The trip out West has already been a good one for defending Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion Matt Smith, who blistered the track record book in Denver en route to a win last weekend.
But now the five-time world champ has the chance to make it a great two-race span at his sponsor’s race, this weekend’s 34th annual Denso NHRA Sonoma Nationals at scenic Sonoma Raceway. With the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship just two races away from this weekend, Smith’s third victory of the season on his Denso Auto Parts motorcycle would go a long way in positioning himself well for the playoffs.
He was impressive on the Buell in Denver, shattering track records and picking up back-to-back wins at the facility, but Smith has also won on his Suzuki earlier this year. Now he’s looking for his first Sonoma victory since 2007 and no matter what bike he chooses, as long as he or his wife, Angie, picks up the win at the Denso-sponsored event, that’s all that matters in his mind.
“We might run the Suzuki on Friday and if we’re not happy with it, maybe we’ll pull (the Buell) out for Saturday,” Smith said after his Denver victory. “I’m not sure yet, but I want to run the Suzuki. The Suzuki seems to have more of an advantage at sea level. But I want to do what’s best for my sponsor. I want Angie or myself to win the race at Sonoma. You always want to win your sponsor’s race, so it would be great if Angie or myself could get it done this weekend.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Aaron Stanfield (Pro Stock) and Karen Stoffer (Pro Stock Motorcycle) won the 2021 event, and this year’s race will be broadcast on both the FOX broadcast network and Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including live eliminations coverage starting at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 24 on FOX. It is the eighth of 15 events during the Pro Stock Motorcycle season, officially starting the second half of the season in the class. It’s a year where Smith has come on strong after some early struggles and he’s eager to keep rolling.
He won in Virginia on the Suzuki, defeating rival Steve Johnson in the final round and Johnson’s points lead has dwindled in recent races. Johnson now leads Angelle Sampey, who recently won in Norwalk, by just 10 points and the veteran has a slim 19-point advantage over Smith. Others to watch in Sonoma include defending event winner Karen Stoffer, who won at the season-opener in Gainesville, Denver runner-up Joey Gladstone, Eddie Krawiec, who has three wins in Sonoma, and Bristol winner Jerry Savoie.
But Smith is pleased with the progress he’s made on both bikes in recent weeks, taking great joy in the recent wins that have come his way. Doing so in Sonoma would also put a perfect capper on this two-race Western Swing in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
“Anytime you get a win, it’s awesome because these things are hard to come,” said Smith, who has 34 career wins and 68 career final-round appearances. “These things are hard to come by and you can’t take them for granted.”
In Pro Stock, Matt Hartford cashed in at Denver with his first win in more than a year, ending a run of five straight wins from Erica Enders and Aaron Stanfield. That duo has been dominant, but Hartford’s win motivated plenty in the class who hope to have a similar breakthrough this weekend in Sonoma. It’s a list that includes veteran and former world champ Bo Butner, who also showed some signs of promise last weekend in his Johnson Horsepowered Garage Chevrolet Camaro.
It didn’t end in a victory like Hartford, but Butner did get a round win over reigning world champ Greg Anderson last weekend, giving him more confidence than he’s had most of the season. There will again be plenty of marquee challengers, including Enders, who is the points leader, Gainesville winner Dallas Glenn, Kyle Koretsky, Troy Coughlin Jr., Mason McGaha, and Deric Kramer, but Butner likes the improvements his team has made heading into an important time of the year.
“This team, they all want to win so bad,” Butner said. “It’s a big effort – these guys want to win with every car in this group and we’re getting there with the JHG Chevy. It was good to get a round win (in Denver). They’re coming and we see a lot of progress. We’ve made progress. Now we’re looking forward to getting to sea level (in Sonoma) and seeing how we stack up.”
Torrence was one of three winners a year ago who picked up their first Sonoma victory, as he slipped past Leah Pruett in a thrilling final Top Fuel round. Pruett impressed last weekend, winning in Denver to hand the first Top Fuel victory to Tony Stewart Racing and she’ll look for another victory this weekend. Standing in her way is points leader Mike Salinas, who has four wins in 2022, three-time race winner this season Brittany Force, Tony Schumacher, five-time event winner Doug Kalitta, Justin Ashley, Josh Hart, Clay Millican, Antron Brown, and Austin Prock.
In Funny Car, Robert Hight has dominated Sonoma Raceway in recent years, winning the last three races at the scenic track. He’ll look to make it four in a row – something no NHRA driver has ever done in Sonoma – and also get his third straight win this season, but it won’t be easy against a loaded field. The star-studded lineup also features eight-time race winner John Force, defending world champ Ron Capps, Matt Hagan, who has three wins in 2022, 2017 race winner J.R. Todd, Tim Wilkerson, two-time event winner Cruz Pedregon, Alexis DeJoria, and Bob Tasca III.
The event 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 Top the Cops, Jr. Dragster and Street Legal exhibition runs.
For autograph-seeking fans, they can attend an autograph session featuring riders in Pro Stock Motorcycle at the Suzuki Display at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, while an autograph session featuring Toyota drivers will take place at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday at the Toyota Display. A special Denso Cornhole Challenge and autograph session will take place at the Denso Display in the Fan Zone at 10 a.m. on Saturday, giving fans a unique interactive opportunity. On Saturday, fans can also attend Nitro School to learn more about how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds.
Race fans at Sonoma Raceway 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 Denso NHRA Sonoma 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 Sonoma. This unique opportunity gives fans a unique 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. The new Pep Boys midway display will include tire change challenges, oil change challenges, a slot car track and much more, adding even more excitement to the midway.
NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature one round at 6:30 p.m. PT on Friday, July 22 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, July 23 at 12:00 and 3:00 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 10:30 a.m. PT on Sunday, July 24. Television coverage includes qualifying action on FS1 at 9:30 a.m. ET on Saturday, 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, and then eliminations on FOX at 4 p.m. ET Sunday.
To purchase tickets to the Denso NHRA Sonoma Nationals, fans can visit www.sonomaraceway.com or call 800-870-7223.
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