2020 NHRA U.S. NATIONALS - PRO STOCK BIKE NOTEBOOK
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
PSM VETERAN POLLACHECK CAPS DREAM WEEKEND WITH U.S. NATIONALS WIN - This will be a weekend Scotty Pollacheck will never forget.
The veteran Pro Stock Motorcycle pilot won his first NHRA national event in storybook fashion on his Gen 2 Erik Buell Racing motorcycle.
The Oregon native qualified No. 1 and then swept through the competition to win the Denso U.S. Nationals Sunday at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.
Pollacheck clocked an event-best 6.790-second elapsed time at 200.53 mph to defeat Pro Stock Motorcycle’s all-time victory leader and reigning world champion Andrew Hines out of the Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson stable.
“This is insane,” said Pollacheck, who was competing in his 132nd career PSM national event. “What a weekend. We had career-best ET and career-best mph joined the 200-mph club, reached the finals of the Mickey Thompson Tires Pro Bike Battle and then won the U.S. Nationals. It was incredible. That bike is amazing.”
Pollacheck, who has Strutmasters as his primary sponsor, had lost in his previous six final-round appearances.
“I feel like the oldest late bloomer on the planet and to get the U.S. Nationals as my first win is great,” Pollacheck said. “There have been so many people who have put in so much work and effort to get us here. This just means so much to get this win and I can’t thank the people who have helped me enough.”
Pollacheck wasn’t to be denied a Wally on Sunday. He defeated Michael Phillips, Angelle Sampey, Steve Johnson, who broke at the starting line, and then Hines, a six-time world champion and winner of a class record 56 national events. Hines had a 24-5 career elimination round against Pollacheck before they met in the final round for first time.
“I just kept saying over and over we just have to repeat, repeat do the routine get it done,” Pollacheck said. “Just keep doing like we did the last one. What do you know it worked out. What an amazing weekend we had. This is the best weekend we could have hoped for. It’s amazing. I can’t believe it.”
Pollacheck is part of the Matt Smith Racing team. Smith, a three-time world champion, is sponsored by Denso and now he has been a part of four U.S. Nationals wins. Smith won twice, teammate John Hall accomplished the feat in 2013 and now Pollacheck in 2020.
“We’ve been very successful at the U.S. Nationals,” said Smith, who lost in the second round Sunday to Hines. “I’ve won here twice and got one taken away and we had the John Hall win and now Scotty’s. It’s a pretty awesome deal and I’m glad to give Scotty his first win.”
Smith won the $25,000 Mickey Thompson Tires Pro Bike Battle Saturday.
In the final six races in 2019, Pollacheck won four rounds, highlighted by his semifinal finish in Las Vegas.
Pollacheck’s best effort this season in the two prior events – Indy 1 and Indy 3 – was a semifinal loss to Sampey at Indy 3.
Pollacheck rode a Suzuki for the Underdahl-Stoffer Pro Stock Motorcycle team in the 2017 and 2018 before joining forces with Matt Smith again in 2019. Pollacheck joined the Underdahl-Stoffer Pro Stock Motorcycle team in 2017 after having an alliance with Matt Smith and riding a Buell for several seasons.
The final round rocket ride Pollacheck was on didn’t surprise Smith.
“I told him we are going to tune you up for the finals,” Smith said. “It’s not running what it should be running with the tailwind and I told him to be ready and it did it.”
Pollacheck took the lead off the starting line and never looked back. When Pollacheck arrived back at the MSR hauler, the joy was obvious.
The only question left was how he was going to celebrate.
“I’m going to start with this,” said Pollacheck while taking a swig of an adult beverage.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
MATT SMITH WINS PRO BIKE BATTLE – On Friday, three-time world champion Pro Stock Motorcycle world championship Matt Smith was wanting a weekend sweep at the Denso U.S. Nationals.
He checked the first box by winning the Mickey Thompson Tires Pro Bike Battle Saturday night.
Smith won the Pro Bike Battle when his teammate Scotty Pollacheck had a red-light start.
Smith is campaigning his Denso-sponsored Erik Buell Racing motorcycle. The win netted Smith $25,000, but it was dampened a bit since he blew a motor on the run.
“It’s pretty awesome to win the Mickey Thompson Bike Battle,” Smith said. “I can’t say enough to them for putting the money up for us to do it. It is a whole year-long deal and we came out on top. We were the No. 1 seed and came out on top.
“We did hurt the motor and we have to get to work and change motors. It (the motor) started hurting itself going down the racetrack. I didn’t know where Scotty was. I looked over and I didn’t see him, so I just stayed in it because I didn’t want him to blow by me. We got the win and now we have to get to work.”
The Mickey Thompson Tires Pro Bike Battle pitted eight of the class’ best riders in head to head competition for a $25,000 winner payout.
Smith claimed the victory by defeating Angelle Sampey, Jerry Savoie and then Pollacheck.
“We hurt a motor, but it has been a good weekend,” Smith said. “We have plenty of motors.”
POLLACHECK JOINS 200 MPH CLUB – Scotty Pollacheck turned heads Saturday afternoon in Q2.
The veteran Pro Stock Motorcycle rider made a bold statement with his 6.789-second elapsed time at 200.29 mph at Lucas Oil Raceway. The E.T. and mph were career-bests for Pollacheck and the mph was a track record.
The run put him the No. 1 qualifying spot at the U.S. Nationals and more importantly he became the fourth member of the Denso Spark Plugs 200-mph Club.
He joins Hector Arana Jr. (200.23 mph, 3/16/2018), Eddie Krawiec (200.08, 7/29/2018), and Matt Smith (200.65, 11/09/2018) in the prestigious 200-mph fraternity.
Denso Spark Plugs created the 200-mph Club at the beginning of the 2018 season with the expressed purpose of encouraging Pro Stock Motorcycle riders to break one of the last great barriers in NHRA Drag Racing.
“It’s so crazy that the 200 club has been open for so long, thank you to Denso and to finally get that last spot for the money is incredible,” said Pollacheck, who earned $2,500 for joining the 200-mph club. “There were so many things going on in that run. The whole (Mickey Thompson Tires Pro Bike Battle just wanting to get that win light (against Steve Johnson). We got lucky enough to get that 78 to go No. 1 qualifier. It could not have been much better.”
Pollacheck took a moment to describe his memorable lap.
“Steve Johnson was flying out there and we were neck and neck the whole time,” Pollacheck said. “I just can’t thank Strutmasters enough and Michael Ray my crew guy, he’s the baddest dude on the planet. This is just awesome. We have been out here quite a while and I still feel like we are just a little fish in the pond, a bracket racer from Southern Oregon. We are just trying to play with the big boys out here.”
Ray, a Pro Stock motorcycle driver and national event winner, was gracious about Pollacheck’s comments.
“I’m just the guy who puts the clutch in,” Ray said. “I knew we could go fast. We just had to get it all together.”
Pollacheck had a chance to double his pleasure by winning the Mickey Thompson Tires Pro Bike Battle Saturday night, but he had a red-light start against his teammate Matt Smith.
“It has really been a whirlwind day,” Smith said. “We were so looking forward to the Mickey Thompson Battle. To go out there in the first round and go 78 and go 200 mph and get the win light and have it hold up for No. 1 that’s a lot of really, really good stuff all at one time.
“Getting to race Matt in the final was our dream deal because we were on opposite sides of the ladder. We planned on putting a show on. We were hoping to do side-by-side 200 mph runs. We kind of screwed that up. I had a red light by a thousandth and then mine didn’t shift and then his blew up. It was an ugly deal, but we still take it. He got the trophy and we both got a lot of money from Mickey Thompson. It was still a good day no matter how you look at it.”
Pollacheck was still trying to digest being the No. 1 qualifier at the U.S. Nationals. It was the second No. 1 qualifying spot of his career.
“How prestigious to do something like that in Indy at the U.S. Nationals,” Pollacheck said. “That’s just incredible. We have to make it stick (Sunday) and go four rounds and take that trophy home. That would be about as good as weekend that we could have.”
WELCOME BACK MICHAEL PHILLIPS – Michael Phillips is no stranger to NHRA’s Pro Stock Motorcycle scene, he competed full-time for a number of years, the last being in 2012.
The seven-time national event winner had not competed in an NHRA race since 2013 until Friday night at the 2020 U.S. Nationals.
Phillips made a lap in Q1, but slowed to 9.587 seconds, which left No. 17 on the qualifying ladder on his Suzuki.
“I just came out to play with the fellas and girls,” Phillips said. “I have some guys from Aruba who want to by this bike, so I figured why not come out to (Indy). It is plus both ways, making money and selling the bike. The guys from Aruba are here this weekend to see the bike in action. I had ignition problems on the first (qualifying run). The bike has not been run since 2013. It had just been sitting in the corner. It had a couple of wires that were bad.”
Phillips said he plans to run the bike in Gainesville, Fla. (Sept. 25-27), Dallas (Oct. 14-18) and Houston (Oct. 23-25).
“After the season is over, I will probably ship the bike to them (in Aruba),” Phillips said. “I want to get it race-ready for them. (Friday) was the first time I got on the bike since 2013. No testing or anything. I figured if I wouldn’t have that wiring problem (in Q1) it would have gone 6.90. I have a pretty bad a** motor. It has all the updated stuff. It has just been sitting. I took it apart and maintained it and put it back together.
“If it goes down the racetrack (Saturday) and I don’t have any problems I will get in the field.”
And, he did.
Phillips’ best pass Saturday on his Suzuki was 7.021 seconds at 194.44 mph, which put him in the No. 16 spot in the field. He faces Matt Smith in round one.
“You have to get in to win,” Phillips said with a smile.
Despite the break from competing, Phillips didn’t have any nerves when he got back on the motorcycle.
“I have been doing it all my life,” Phillips said. “It’s just like getting up in the morning and taking steps. I have another motorcycle I want to sell. I will see how this deal goes and they have a couple of other guys over there (in Aruba) who want to buy bikes so I will put another one together and sell it.”
HECTOR ARANA SR. LOVES COMPETING AT U.S. NATIONALS – Veteran Pro Stock motorcycle racer Hector Arana Sr. has stepped back this season to focus on the Erik Buell Racing motorcycle sponsored by Lucas Oil.
Arana Sr. still couldn’t hide his joy of competing at the U.S. Nationals.
“I tell you what, this is really exciting to come back over here and see all these cars and all the racers, so, it feels like back to normal, so really exciting,” Arana Sr. said. “Hopefully we can also get the fans, you know the spectator part, but it just feels good to come back.”
Hector Arana Jr. qualified No. 7 with a 6.833-second elapsed time at 197.88. He meets No. 10 qualifier Cory Reed in round one.
Arana Sr. said his team tested last week at Lucas Oil Raceway prior to the U.S. Nationals.
“We learned some things, you know, we tried different combinations that we wanted to try, so at the end of the day we did learn some things of what to do and not to do,” Arana Sr. said.
OEHLER TALKS ABOUT SEASON, U.S. NATIONALS – Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Ryan Oehler already has enjoyed success at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis.
He won Indy 1 in July. He struggled at times this weekend, but he did qualify in the No. 9 spot with a 6.868-second lap at 198.35 mph. He collides with Angelle Sampey in round one.
“Well you know we’ve been doing a lot of things right so far this year, we’ve showed some good performance, we showed some good consistency, so we’re going back over that data,” Oehler said. “We just tested here recently; we’re trying some new things.”
Oehler took a moment to talk about what’s new.
“This bike is at that moment is a top contender, makes me feel real good,” he said. “We worked our butts off. We had 100 hours in the shop this week and we fit a new exhaust pipe program and a different engine combination, and together we made over 5 more full pounds of torque on average on this bike. Now we are looking at how we are going to utilize that.
“It’s just one big science project and we’ve gone science on it big time.”
Oehler welcomes the pressure that comes with competing in this class in drag racing.
“I mean the pressure has always been my friend,” Oehler said. “I mean I like the pressure and just basically, go in with no mistakes. You can’t leave a spark plug wire off, you can’t be BS’ing with a friend or a sponsor or something like that before you go up there and that was what we did wrong before the last race. Everyone was like ‘oh my god how could you cut such a bad reaction time?’ Well our three-time champ Matt Smith cut a 143. Nobody but Ryan Oehler cut a 148, so why did I cut a 148?
I was not being a racer. I didn’t put the hat on, and we all recognize it. That’s when people don’t realize this is a team sport. Your team is supposed to have an order of operations and you need to follow it so you can repeat the same procedure every time.”
Oehler acknowledged that first Wally has special meaning.
“Yeah on top of the Wally, it’s really the performance,” he said.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
ANGIE SMITH STEALS FRIDAY NIGHT SPOTLIGHT – In a star-studded field, Angie Smith stole the spotlight Friday.
Smith, who pilots a Denso-sponsored Gen 2 EBR (Erik Buell Racing), clocked the quickest time in Q1 with a 6.807-second elapsed time at 197.31 mph.
“It was a good run, but we left some on the table because I had the bike leaned over a little left when I left and the bike went left,” Smith said. “Then, I had to correct it. We left some on the table. I really didn’t think the 80 would stay. I really thought some of the other teams would jump up, but it did and I’m really proud.
“To do it at the Denso U.S. Nationals, that was probably the perfect place to do it.”
Angie’s top ET of her career was a 6.799-second lap at Sonoma, Calif., but she still made personal history on Friday night.
“I’ve never been No. 1 at the end of Friday night, and it feels good,” Smith said.
Angie is part of her husband’s Matt Smith Racing team. If Angie’s time holds through the final two qualifying sessions it will be the first No. 1 qualifying position of her career.
VETERAN STEVE JOHNSON SPEAKS – A year ago at the U.S. Nationals, Steve Johnson was frustrated.
He arrived at Indy, after only competing in six of the first nine races and he failed to qualify at the PSM season opener, the Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla.
Although Johnson suffered a first-round loss to Karen Stoffer at Indy 2019, he experienced a revival of sorts the remainder of the season.
Johnson lost in the finals at Reading, Pa., and the semifinals in St. Louis and Charlotte, went a round in Dallas, lost in the finals in Las Vegas and won another round at the season-ending race in Pomona, Calif.
This season, which has been sabotaged by COVID-19, Johnson is trying to regain some of that magic again. He’s competed in both Indy events and he’s still looking for his first-round win.
“We are just working every day at the shop and trying to chase the dream and interact with fans and sponsors,” Johnson said. “I don’t even dirt bike ride anymore. It’s definitely a challenging time when I look around at everybody, so I just keep my head down and keep working.”
Johnson has pretty much seen and done it all in NHRA’s Pro Stock Motorcycle class.
Johnson has competed in 441 national events and he has six wins on his resume, including two at the U.S. Nationals in 2005 and 2008.
“I think deep down I really would like to win a championship,” Johnson said. “I’ve always said if I could, I could quit and go on and get a white picket fence and a wife and maybe have kids. I love the family out here and the fans make me feel like I’m part of the family, I guess that’s one side. The other side is I feel like I’m representing a fraternity and I want to do the best I can.
“It’s a great opportunity to show what NHRA is in relationship to skilled trades. We represent the skilled trades of America. It gives me a great platform to talk about it.”
Johnson said excelling against the big-budget teams in his class is something he takes a lot of pride in.
“I look at the resources Vance & Hines has and paid riders and crew guys and all these things, my little heyday that we had was nice and I would love to get back to that,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day, I just look at what we have and figure out how we can best try to win. When I get tied up looking across the street, it drags me down mentally and it sure doesn’t produce any value for us going quicker.”
Winning the U.S. Nationals – twice – is something Johnson is glad to have on his resume.
“Winning Indy the first time obviously was strange because we didn’t get the trophy until later,” Johnson said. “It is a special race to win for sure. I’m really proud to have won it. I had big sponsors and really felt like we delivered what sponsors look at. At the same time, we look at what our initiative is for our team and I feel like we represented the sport good to the fans. We talked about how hard work and a great team can produce a result at the highest level.”
Johnson clocked a 6.929-second lap at 192.49 mph, which put him No. 8 on the ladder.
MATT SMITH ADDRESSES ANOTHER TRIP TO U.S. NATIONALS – In this COVID-19 marred NHRA Mello Yello Series season, Matt Smith started off strong.
The three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion finished runner-up at Indy 1, losing in the finals to Ryan Oehler.
At Indy 2, Smith took a step back, falling to his teammate Scotty Pollacheck in round two after experiencing some transmission problems.
Smith arrived at Indy third in the points.
“I don’t know,” Smith said when asked if he solved his transmission problems. “I’ve been trying to get the transmission company to make us gears and I can’t get nothing done. It has been a year in the making of trying to get some stuff made and they just will not get stuff done for us. I don’t know what’s going on. It’s not just me, it is a lot of people. Hopefully we have it fixed enough to run this race and see what happens.”
Although there have been several national events at Indy already in this COVID-19 marred season, Smith said there’s still nothing like the U.S. Nationals.
“This is the biggest race of the year,” Smith said. “Even though it is our third trip here, we want to win it. Not only do we want to win on Sunday, but we also want to win on Saturday because that’s the big payday with the Mickey Thompson Bike Battle. You can’t say enough about Mickey Thompson. Great product, great tires and that’s all we run on our bikes and hopefully they will back for years to come with that Shootout for us. We won in 2018 and hopefully we can do it again this year.”
The Mickey Thompson Tires Pro Bike Battle event pits eight of the class’ best riders in head to head competition for a $25,000 winner payout. It takes place this season Sept. 5 at the Denso Spark Plugs NHRA U.S. Nationals.
First-round action gets underway at 1:25 p.m. (EDT). The pairings are as follows:
Eddie Krawiec vs. Hector Arana Jr.
Matt Smith vs. Angelle Sampey
Jerry Savoie vs. Andrew Hines
Scotty Pollacheck vs. Steve Johnson
“What a great company (Mickey Thompson Tires) that supports our Pro Stock Motorcycle class and we try and do the same for them,” Smith said. “Every Pro Stock bike out here has Mickey Thompson tires on them. That speaks volumes in itself. All in all, we just want to do good this week – all four bikes do good. I’m not being greedy, but it is the Denso U.S. Nationals and Denso is our main sponsor and we want to win both races this weekend.”
The Matt Smith Racing team at Indy consists of Matt, his wife, Angie, Scotty Pollacheck and David Barron. Barron competed at the first two Indy races this season.
Angie was the No. 1 qualifier Friday, followed by No. 3 Pollacheck (6.864) and No. 9 Matt Smith (6.939).
“Me, Angie and Scotty have Gen 2 EBR (Erik Buell Racing) bodies and David has a Gen 1 EBR body,” Matt said.
MICHAEL RAY HAS FOUND COMFORTABLE HOME WITH MATT SMITH RACING – Michael Ray proved his can pilot a Pro Stock Motorcycle at a high level.
The Texas rider competed in NHRA’s Pro Stock Motorcycle class – part-time and full-time – from 2011 to 2016. He was full time in the class from 2012-14. He has three career national event wins – Dallas (2012) and Englishtown, N.J., and Chicago both in 2013 – and finished a career-best second in the points standings in 2013 to world champion Matt Smith, his boss now. Ray also was sixth in points in 2012 and 10th in 2014.
Ray joined Matt Smith Racing last season. His full responsibilities at MSR are taking care of Pollacheck’s motorcycle – all the maintenance during the race. Ray also competed in a few races last season for MSR.
“Matt’s rental program is pretty well booked up, which is good for him and kind of good for me,” Ray said. “He keeps some money rolling through MSR and keeps me getting to come out and go to work. If somebody bails out, he might let me ride because that was kind of the deal last year. Whenever somebody wasn’t renting, I got to ride. It’s up in the air, but I have some Wallys and I want to see Scotty win one. I like winning and either side of the helmet is pretty good.
In two events this season, Pollacheck made it to the second round at Indy 1, and to the semifinals at Indy 3, losing to eventual winner Angelle Sampey.
“We’ve been running pretty good, you have to have a little luck to win one of these things,” Ray said. “We just have not had any luck on our side. I think everybody who has won a race this year got a couple of free rounds to get to the finals. We would like to take at least one free round. Every day when I’m here I’m working on Scotty's bike and if not, I’m riding one and working on Scotty’s bike. I told Matt as long as he needs help, I will help him. I made a deal with him a long time ago that I wasn’t going to go Pro Stock (Motorcycle) Racing without him and he’s always taken good care of me.”
When Ray isn’t racing he and his father, Paul, run Sledge Net Solids & Fluids Disposal trucking company in San Antonio.
CHRIS BOSTICK RACING IN FULL SWING – Before 2019, the last time Chris Bostick was at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indy it was 2004.
Bostick made his NHRA debut in 1999 at Lucas Oil Raceway in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class. He competed in the class until Gainesville 2005.
Fast-forward to 2020 and Bostick is full speed ahead again with his Pro Stock Motorcycle career. He’s competing at both PSM indy events and he appeared in his first final round at the Indy event in August before losing in the finals to Angelle Sampey.
“It’s kind of crazy because we came out as a bucket-list deal at Indy in 2019 to see if I could actually ride one of these motorcycles again,” Bostick said. “I had such a good time that we are now knee-deep in alligators as (Jerry Savoie) would say. It has been fun. We have a full team and we tested our 4-valve motor last week (in Indy) and made 6.95-second at 193.4 mph pass and short-shifted at 1,000 RPMs. That could have been way quicker. It also was in not optimum conditions, the weather was not good, it was hot.
“We are hoping as long as I can ride the bike and shift it properly and we get a good tune-up we should be right in the mix with the big boys and girls this weekend.”
Bostick is still enjoying the euphoria of his inaugural trip to the finals.
“That was pretty cool,” he said. “My wife Teri actually enjoyed the race for the first time in a long time.”
When Bostick made the finals, he was riding an Underdahl-Stoffer Suzuki he had rented. The Suzuki is normally ridden by Jimmy Underdahl.
“This week I’m riding my own bike (a Suzuki),” Bostick said. “Last week I had Greg Underdahl and Gary Stoffer helping me with my bike tuning because George Babor my normal crew chief couldn’t be there. George is back this week and hopefully we can get our arms wrapped around it and make some good laps.
“The Underdahls and Stoffers are good friends and are lending us a hand. They have offered us support since they are not running there bike the rest of year. Jimmy (Underdahl) is running this weekend, but they don’t have a plan (after this weekend). They offered their help and their support with anything I need for the rest of the year because my plan is to make all the remaining races.”
Bostick was No. 13 on the qualifying ladder after Q1 with a 7.050-second run at 189.12 mph.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN – After Q1, Michael Phillips, David Baron, and Marc Ingwersen were in the No. 17 through No. 19 spots on the qualifying ladder. They like the rest of the PSM competitors will have two more sessions Saturday to get in the field.