our class over the years, and to see where it started and where it is now, it’s pretty neat and I’m glad to be a part of it. Our class has really accelerated in E.T. and speed the last four years and we all want to continue to make this class as good and as close as possible. That’s what is going to keep our class growing and, ultimately, we’re out there to put on a good show for the fans.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Aaron Stanfield (Pro Stock) claimed victories in 2022 at the fall race at zMAX Dragway. This year’s race will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including eliminations coverage at 2 p.m. ET on Sunday, Sept. 24. It is the second of six playoff races and not many riders have been better than Smith over the years during crunch time.
He won the U.S. Nationals to end the regular season on a high note and made a big opening statement in the Countdown to the Championship with a victory last weekend at Maple Grove Raceway.
That sent him past Gaige Herrera, who dominated the regular season, and Smith currently leads the six-time event winner in 2023 by 17 points heading into zMAX Dragway. Smith was pleased with the progress the bike made early in the run last weekend and hopes more improvement can be found, especially with the way Herrera has performed in 2023. Of course, Smith will also have to deal with the likes of Hector Arana Jr., Eddie Krawiec, his wife, Angie, and Jianna Evaristo.
“In the finals (at Reading), we made a big change on my bike and it worked out in our favor,” said Smith, who has a pair of wins at zMAX Dragway in his career. “Ultimately, we got our 60-foot time back in the finals. If we can go off that and keep going forward, we’ve got a really good shot of racing against Gaige and making this is a hard-fought battle. But I love these types of challenges and I think our whole class knows what the challenge is. We know who the dominant bike is, but our goal is to win a championship and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
In Pro Stock, Matt Hartford has also impressed in recent weeks, winning back-to-back races, including the playoff opener, to go into the points lead for the first time in his career in his Total Seal/CIP1 Chevrolet Camaro. He currently has a 30-point advantage on reigning world champion Erica Enders, but also must contend with the likes of Troy Coughlin Jr., Dallas Glenn, who held the points lead for the bulk of the regular season, Aaron Stanfield and Kyle Koretsky.
Hartford, though, is only focused on his job, knowing full well he has a car and a team capable of winning a first world championship.
“We just need to continue to turn on win light after win light,” Hartford said. “If we turn on 20 win lights (the rest of the season), the points don’t matter. We’re not giving up. We have a great car, and we’re going to Charlotte where there will be very different track conditions. I think we have a car that’s great in all conditions, so if I keep doing my job and keep my head on straight, we could walk out of here with a white (championship) hat after five more races.”
Steve Torrence, who has six zMAX Dragway wins in Top Fuel, moved into the points lead with a runner-up finish last week. He’ll try to stay on top taking on the likes of Justin Ashley, who has six wins in 2023, Reading winner Doug Kalitta, Brown, Leah Pruett and defending world champion Brittany Force.
Funny Car’s Robert Hight, who won the spring race in Charlotte, moved into the points lead last weekend with a victory, but it stands at just three points over back-to-back defending world champ Capps. Others to watch include Bob Tasca III, Matt Hagan, John Force, Chad Green and J.R. Todd.
The betway NHRA Carolina Nationals also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, which includes some of the sport’s top drivers, as well as the new NHRA Factory X presented by Holley class, the ever-exciting Mountain Motor Pro Stock category and a Top Fuel Motorcycle exhibition. Fans can also look forward to special freestyle motocross exhibitions all weekend. The star riders will perform three times a day in the midway, adding another entertaining aspect to the weekend.
On Saturday, fans can brush up on their NHRA knowledge and attend Nitro School to learn more about how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. That takes place at the Nitro Alley Stage all weekend, which is the main entertainment hub in the pits when the Camping World Drag Racing Series competitors are not on the track, hosting Nitro School, meet and greets and much more.
Race fans at zMAX Dragway can enjoy the special pre-race ceremonies that introduce and celebrate each of the drivers racing for the prestigious Wally on Sunday and includes the fan favorite SealMaster Track Walk. 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 betway NHRA Carolina Nationals event winners.
As always, fans also get an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet in Charlotte. This unique opportunity gives fans a 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.
NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature one round at 6:00 p.m. ET on Friday, Sept. 22, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Sept. 23 at 1:00 and 4:00 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11:00 a.m. ET on Sunday, Sept. 24. Television coverage includes qualifying action on FS1 at 9:30 a.m. ET on Saturday and 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, and then eliminations on FS1 at 2:00 p.m. ET on Sunday.
To purchase tickets to the betway NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway, please visit www.zmaxdragway.com or call 800-455-FANS (3267). For more information about NHRA, please visit www.NHRA.com.
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Headquartered in San Dimas, Calif., NHRA is the primary sanctioning body for the sport of drag racing in the United States. NHRA presents 21 national events featuring the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series, NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, FuelTech NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by Type A Motorsports, Flexjet NHRA Factory Stock Showdown™ and Top Fuel Harley Series. NHRA provides competition opportunities for drivers of all levels in the NHRA Summit Racing Series and NHRA Street Legal™. NHRA also offers the NHRA Jr. Street® program for teens and the Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League® for youth ages 5 to 17. With 120 Member Tracks, NHRA allows racers to compete at a variety of locations nationally and internationally. NHRA’s Youth and Education Services® (YES) Program reaches over 30,000 students annually to ignite their interest in automotive and racing related careers. NHRA’s streaming service, NHRA.tv®, allows fans to view all NHRA national events as well as exclusive features of the sport. In addition, NHRA owns and operates three racing facilities: Gainesville Raceway in Florida; Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park; and In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip in Southern California. For more information, log on to www.NHRA.com, or visit the official NHRA pages on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.