SMITH RETURNING TO BUELL IN 2024; COULD EXPAND TO FIVE BIKES
Matt Smith is ready to come home. And starting in 2024, he plans to return to what he's been able to depend on for six NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle championships.
CycleDrag.com and Jack Korpela first broke the story of the Denso-sponsored Smith leaving Suzuki and returning to his all-too-familiar Buell V-twin program.
"I definitely ain't going to be on a Suzuki," Smith confirmed to CompetitionPlus.com. "The Suzuki made good power, and we had it.
We just didn't have any reliability with parts and pieces. And then we had to rely on Vance and Hines to supply the crankshafts to every Suzuki customer out there. And everything gets dictated by them. I'm not going to play that game right now."
Smith signed a manufacturer sponsorship deal with Suzuki ahead of the 2023 season, which prevented him from racing the V-twin, but returned for one race when parts breakage offered him only one of two options for the NHRA Midwest Nationals in St. Louis: park the bike until he got parts to repair his engines, or ride his Buell for one event. Suzuki permitted Smith to run the Buell for one race while he and his team replenished their catastrophically wounded Suzuki engines.
At the end of the season, Smith understood there were better plans than sticking with Suzuki for his multi-bike team. Besides, as he sees it, with the advantage shown by Gaige Herrera in 2023, a robust V-twin program can provide a better challenge in 2024.
"I think the Buell can provide a closer battle than where any of the other Suzuki competitors are at right now," Smith said. "NHRA still needs to do something. They've let that program have way too much, and that's kind of why I jumped ship this year because I saw what NHRA is doing, and they gave them away too much. I had really good power with my Suzuki, but the problem is, I just can't get good crankshafts for them to last long. And I might get a crank to last one pass. I mean, literally one pass that didn't even make a one pass and it blew up.
"Or I might get one that lasts 25 passes, but we've really got nothing that lasts over that. And at $5,500 a piece, it's just hard to stomach that all the time."
After watching how the 2023 NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle season unfolded, Smith believes he should have more performance freedom next season than in those prior.
"I guarantee you with everything that I own that if Matt Smith would've done that this year, he'd have been penalized until he was slowed up, and they just didn't do that to them," Smith said of the 2023 season. "I think we have some good stuff in the works. I think we're going to be good."
The more, the merrier, is how Smith sees it. He confirmed team rider Jianna (Salinas) Evaristo will move over to a V-twin. There will be three bikes full-time, but don't be surprised if the roster expands to include two more. Smith said those two bikes could be piloted by brothers Mike and Carl Salinas.
Smith said one of the three full-time rides will be handled by Angie, whom he said should return to her wide-open-throttle self by the time preseason starts in February 2024. The veteran rider took a spill during qualifying, suffering multiple broken toes on both feet as well as severe road rash.
"She's coming along good," Smith said. "She's doing good, and all in all, we're hoping after Thanksgiving, she goes back to the doctor after Thanksgiving and they're going to let her out of her [walking] boots. So if everything's good there, then she should be good."
Smith said the team began working on safety improvements for their team and has been willing to share with anyone interested. Pro Stock racer and successful boot manufacturer Fernando Cuadra Sr. reached out to Smith following Angie's incident. He provided ideas for leather reinforcements to riding suits and even designed a special boot to replace the standard ones.
Smith first tested the prototype Cuadra racing boots in Friday's Q2 session in Pomona. He provided rave reviews.
"I absolutely loved them," Smith said. "So I'm excited. He's going to make me another set. We're going to make one little change to them. He's going to make Angie a set, and then basically, once he gets my new set done and Angie's set done, then they'll be open to the public for people to order them."
Smith is already at work preparing for 2024, and while newly crowned champion Gaige Herrera admits he's excited about race teams stepping up their game, the former champion is gunning to change the landscape.
"We will be ready; you can count on that," Smith said.