All that was missing was Chip Ellis being towed up the return road at Maple Grove Raceway, holding up a sign just like Kurt Johnson at the 1995 NHRA U.S. Nationals that read, "I still have a job."

And for Ellis, he did that job superbly. He helped put Matt Smith into the winner's circle at the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals in Reading, Pa., on Monday.

The six-time champion Smith left no room for imagination when he announced Ellis' role upon winning the NHRA U.S. Nationals. He, without hesitation, proclaimed Ellis would ride for him in Reading aboard the same Buell that served as a thorn in Team Suzuki's side. His role was defined as a blocker.

Sometimes, contracts are open to interpretation. And for Smith, he signed one at the beginning of the season, precluding him from riding his championship-winning Buell. Apparently, it didn't say anything about him fielding one capable of winning the race, which is precisely the bike Ellis was on.

"Personally, my bike's still not the bike I need out here to win a championship, to win the seventh championship," Smith said in the post-race press conference. "The bike Chip's on it can win the championship, so we are going to put Angie on that bike for the remainder of the year. Chip's going to come ride her bike at Charlotte and see if we can fix that bike somehow. But we just got to get my bike better. My bike's just not 60-footing like it needs to."

Smith isn't kidding, either. Following the .400 light by Ellis, he reeled off a 1.045-second 60-foot time, which was .023 quicker than the winner. With Smith crossing the finish line with a 6.807-second elapsed time ahead of Ellis' 6.727, the victory goes down as a holeshot.

Qualifying showcased the Pro Stock Motorcycle's parity under the microscope as No. 1 qualifier Gaige Herrera was .069 ahead of No. 2-seeded Ellis, who ran a 6.741. Smith ended up in the fourth spot with a 6.751.





"We know we have really good power," Smith said. "Even though we qualified fourth, we're still way behind, and everybody in the class is behind Gaige. So right now, we're all running for second, but hopefully something will change, and we can make him sweat and try to stay after him."

The seemingly unbeatable Herrera did the unthinkable in the second round, losing to Jianna Evaristo, one of the three Matt Smith Racing bikes in the semifinals.

"We've won six championships because we play our cards right," Smith said. "We're smart, and we do what we need to do. Just like we brought a fourth bike in here and that was our goal. When you don't have the best stuff, you have to bring other stuff in to try to learn. We used that bike as R&D. We tried something in the finals as R&D, and it ran even quicker. So, all in all, that's what we brought that bike in here for. And Chip knocked out some people that we needed to knock out and."

Among those on the assassin Ellis' kill list included Corey Reed, Eddie Krawiec, and Hector Arana Jr.

Smith rode past Chris Bostick, Marx Ingwerson, and Evaristo to reach the final round.

Smith inevitably won the race, yes, but for the second-generation champion, the race was already a confidence win as three of the four bikes belonged to Matt Smith Racing in the semi-final round.




"All in all, our team is great," Smith said. "We have four bikes in the 6.70s. We have four bikes over 200 miles per hour. So, all in all, we came in as a team, and we did our job. We just have one bike in the class that's just way too fast, and we're all trying to catch him. That's why I'm bringing out that other bike to try to either line up against him one round or we're learning, and that's what we have to do, make laps and learn.

"And if I had another Suzuki bike with more motors with that program, I would have him on that so I could try to learn with that. But I have four more V-Twin bikes sitting at the shop and plenty of motors there. So we could possibly bring out five or six bikes if we need to. If we see we need to, we'll do it."

The victory moves Smith into the points lead, a position no rider except Herrera has enjoyed this season.

"Obviously, we won this race; we won the last race, so nobody else has been in the points lead besides Gaige Herrera all year long," Smith said. "He was the biggest loser at Indy. He lost all those points. We got close to him, and now we've taken the points lead. So there's a lot of pressure on that team right now."

And in Smith's case, he feels like he has nothing to lose, and he sure didn't in the final round.