The finishing touches are all that’s left of what Matt Smith hopes is his sixth Pro Stock Motorcycle world championship, a number that would tie him with Andrew Hines and Dave Schultz for the most in NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series history.
But it’s not official yet, which means Smith knows the job isn’t quite done heading into this weekend at the 57th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at legendary Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. Smith currently leads Joey Gladstone by 104 points heading into the finale in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs, meaning he has a sizable lead but not enough to officially clinch the title.
That could come as early as a first-round victory if qualifying goes well for Smith on his Denso Auto Parts Buell, but the standout remains as focused as ever as he closes in on a historic achievement.
“I feel comfortable and confident heading into a track where we’ve done really well,” said Smith, who has five career wins in Pomona. “I’m just going to come in with the mindset of running my race and try to stay focused on winning. If I do my job, we’ll be okay. There can be a lot on your mind, but I’m going to rely on my experience, and we’ll see what happens.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Bob Tasca III (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) won last year’s race, while Torrence, Capps (Funny Car), Anderson and Smith all claimed world titles in Pomona as well. The race will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including eliminations at 4 p.m. on Sunday, where Smith could cap off his great season with a victory.
He’s picked up four wins this season, including one in the playoffs, and advanced to three finals in the postseason, taking control down the stretch in a class that had been back and forth for most of the year. Gladstone has enjoyed a breakout year with three victories but would need an incredible weekend – plus a significant slip-up from Smith – to claim his first world title. That may be difficult considering Smith’s track record in Pomona, where he’s managed to win the race and clinch the world title on the same weekend three different times.
“It’s huge to win the race and win the championship all in the same weekend,” Smith said. “We’ve done it numerous times and we’ve got a good tradition of being able to do that. Hopefully, we can do it again. The first half of the year we tested a lot of different things, but it’s one of those deals where you have to stay focused and do your job.”
Smith will have to contend with a number of top-tier riders, including Gladstone, his wife, Angie, Angelle Sampey, Eddie Krawiec and Jerry Savoie, but the longtime star is solely focused on making history. That’s driven him all year and with a pursuit of a sixth world championship nearly complete, Smith is eager to finish the job.
“It would mean a lot to get a sixth title and be in the all-time club with Andrew and Dave,” Smith said. “I grew up watching Dave race and he was one of my mentors. I wanted to be like him. All in all, it’s been a good deal to get to this point and I’m excited to hopefully put my name in that hat.”
Pro Stock’s Erica Enders has already clinched her fifth world championship, doing so in Las Vegas as she rolled to a career-best 10th win of the season. But Enders wouldn’t mind finishing off the season the same way she started it in Pomona – with a win. It would give her a remarkable 11 victories in 22 races, as well as five wins in the six playoff races, which would be another phenomenal number.
To do so, she’ll have to get past the likes of Greg Anderson, Aaron Stanfield, Troy Coughlin Jr., rookie Camrie Caruso, Dallas Glenn, Matt Hartford, and Kyle Koretsky, but Enders’ season has already far surpassed what she could have ever expected.
“At the beginning of the year, I write down goals and the racing one was to win five races,” Enders said. “We exceeded five and in Dallas, we got our ninth. We got our tenth, so why not try to get our 11th? They’re going to be gunning for us, but I can take a deep breath and be relaxed. I’m hopeful for another win, but I’m thankful for the success we’ve had thus far.”
Top Fuel’s Brittany Force takes a slim seven-point lead into Pomona over Justin Ashley, looking to pick up her second world title. Mike Salinas, Antron Brown and four-time defending world champ Steve Torrence remain in the thick of the title hunt in what should be a can’t-miss weekend in the class.
In Funny Car, Robert Hight could wrap up a fourth world title at a track that means a great deal to him. He has eight wins already in 2022, holding a 61-point lead over Ron Capps and 63 points over Matt Hagan. Others to watch include John Force, Bob Tasca III, J.R. Todd, Tim Wilkerson, Cruz Pedregon and Alexis DeJoria.
The Auto Club NHRA Finals also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, which includes some of the sport’s top drivers, and a special Jr. Dragster Shootout. After nitro qualifying on Friday and Saturday, the “Walking Tall” P.T. Cruiser Wheelstander exhibition featuring “Nitro Mike” will put on a show to close out the day. Fans can also attend Nitro School on Saturday in Alexis DeJoria’s Funny Car pits to learn more about how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds, while an autograph session will take place on Friday and Saturday at both the Dodge and Toyota displays with sponsored drivers.
Race fans at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona 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 Auto Club NHRA Finals event winners and world champions.
As always, fans also get an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet in Pomona. 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 includes 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 two rounds at 12:00 and 3:15 p.m. PT on Friday, Nov. 11, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 11:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11:00 a.m. PT on Sunday, Nov. 13. Television coverage includes qualifying action on FS1 at 2:00 p.m. ET. on Sunday, leading into eliminations at 4:00 p.m. ET.
To purchase tickets to the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, call 800-884-NHRA (6472) or visit www.nhra.com/tickets. Children 12 and under are admitted free in general admissions areas with a paid adult. For more information about NHRA, visit www.nhra.com.