2023 NHRA U.S. NATIONALS - PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE NOTEBOOK
The talk all weekend in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class was about Gaige Herrera – and for good reason. He was the No. 1 qualifier. He won the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge season title on Saturday.
Lost in all the Herrera hype was six-time and reigning world champ Matt Smith.
Well, he stepped in the spotlight on Monday, winning the U.S. Nationals for the third time in his career.
Smith clocked a 6.864-second elapsed time at 198.20 mph in the finals, but it didn’t matter because his opponent, Hector Arana Jr., had a red light start at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park.
Smith has now won Indy in 2006, 2022 and 2023. This was his 37th career PSM win and his first this season.
Smith’s victory march at Indy consisted of wins over John Hall, Chase Van Sant, Herrera, and Arana Jr.
“Well, just with great crew work. My guys, we have busted our butt to find good power,” Smith said. “We have really good power. I mean, this is our second year kind of doing the Suzuki program, and we’ve got really good power. I just still cannot figure out how to make the bike 60 foot like it needs to. And we just don’t have the parts and the pieces to be able to go test a lot because the Suzuki is very fragile with the crankshaft and the cam chain.
“So, all in all, we came here, knew we had good power, and we could not get the bike to 60 all weekend. I think a 109 is the best we could get. And we still qualified 4th with a 111 60 foot, but we got in the 86 range with a 109. But I don’t know, we got to figure it out.”
Smith finished the regular season second in the points standings. He will be around 10 points of leader Herrera when the six-race Countdown to the Championship begins at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa., Sept. 14-17.
“Like I’ve always said, you have to be good the last six races of the year. That’s all that counts,” Smith said. “It doesn’t matter what you do in the regular season. And now is the time to turn it up, and I guess we’re here right now. We’re here, and we’ll see what happens.”
Herrera has been dominant this season, winning six of the nine races, but Smith believes he’s within reach of being defeated.
“Let’s look at Sonoma (Calif.). The last race we were at, he went 72.8, and I went 72.9, but we 60-footed. I went 104. If that’s the problem, I just can’t do that. And he can do that all the time, whether it’s hot, cold, whatever. And that’s where I struggled this weekend. I don’t think I had the right gear ratio to make it 60 foot like that when we got that bad weather. Will I have it made? Yes, I’ll have it made. And if it happens again, we will be prepared. But like I said, this is a new program. I have plenty of stuff for the V-twin side. But I’m stuck on the Suzuki this year, and I’m going to make it work one way or the other. And I’ve already told somebody if I can pull this thing off and win seven of these things, I will not race next year at all.”
Smith told CompetitionPlus earlier this weekend that title No. 7 might make him get off his motorcycle.
“No, I’m not saying I’m retiring, but I will not race,” Smith said. “I will take the year off and focus on Jianna and Angie to try to get them wins and a championship.”
Although Herrera has been the class of the PSM class so far in 2023, Smith is just focusing on what he can control.
“I just go up there and run my lane. I know Gaige has got the best bike, and the whole class knows Gaige has got the best bike. It’s his championship to lose,” Smith said. “But we’re coming into it second (in the points), so I feel like we have one of the best shots to beat him.
“We’re going to do everything we can. If I can get under his skin or I can get somebody else under his skin, I’m going to do that. We’re going to bring another bike out. Get ready in Charlotte, and we’re going to have somebody on it, and they’re going to play a little blocker, and we’re going to see what can happen there on the V-Twin.”
The Countdown race in Charlotte, N.C., is Sept. 22-24.
Smith was a master running a V-Twin but changed to a Suzuki in the offseason because of how NHRA’s rules currently favor Suzuki.
“It’s hard. I mean, it’s hard,” Smith said about leaving his championship-winning V-Twin, “I mean, I have a bike sitting in that trailer that I really, honestly, with the weight break that we have now, I think I can run with Gaige or outrun him. And it’s sitting there, and I can’t ride it. I’m not saying that Angie’s not going to ride it. She might jump on it. We don’t know yet. We’re going to see what Reading holds, but I might put her on that bike at Charlotte through the rest of the year and see what can happen. But I have a bike that I know that can run with Gaige. It’s just a two-cylinder, not a four-cylinder. But I think if we get our four-cylinder bike to 60 foot, I think we can run with them also.”
Smith knows his faithful V-Twin is special – to him.
“I could put a lot of people on that bike, and they probably can’t get it done quite like I can,” Smith said. “But all in all, it’s still a fast bike, and man, it’s a proven piece. It’s won the championship the last three years, and it could do it again. If I was able to ride it, I’d be on that thing right now.”
As for his blocker in the Countdown, it’s a familiar face to him.
“I’m going to bring Chip Ellis out for the next three races,” said Smith, who has brought Ellis on board during the latter part of the last several seasons.
Even before the 2023 U.S. Nationals began, Smith knew he had already won because the points reset would reel Herrera back into the pack.
“Well, I come into this race; I already said that Gaige was going to be the biggest loser of this race. And no matter if he won the race or he lost the first round, he lost the most points,” Smith said. “The whole class gained on him. Now, if we can just keep that momentum going like we just had, then we have a shot at this. Thankfully, we have a Countdown because we wouldn’t have a shot if we didn’t have this Countdown. So, it’s going to be interesting. We got to jump on him at Reading and Charlotte, and that’s why I’m bringing Chip out for those two races.”
Smith knows time is of the essence for him once the Countdown starts.
“Because if we don’t jump on them and get them out early, then we’re not going to have a shot at it; nobody will,” Smith said. “So, I’m going to do my part to try to win this thing and become a seven-time champ and go where nobody else has gone in Pro Stop Motorcycle, and we’ll see what happens. I’ve always said that if you’re No. 1 coming in, you hate the Countdown. If you’re 5, 6, 7, 8, you’re the biggest fan of the Countdown. I’m coming in No. 2 in points. But the biggest thing is he had such a huge lead that I think the whole class is a fan of the Countdown. So, we’re going to see what happens. And like I said, I’m just saying it again: if we can 60 feet, I think we can run with him.”
Smith did acknowledge he was fuming at the starting line when his wife Angie faced Arana Jr. in the semifinals.
“I mean, the whole thing is when they tell you to start up the bikes, you need to start up,” Matt said. “And we started our bike, and they want us to start our burnout before they started their bike. And I’m like, ‘No, start your bike up.’ Then I shut Angie off because I don’t know what NHRA needs to do about it, but if we can’t work on starting bikes at the same time and doing that, then they just need to throw us both out and throw somebody out because I’m not going to play that game anymore with them. They take the longest to do the burnout, to get lined up and all that, so everybody’s always waiting on them. And I just don’t want to get my stuff that hot. So, we don’t have water-cooled motors, so our stuff gets really hot, and the Suzuki is very vulnerable when it gets really hot.”
Matt is ready to essentially ready to wipe the slate clean for the Countdown.
“Chance to start fresh. I mean, I’m second points, that’s all I can say. I mean, we’re going for No. 1,” Smith said. “I think that we have a good shot at it. We’re on good air there, hopefully. I don’t think we’ll have air like this, so I think we’ll be fine. If we have Sonoma air, I think I can run really close to him. So hopefully, we have really good air, and I think we’ll be a contender, and I want to go for seven. I didn’t know if I could do it, but now, with what we’ve done, I think I can get that seventh championship.”
SUNDAY NOTEBOOK - HERRERA REMAINS DOMINANT; CLONTZ TALKS JOURNEY; EVARISTO CONFIDENT IN PSM CLASS; STEVE JOHNSON KEEPS ON KEEPING ON
GAIGE HERRERA ADDS INDY NO. 1 QUALIFIER TO LIST OF SEASON ACCOMPLISHMENTS - In likely what was the most unsurprising thing to transpire Sunday, Gaige Herrera officially kept the No. 1 qualifying spot at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.
Herrera’s 6.746-second run at 198.96 in Q1 Friday at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park.
Herrera, in his first season driving for powerhouse team – Vance & Hines – has been incredible on his Suzuki.
This was Herrera’s eighth No. 1 qualifier in the ninth race of the season. He heads into Monday’s eliminations chasing his seventh win in nine attempts.
Herrera meets Cory Reed in round one.
“The (team) worked pretty hard in the last couple weeks from Sonoma (Calif.) there. Just been basically countless hours in the dyno massaging the motor, trying to get more out of it,” Herrera said. “(Andrew) never gives up and never quits searching for more. Same with the whole team. You know it’s good for me, and I’m glad to be a part of it. But yeah, all weekend, I had a very consistent motorcycle going to 74, 76, and 75. And then today, we kind of decided to play with tires a little bit. See which tire we liked better on my bike. So today, we were just in full test mode, and overall, it was good so we’re definitely ready for (Monday).”
The success of Herrera hasn’t gone unnoticed by his competitors, as now some of the riders are trying to copy his riding style.
“It’s kind of hard to believe because I grew up watching all these guys and studying how they ride, and then for me to come in here and now they’re basically studying how I ride based off the accomplishments we’ve had from my different rides is very overwhelming,” Herrera said. “I got quite a few riders ask exactly what I do and just for them to ask me that it’s like I’m still basically a rookie in this class, and for veterans to come to me to ask that it’s very cool.”
Herrera took a minute to think about what a U.S. Nationals win would mean to him.
“This is the big race everyone talks about. You talk about any kind of drag race; it’s always about Indy. So, it would definitely be amazing,” Herrera said.
CHRIS CLONTZ ENJOYING PSM WITH HIS WIFE - Kelly Clontz is having her best season in Pro Stock Motorcycle in 2023. She arrived at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis 10th in the season points standings.
A key part of Clontz’s success is her husband, Chris, her tuner. And Chris has enjoyed the ride since Kelly made her PSM debut in Englishtown, N.J., in 2017.
“It’s one of those things that you work hard at, and you just keep moving forward, and you got good people behind you the whole way and just dedicated. And everything that we’ve been blessed out here. It’s very special.”
Kelly’s trek to PSM began when she met Chris, who had a motorcycle racing background.
“I raced back in 1998 to 2017, and when she started in Pro Stock, I stepped away from (driving),” Chris said. “I raced at a bracket level, the Sportsman level, on a motorcycle. I used to go up to a motorcycle shop local where we’re I’m from, Cycle Performance Engineering (in Clinton, Md.). I went there every day as an apprentice after work, before apprenticeship school, and even after work when I didn’t have apprenticeship school, going through the 602 (Steamfitters Union). I had the passion as a kid. My uncles both raced dragsters down at the local tracks. When the motorcycles would come to the fence when they would come up to the line, I’d go to the fence, and I would just be there. One day, I wanted to do it.
“When I met Kelly in 2001, she kind of helped me at the track the first two years, and then we built her a competitive motorcycle that she could race at the Sportsman level, and it took off from there. It’s just a cool experience all the way around.”
Chris supports his racing addiction by working as a steamfitter in the 602 out of Washington, D.C.
“For 28 years, I’ve been a steamfitter, and I just go to work every day,” Chris said. “I have a crew of guys, like 10 of us, that work under me and we just go to work every day. I install the Johnson Controls Facility Explorer. I work in a lot of big museums downtown. Folger Shakespeare Library is one of our big contracts. We have the Union Station, which is the main train hub in Washington, DC. We also do a lot of smaller property management work for different companies and stuff like that. That’s Monday through Friday, and the days that I’m not at the racetrack doing this; I catch up on Saturdays and then night work here and there when I have to.”
Clontz, however, has no plans of leaving the racetrack. His wife works as a director of estimating for a large electrical contractor in the Washington, D.C., area.
“It’s a thing that’s been in my blood since I was a kid watching my grandfather, my uncles, my dad. It’s just the passion, and we love it. I go to work every day; I come home. And if Eddie Krawiec calls me from Vance & Hines, that’s even better than watching the television, you know what I mean? We talk at least once a week about our program and what we’re doing. With Eddie and Andrew (Hines) and just Vance & Hines, the whole team. I mean, it’s been very special.
“I mean, the harder you work at something, and it just takes time. You don’t just come out here and expect to go right to the top unless you’re Gaige Herrera. Eddie and Andrew (tune our bike). I’m the mechanic. They tell me what to do, and I do it. I’m also the truck driver. I’m the whatever it takes to make it happen.”
The ability for the Clontzs to compete in PSM is also made possible with the
The local 602 (Steamfitters Union) across the United States: When we travel to different tracks all across the country, there’s always a major city that has a local 602. It doesn’t matter if it’s 602 sprinkler fitters, it doesn’t matter if it’s a plumber, HVAC, electrical, it’s all brotherhood.”
JIANNA EVARISTO TALKS ABOUT HER PSM PROGRESS – Jianna Evaristo always wanted to race an NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle.
She checked that off her list when she made her debut in the class in 2019 and even got a win in Pomona, Calif.
However, the daughter of Top Fuel driver/owner Mike Salinas knew she had a lot of work to do to be competitive in the class on a regular basis.
There’s been some bumps in the road along the way. Evaristo joined forces with Matt Smith Racing in 2022 and had a preseason accident in Bradenton, Fla., that set her back.
During the accident, the front of the bike collapsed; it dipped the whole left side of the bike.
“(That) threw me. But the bike and I split ways at the same time,” Evaristo said. “It was a pretty aggressive crash. I broke my right foot, but I didn’t find out until a month after.”
The wreck also had a lasting impact on Evaristo.
“I’ll be very honest, it was really difficult,” Evaristo said about rebounding from the wreck. “Pretty much the first half of the season mentally was probably the hardest thing. Just going through that was probably the hardest thing I had to do. But I knew that if I just kept going, pushing, believed in my team, and they believed in me (I would come back). They were really patient with me, and they would give me power little by little. That really helped me slowly work my way back up to where I needed to be. But yeah, I mean, it was really difficult.
“When I look back at it, I got very, very lucky. I could have been a lot worse, but I mean, that’s the nature of this sport. It was a freak accident that happened. I mean, we made the changes that we needed to make on the bike.”
Flip forward to 2023, and Evaristo came to the U.S. Nationals in Indy ninth in the points on the strength of two semifinal efforts in Gainesville, Fla., and Norwalk, Ohio.
That’s a big leap from 2022, when she won just one round and finished the season in Pomona with a DNQ.
“Not really,” said Evaristo, about being surprised about her 2023 results. “I knew that when I joined MSR, when we teamed up together, that I was going to learn a lot of new things. We’re going to make a lot of changes to the bike, a lot of changes to my riding. And I never doubted that I would start to see progress. I mean, I’m very happy that the progress is happening as fast as it is. It makes it a lot more enjoyable out here.
“But I mean, it’s really good. I am really excited to come to the races now. I’m really excited to make runs. I feel really comfortable on my bike, really comfortable. I know we still have a lot of room to grow, and I have a lot of room to grow, but I’m very confident in our ability. I got my confidence back in my bike and myself and riding. I’m nowhere near the same rider I was back then, let alone when I first came out here. I’m really excited to see what the future holds for myself.”
As Evaristo has gotten better with her quicker elapsed times, she was able to experience a new feeling.
“They didn’t really feel faster. They felt smoother,” Evaristo said. “That’s what everybody told me, ‘Your smoothest runs are going to be your fastest runs out here.’ But once again, going back to know that I have the confidence in my riding, they’re able to feed me speed, power, things like that in smaller increments. And it’s not really a shocker to me, which is really nice.”
On Saturday, Jasmine Salinas, Jianna’s sister, talked in the pressroom Saturday about her move up from Top Alcohol Dragster to Top Fuel in 2024. Jianna said she’s not ready to make any moves just yet.
“For right now, yes,” said Evaristo said about staying on a motorcycle. “Yeah. I still believe that this is one of the most difficult classes out here, and I want to be able to master not just the Suzuki but the V-twin as well. I think once I have both of those mastered, then maybe I would think about trying something else. But I won’t leave this class until I’m at the top of my game, so I have a long way to go.”
Evaristo said piloting a Pro Stock Motorcycle is quite the release for her.
“You know, I have a very busy life, and I have a lot that goes on daily at work and everything,” she said. “This is the one thing where when I get to do it, the moment I let the clutch out, there’s nothing going on in my mind. It’s just me, the bike, the track, and focusing on getting to the end of the track. It’s a very peaceful moment for me. It’s very addictive.”
Jianna also addressed the fact that not only does she compete in NHRA, but she is always surrounded by her family/
“I mean, we’re very, very lucky. My family and I are very close in general, but being able to be out here with them is just an added bonus,” Jianna said. “I don’t think I could do this without them just because of how mental this sport is. I’m very, very blessed, very lucky. And I wish my husband could be out here more with me. Next year, I think he’s trying to change his schedule around. That way, he can be out here.”
Eldrich Evaristo, Jianna’s husband, is in the Air Force, and he will be out in April of 2024 after four and half years of service.
“I’m very proud of him. He loves his job, he loves what he gets to do, but he finally got stationed back in California,” Jianna said.
“He’s a logistics officer. When I first came out racing, he was stationed in Japan for two years. Then, after that, he was home for a few months, and then he deployed to Saudi Arabia for six months. He’s missed a lot of the racing. Now, he’s in California at Vandenberg Space Force Base. That’s where we’re at. But I mean, even with hundreds, thousands of miles apart, he’s always been my biggest supporter.
Always watching NHRA live, telling me good luck, FaceTiming me.”
Jianna and Eldrich knew each other for years before getting married.
“We actually met in high school and have dated since high school,” Jianna said. “We stayed together in college. He joined the military. I finished my degree; I started racing. The goal is for him to eventually be able to come out on the road with me because it’s a long time to be away from each other. I mean, we’ve been together since we were 15, 16 years old. I mean, he’s my best friend. He’s my biggest supporter. I couldn’t do this without his support and without him in my life. I’m very lucky.”
STEVE JOHNSON IS THE ULTIMATE PSM VETERAN – Steve Johnson just keeps on keeping on the Pro Stock Motorcycle class.
Johnson made his PSM debut in 1987. He finished a career-best third in the points standings in 2021.
Johnson has been as strong as ever this season. He came to the U.S. Nationals fifth in the points, thanks to wins in Houston and
Charlotte. He has had a resurgence since 2021. He has won seven national events.
Johnson qualified No. 6 with a 6.881-second elapsed time at 197.16 mph.
“Yeah, we’re just trying to obviously qualify really good,” Johnson said. “We’ve already gotten two trophies. One, because we got here, and two, because I felt like we were prepared. Engines, team, and some resources that we don’t normally have. Meaning Mac Rak is a major sponsor for this race. But now it’s really about making better decisions and riding good. And that follows me wherever I go. It’s funny; I never hear anybody talk about that, but if I rode good, I know we’d run better. So, I need to ride good and clearly make better decisions on my tune-up. It’s challenging. We didn’t test, and testing always gives you a little bit of a leg up, so we just are where we are.”
Johnson is proud that he’s stood the test of time and is still riding in the Pro Stock Motorcycle ranks.
“Well, there’s a lot of people in this class that are the gold standard,” Johnson said. “We all have little pieces of that brand, but I think it’s still as exciting as ever to me. Especially working on engines and planning and the little trophies. To get the team here in one piece, the truck and the trailer, we’ve had some struggles this year where the truck shows up with the right front wheel hanging off the side.
“Little trophies make it exciting. Just seeing the fans that... I always tell everybody I’m up to 17 fans now, and they’ve all sent in their membership money, $9.95, so I’m excited to see them. But the big prize is obviously winning the race. So that’s... Qualify good and ride good, make good decisions, and it’ll turn out the way it needs to turn out.”
Following Indy, the six-race Countdown to the Championship begins. The No. 1 rider and No. 10 rider will only be separated by 100 points.
“I just deal with the rules. The sanctioning body really has lots of rules, and the weight rules are the biggest issues, and that’s what we all brought up in the meeting here at Indy, yeah. So, the transparency piece on rules is still a little bit hard to swallow. I get that we can’t tell foreign countries what our plans are when we’re protecting our country, and I get that they adopt that same process at the NHRA with letting us know about transparency on the rule decision, but the committee needs some help with some additional data. And I want to volunteer myself as somebody to help give them some more thought, some more data.”
The just of Johnson’s thoughts is fairness in the PSM class for all riders.
“Yeah, when they make rule changes that are based on weight, and only one motorcycle can capture that advantage, there’s something wrong,” Johnson said. “There’s something wrong. That’s just flat-out wrong. It’s not fair to the other competitors with that brand of motorcycle (the Buell) to not take advantage of that rule. It’s just not fair. We need to make sure everybody’s happy and feels like they can win here. Doesn’t affect me; I’m talking about something that’s not affecting me. I’m talking about something that’s affecting my competitors.”
Johnson won the U.S. Nationals twice, in 2005 and 2008.
“I guess it’s special because it’s points and a half, so I guess on that... And it is more money, so I take that back. It is special,” Johnson said.
TORNOW GETS ENGINES PROBLEMS FIXED – Ron Tornow had an impressive start to qualifying at the U.S. Nationals. He rolled his Suzuki off the trailer and clocked a solid 6.934-second elapsed time at 195.68.
That pass in the EBR Buell was almost pushed to the wayside when Tornow experienced engine problems in Q3 Saturday.
Fortunately for Tornow, his weekend was shelved thanks to Matt Smith repairing his motor. Matt Smith Racing provides engines to Tornow.
“Thanks to Matt Smith, who came over and spent a good part of the evening (Saturday) over here repairing all the damage for us,” Tornow said. “He had the parts, and he did all the work, so we started it up last night after we were all done. Everything looks good, and we’re ready to go for Sunday.
“It could have been so much worse. We could have been done for the weekend very easily. We got lucky.”
Tornow didn’t improve his ET in the final two qualifying sessions, but he did qualify ninth on the ladder, which was a career-best.
Tornow praised Smith for repairing his motorcycle.
“He came over and assessed the damage, and luckily, he had all the parts, and he did all the repairs, which is amazing,” Tornow said. “He’s got three bikes over there (at MSR). He’s trying to run, and they all have issues going on. Yeah, we’re very fortunate that he was there for us.”
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - IT’S A DREAM FOR GAIGE, A NIGHTMARE FOR EVERYONE ELSE
GAIGE HERRERA’S DREAM SEASON CONTINUES - It has been quite the first season for Gaige Herrera, his first with the powerhouse team of Vance & Hines.
Herrera has the No. 1 qualifying spot after three qualifying sessions at the 2023 U.S. Nationals at 6.746 seconds at 198.96 mph – and Saturday, he added the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge season title by defeating his Vance & Hines teammate Eddie Kawiec in the finals at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park.
Herrera clocked a 6.759-second elapsed time at 199.11 mph to defeat Krawiec’s 6.822-second effort at 199.29 mph.
“It’s been very exciting. Obviously, Mission’s a very big sponsor for us, so to be able to represent for them, and not only that, but we also had both bikes in the final, and so that was just, it was awesome for the whole team, for Mission and for Suzuki,” Herrera said. “So, I’m very ecstatic to get this whole overall win. I think there were six of them. And yeah, it’s just this whole scene has been incredible. I mean, it’s kind of hard to put into words because I feel like it’s still not real.
Herrera won four Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenges this season and earned $15,200.
“I’m very pleased with that,” said Herrera about his motorcycle run on Saturday. “But that just goes to show, I got to give all the credit for that to Andrew (Hines) and all the crew guys. I mean, Andrew’s got tons of data and all that, but he adjusts per the weather. I mean, it’s always last minute before we roll up. Andrew’s just finishing the final touches before every pass because he wants maximum performance every pass, and so all that credit goes to him. I was definitely not expecting a 75, I figured like a 77 or something pass, just because the air did get significantly worse. But I’m happy with it. I mean, we were on the starting line, and Andrew’s like, ‘The track’s good, what you think? We’ll turn it up a couple hundred?” And he turned the knob on the handlebars and said, ‘Let’s see what happens.’”
Terry Vance is in attendance this weekend in Indy with the team and doing some commentary during PSM qualifying, and Herrera welcomes his presence.
“Honestly, Terry always just says, ‘Go out there and do you,’” Herrera said. And Terry Vance is here now, and Byron (Hines) is here. I literally just met him on Wednesday. So, talk about pressure. I mean, I’ve heard so much about Byron from Andrew and them, and Byron’s still been a big part of the whole program. So, to have them here, and basically, my whole family’s here, Andrew’s family, and Ed’s family, I mean, it’s a lot of pressure as far as having so much support. But we’re off to a very good start as a whole team. I’m definitely looking forward to the next two days, and it’s going to be good. So, we’re off to an awesome start, and hopefully, it just keeps going this Monday.”
JOEY GLADSTONE IN INDY WITH HEAVY HEART - Joey Gladstone, who finished second in the 2022 Pro Stock Motorcycle season points standings, has only run a handful of races in 2023 because of troubles his Reed Motorsports team was having damaging its Suzuki parts.
Gladstone is in Indianapolis this weekend – but he’s not racing – he’s here to support his good friend and team owner Cory Reed. Reed is in Indy competing on a Suzuki fielded by Michael Phillips.
Gladstone is in Indianapolis, and he and his wife, Nicole, had their son, Carson Cole Gladstone, who was born on Aug. 4 and passed away on Aug. 14.
“My son was born on the 4th of August, and well, he was born three weeks early and then had some breathing issues, and they got that sorted out,” Gladstone said. “But then, unfortunately, he caught a virus that there’s really no cure for, and it just attacked him pretty severely and attacked his organs, and he just couldn’t recover from it. He passed away ten days later. So, we’ve been dealing with that day by day, step by step, with the help of our friends and family. The racing community and the people that we work with at the shop have been instrumental in helping us with the healing process. But I don’t think it’ll ever go away. I think time and friendship will be the only thing that’ll help.”
The Gladstones have a 3-year-old daughter, Olivia.
“This weekend, I’m not doing anything right now,” Gladstone said. “With everything that happened, nobody was really sure if I was going to come. I was going to work on Jim Whiteley’s Funny Car. Cory wasn’t racing a month ago, so I was going to work on the Funny Car. And then I was going to work on the (KB Titan Racing) Pro Stock cars, and then I wasn’t going to come at all. And then Cory decided that he was going to race, so I come out here to support him. Brought Nicole and the baby out here. I’m just hanging out.”
Gladstone said he and Reed plan to run full PSM schedules in 2024.
“Next year is a certainty, but I might pop into Charlotte (N.C.) because it’s 30 minutes from the shop, so I might pop into Charlotte. You never know,” Gladstone said. “We’re developing our engine program right now, and it’s going in a good direction, but once I really gain some confidence in the engine department, then I’ll be more excited. But I love racing. I love riding. It’s a little different now. When I do come back out, I want to come back out swinging. So that’s where my mind’s at right now. I’m motivated to make it better, and when I do, then I’ll be out here again.
“Cory loves racing probably more than I do, so he’s motivated to get back out and be out here full-time.”
EDDIE KRAWIEC DISCUSSES VANCE & HINES TEAM - This season, Gaige Herrera, out of the Vance & Hines stable, is having a magical season – winning six of the eight NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle races and seven No. 1 qualifiers.
Eddie Krawiec, Herrera’s teammate on the Suzuki operation, is doing his part to make sure Herrera remains dominant and improves his own plight.
“It’s more or less just my bike. We’re kind of developing stuff,” Krawiec said. “We’re just kind of proving and proofing out things and going. It’s about trying to get the chassis right. It’s about trying to get everything right for me on it. It’s different. Everything is different from an aspect from Gaige’s bike to mine, so you can’t use any of that data. You got to create your own book. We had not run a Suzuki for years. I’d say we turned the corner the early part of this year with my bike and really started getting it to improve.
“I think there’s a lot more in it. I think I could run within .03 of Gaige. That’s about as close as I can get with him because 105 is a good 60-foot for me on a regular basis. Gaige, we could pretty much go 103s with him on a regular basis. When you’re giving up two numbers by the 60 foot, that’s three numbers at the finish line. When you do that, it’s just a matter of figuring it all out. I don’t think I could get when conditions get right, I could probably get to a 104 with my bike, but I don’t think I can go to 103s on any consistent basis or even 102.”
Herrera went from an unknown quantity to a Pro Stock Motorcycle superstar, and his meteoric rise didn’t surprise Krawiec.
“We’re not surprised; we knew when we saw him,” Krawiec said. “When somebody’s special, you can see it right away, and you understand it.
We knew. I knew it his first lap that we were here in Indy when he made a (run) on (Gary) Stoffer’s bike. I was standing on the starting line with Gary. As soon as he popped the clutch, I turned and looked at Gary, and I said, ‘If that’s the way he’s going to ride,’ I said, ‘you’re going to be in really good shape.’ Andrew (Hines) saw the same thing. He called me right after the run. He said, “Gaige looked really good. Who is he?” From there on. I knew Gaige. We sponsored him for the last five years on his Pro Street program.”
Kraweic said Herrera wasn’t pounding on the door trying to get into the PSM class.
“We had a relationship prior to Pro Stock Motorcycle,” Krawiec said. “It’s just he hadn’t made the transition, nor had he really expressed the interest of getting on one. There are a lot of guys, I think, in the Outlaw scenes since he’s done it that are looking at it. The problem with our class is there’s really no stepping stone to it. It’s no secret; it’s a secretive class too. There’s a lot of stuff we don’t want to divulge or give out. We spend tens of thousands of dollars to develop stuff. You have to be careful on how you do it. But we have a lot of customers that are loyal to us, and we work with, and I think that’s just the way it goes. Three years ago, we built Corey (Reed) and Joey’s (Gladstone) bikes that were identical, and over the years, as things progress, certain things don’t progress.
“That’s like mine. Mine’s a different chassis than Gaige’s. It was built a year later. We did different stuff, whether it’s better or not. Gaige can get on my bike, and once we transfer the weight and all the stuff to my bike, we can make him go 103s on my bike. It just shows you there’s a lot to it. It’s the overall package, and that’s what it comes down to.”
A dream season – like Herrera is experiencing – is something Krawiec has lived through. Krawiec is a four-time world champion, claiming titles in 2008, 2011-12 and 2017. Krawiec, who has 49 career national event wins, won nine times in 2017.
“Well, the way I look at it is I’ve had the year he’s had prior,” Krawiec said. “I’ve had those years I’ve gone to (11 final rounds in 2017), and I’ve won nine of them. I’ve had those years. By no means am I bitter about it or anything. Ultimately, it’s our camp, and it’s our team. We’re a team. We’re two of the same bikes. Again, I do a lot of the testing of parts and pieces on mine because we don’t want to put anything in risk on his program. When we brought Gaige aboard, it was like, okay, that’s our horse. It’s no different. Angelle (Sampey) was our horse the way we looked at it to win the championship for the first two years, that is the way we treated it. It wasn’t anything about me.
“I’m kind of the reassurance, the backup floating behind it, that if I could maintain second in points, God forbid something happens and he has issues or whatever, hopefully I could be the guy that comes right in there. The early part of this year, I think I gave up the opportunity to maybe have a race winner or two. It was because sacrificing making changes to understand so when we get to this weekend where we are today, we have a better understanding of where we are now.”
Krawiec acknowledged pushing the envelope was necessary for team success.
“I could maintain the bike and leave it going 106s every lap, but what good is that? I know 106s aren’t good enough,” Krawiec said. “I know if I go 106 and I have a competitor next to me, I leave the opportunity for them to beat me. I’m trying to go 1.05s [sixty-foot], and then I’m trying to go 1.04. If I have an understanding and have a roadmap on how to do that. If I had to sacrifice my early part of the season to be better at the second part of the season, that’s the best way to do it. We’ve been doing this for a long time. The game starts when you get to Indy, and it really changes from that point forward. You want to win races after Indy.”
The points will be reset after Indy – taking away Herrera’s lead – but Krawiec is ready for the challenge of the six-race Countdown to the Championship.
“I was two points out of second coming into (Indy), and I think it’s just, for me, it’s more about let’s just maintain and keep it moving forward,” Krawiec said. “That’s my goal, really. Yeah, I’d love to come out of the Countdown one-two with both of our bikes. That’s our goal, and whether it happens or it doesn’t happen, I can’t tell you, but we’re going to do our best to make it happen.”
The Pep Boys Nationals in Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa., Sept. 14-17 begins the Countdown.
“Oh yeah. Yeah. I feel I am turning the corner with a good motorcycle at the right time, so I have no worries about these final six,” Krawiec said. “They’ve all treated us well. I’ve done well at all of them. I think these are the ones that last year, when I finally got my bike running a little better, we weren’t aware of it, but we had some glitches, and we had some wiring issues, and we had some other issues. We got all that addressed. My bike runs good now. It’s a comparable bike to (Gaige’s), and we just got to work on making it better.”
CHASE VANT SANT EXPERIENCES INDY FOR FIRST TIME - Chase Van Sant was no stranger to running some races at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park – but he had never competed in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class at the storied facility – until Friday.
Van Sant, driving out the White Alligator Racing camp, clocked a 6.884-second elapsed time at 197.68 mph to qualify No. 6 on Friday. He improved to 6.878 seconds on Saturday.
“Man, it’s really cool,” Van Sant said about competing in Indy. “It’s been really awesome for me just to, I mean, one be here. I was here at the (Nationals) working for Jerry (Savoie) and Karen (Stoffer) last year, and so I got a taste of it at least. But being a rider here, it’s a totally different deal. It was kind of what I expected rolling under the tunnel last night for Q1. I was blown away by all the people and just kind of the history that goes behind it. I mean, that’s when stuff gets really rolling through that tunnel. It’s been a great experience so far.
“I mean, for me, a lot of the tracks that I’m going to are new tracks for me, so every first run is kind of like that, where there’s a little bit of nerves. Yeah, because you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into going down a surface because they aren’t all the same. This surface, I had been down a bunch, never been a quarter mile, so I was more excited to kind of feel it out, and yeah, it’s awesome. The shutdown is nice and long and there’s some character to it. There’s a couple of bumps that I kind of found and I’m going to have to navigate through.”
Van Sant, 26, came to Indy seventh in the season points standings, and he knows he should be even higher.
“Honestly, Gaige obviously has run away with it, but I feel like we really should be in the top five,” Van Sant said. “We had a couple of races that really bit us hard, Sonoma (Calif.) being one of them. That kind of set us back from No. 6 pretty good. My fuel pump failed E1, so I never got to make a run. I pulled up out of the burnout, and it just died, and the fuel pump went out. There’s been a couple of instances like that where we’ve really lost some points, and I feel like we should be in the top five. I think that’s very doable for us. I think I’m excited for the Countdown (the final six races of the season) because I think we can prove that and we can get there a little bit quicker. I’m really hoping Reading (Pa.), Charlotte (N.C.), St. Louis, you’ll see us in the top five.”
Van Sant is part of the WAR team, which also includes rider John Hall. Hall is competing in his seventh event this season in Indy and is 14th in the points standings.
Van Sant did admit working with WAR’s championship-winning crew chief, Tim Kulungian, has been an added bonus.
“Tim’s great. I’ve learned so much from him, and it’s awesome getting to work with a team like this, especially for my rookie year,” Van Sant said. “I’m very blessed to be able to work with these guys because, man, the amount of knowledge they have, it’s pretty remarkable. For me, to be able to hop on a bike that I know is good it makes things so much easier. It’s one of those deals where it’s like, ‘Man if I was trying to do this on my own, I’d be nowhere. I probably would’ve given up by now.’ But man, these guys are an awesome team. I love every one of them. And yeah, we’re looking forward to the rest of the year.”
A year ago, Van Sant was running 460 index on a motorcycle on the eighth mile, but nothing like PSM; in the process, he struck up a friendship with Gaige Herrera.
“I ran a couple of XDA races, but really, I got to know Gaige throughout some of that stuff,” Van Sant said. He wires some bikes, and he and his dad do some dyno tuning and stuff like that. I’ve known him for a little while and picked his brain about some stuff. And yeah, we kind of became friends before. Well, it’s funny because I don’t think anyone knows this story, but last year at Pomona (Calif.), the world finals at NHRA, I was working for Jerry (Savoie) and Karen (Stoffer). He was riding for Gary (Stoffer), and we were hanging outside of Freddie Camarena’s pit just talking because we were friends; we talked.”
The two of them talked about 2023.
“He was like, ‘What are your plans for next year?’” Van Sant said. I’m like, ‘Man, I’m hoping I’m riding. I don’t know yet. We’re kind of waiting until PRI to get to ride or until I know what Jerry (Savoie) is going to do.’ I was like, ‘What are your plans for next year?’ And he’s like, ‘Man, I don’t know yet.’ He’s like, ‘I’m kind of hoping I can do this. I need to find some sponsorships, maybe.’
“We both didn’t know, and we were kind of talking and dreaming like, ‘Man, how cool would it be if we were both out here racing together?’ And we showed up in Gainesville, and I think I qualified third. He qualified first, and we made it to the semis. It wasn’t half a year ago; we were dreaming about doing what we were doing. And so that’s kind of a funny story that I know I’ve never told it, man, it’s just funny because a lot of people think that I dislike Gaige because he’s winning, and it’s like, ‘Nah, I’m happy for him.’ We were just talking about this last November.”
Van Sant has simple goals for the remainder of the season.
“Win a race. I mean, I want to win a race with this team,” he said. “And I mean, I love it in the NHRA. I love Pro Stock (Motorcycle), and I want to do this as long as I can, so I’m going to figure out what I can do to make that work.”
HECTOR ARANA SR. ISN’T DONE RACING YET: Hector Arana Sr. has been working hand-in-hand with his son, Hector Jr., this year, and Junior returned to Pro Stock Motorcycle racing full-time with financial backing.
Hector Sr. has quite the impressive PSM resume – competing in 326 NHRA national events and collecting seven wins, 16 runner-up finishes, and a 2009 PSM World Championship.
And Hector Sr. confirmed to CompetitonPlus.com in Indy that he has not retired from riding.
Arana Sr.’s return to competition in NHRA’s Pro Stock Motorcycle ranks was supposed to happen at the 2022 NHRA U.S. Nationals Sept. 2-5 at Lucas Oil Raceway Park in Indianapolis.
However, it didn’t happen because right before the race, Arana Sr. hurt his right knee stepping off a ladder.
The last time Arana Sr. competed was at the 2019 season-ending Auto Club NHRA Finals on Nov. 17, 2019, in Pomona, Calif. He lost to his son, Hector Jr., in the first round.
Back in 2020, Arana Sr. was going to race at the Gatornationals on March 13-15 in Gainesville, Fla., but that didn’t happen because the event was postponed because of COVID-19 restrictions.
“I do miss the racing, but I’m still not done,” Arana Sr. said. “I haven’t said that I retired. I’m not riding. I still want to come back and do some more racing. I was registered last year to race here (in Indy), and the week before, I fell down and (tore) my ligaments. I (tore) the ACL, tore the MCL, and the meniscus in my right knee. So, I had surgery at the end of the year, and I’m feeling great now. Better. As soon as I get strong enough that I can flex enough to get on the bike and get my leg back on the peg, then I’m going to give it another shot.”
In the meantime, Arana Sr. is enjoying Hector Jr.’s strong season with his Buell. He arrived in Indy second in the points standings.
“Well, we always had the passion for this, and now that we have a sponsorship, we can get back on it and if we want to keep going and we just want to keep doing better and better,” Arana Sr. said.
Hector Sr. knows getting past Gaige Herrera, who has been dominant on his Vance & Hines Suzuki this season, will be no easy task.
“Right now, I believe that the Suzukis got all the advantage right now,” Hector Sr. said. “NHRA is giving them everything they want and I’m not happy with that... They asked us (Buells) to take 10 pounds off to make it more fair, but when we don’t have weight to take off. You know? How do you make that fair? It’s not helping us. The only person that (it should help) is Angie (Smith), the tiny person. They (NHRA) know that we have no way to take off (10 pounds).
“I feel like at least split the difference. We did have five pounds working on, but that’s all. We got five pounds and it’s not doing us anything. As a matter of fact, (Friday) we crossed a 635, 10 pounds heavy. I mean, listen, we’re not going to give up. We’re going to continue doing what we’ve done. I’ve never complained. Never complained. But I think they need to be fair. Just like when the Buells were running fast, they kept throwing weight on us. I never said anything.”
Hector Sr. and Hector Jr. have experienced euphoria at the U.S. Nationals, winning in 2009 and 2011, respectively.
“We definitely want another one. We want them all,” Arana Sr. said.
OEHLER TALKS SEASON, FUTURE PLANS - There is not enough time in the day for Flyin’ Ryan Oehler.
Oehler runs his own Pro Stock Motorcycle team; he runs the Tampa Bay Race Rentals at Showtime Dragstrip in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Oehler arrived at the U.S. Nationals this weekend in Indy and had some business to take care of on Saturday.
Oehler competed in an exhibition race with Pro Stock world champion Angelle Sampey.
“We brought our Tampa Bay Race Rental, El Bandido Yankee Tequila cars for our ultimate drag racing experience (to Indy),” Oehler said. So, these are 2020 Mustang GTs 5.0s. We got them set up with drag radials in a little race package, and we do a drag race experience in the Tampa Bay, Clearwater area, and we’ve been doing it for several years now. We just rebranded everything to partner with El Bandido, and it’s a lot of fun. We figured since we’re now the official Tequila of Indy Raceway Park that we would bring the cars up and kind of have some fun, show everybody what we’re all about.”
For those keeping score, Oehler won the race over Sampey.
This season has been a tough go for Oehler as he has only won two rounds and is 11th in the points.
Oehler, however, believes his team is going to turn the corner.
“I like where I’m at. I’m on the rebound,” he said. “We’ve had some struggles. Things that never have come up have come up, and changed motor programs and made some progress, then fell back. It’s just a struggle.
“But the biggest problem with professional racing is we’re a traveling circus, and you spend a lot of time traveling. Then you spend no time developing. This is a sport of development, and everyone forgets that this is Pro Stock, which means it is the toughest class in drag racing in regard to who can put together the most package of horsepower to the ground. If you’re out here traveling and you’re having trouble, and you’re chasing your tail, when are you going to find time to develop and make more horsepower so that you can catch the other group? Everyone cries and boohoos, ‘Well, it’s not fair. It’s not fair. This is that... Well, go make more horsepower. Well, it’s hard to do that if you’re out traveling and racing.”
And, Oehler said the offseason – if you can it that – doesn’t solve all. The problems.
“Everybody thinks, “Well, in the off seasons here... The off-season is not very long,” Oehler said. “So unfortunately, unless you can have a division of a group of people doing development and you have a group of people that are racing, the only alternative is to step back and go develop, and you have to take some of that time to prioritize your time. Money can buy time, but it takes a lot of money to offset the time. You have to hire subcontractors, more employees, and more equipment, and that number sometimes becomes unrealistic. So, it’s easier sometimes to just say, ‘Hey, you know what? I’m going to step back. I’m going to find the horsepower, and then I’m going to come back and be stronger than ever.’ We’ve seen other teams do that in the past, and it’s just the nature of our sport.”
With that in mind, Oehler is formulating a racing plan for 2023, which will likely include less races. Oehler has won two career PSM Wallys.
“I’m going to have to contemplate one way or the other,” he said. “More employees, more subs, a better plan, really hit it hard in the offseason. But I do think that I’m going to probably run a reduced schedule in order to probably catch up with the group. I’m not going to stop racing. I’m in it so deep. But I’m not here for anything other than to win.
“I’ve done it before; we can do it again. It’s just gotten harder now because, yes, the other group in the Suzukis had time to take a package that was better, that had a way bigger window to develop, and you gave a group of people something that they’ve already had 30 years of experience with and gave them a whole a la carte menu of what you wanted to make it faster. So, it’s all good. Those things all needed to happen, but it all has to come to terms with the reality of this class. We’ve seen it before, and it’s happened again.”
This weekend in Indy, the Buell motorcycles were able to take off 10 pounds but didn’t move the dial for Oehler.
“Well, no, because there’s no weight on my bike to take off,” he said. “So, my brand-new bike there, so a brand-new design, brand new everything, not a copy, is probably the only way that you’re going to be able to take a guy who’s 145 pounds and allow him to take advantage of that weight break. So, everyone complains about that. Hey, this is Pro Stock. Go build a new bike, then, because this is not Sportsman. If you want to complain, then you’re preaching to the wrong people.”
Oehler’s home base is in Blooming, Ill., which is two hours from Indianapolis.
“We run AirTec, a full-time heating, A/C, and plumbing company,” Oehler said. “It has been brutal,” Oehler said about his work schedule. “I have a family; it’s growing. My business is growing, my race team is growing, and I’m doing it with less and less help, which is virtually impossible to do, but I am doing it. It’s just becoming a little bit stressful.
Oehler and his wife, Laura, have a daughter, Kinsley, 2.
“I’ll announce a schedule that I come to terms with our sponsorship,” Oehler said about his 2024 race plans. “We’re not in all 50 states with El Bandido, so it’s important that in states that we are in, that we show up, make a presence, sell into the concessions so the fans can experience the product, do our midway display, do our tasting events. That’s what we’re here to do is market the product,” Oehler said. “I have become a (part-time) employee of the company. And we enjoy it. It’s fun to get to do.”
Oehler said his toughest problem being a business owner is reliable employees.
“I’ve had some difficulties in business,” he said. “I think everybody that’s a business owner out here can tell you that employee loyalty has become something that’s almost non-existent. Cannot find enough good help. When you do find a good help, headhunters are trying to take it from you. That’s become very, very challenging, and that’s our biggest struggle right now is that we have a successful business, but we need help. You need loyal employees you can trust. You can bend over backward for everybody these days. You give them all the PTO they want and all that, and then all of a sudden, someone will just say, ‘Hey, I just don’t want to do this anymore. Things have changed. The times have changed. That’s the struggles that we’re up against.”
Despite his hectic season, Oehler is optimistic about what kind of results he can produce in Indy this weekend.
“We actually have upped our development program,” Oehler said. “We have been in the engine dyno. We have some new motors that are our own brew. I’ve been the garage sale racer. I’ve been the guy who bought out another team and then took that, polished it, and made it into a winning setup. And now we actually have new motors, new bike, and all these things. But for this weekend, we really wanted to make a good A to B run the first pass. We made an A to B run. That was important. We had a lot of trouble on the western swing. And now we’ve got our top-flight motors, and today, we’re going to turn it up, and we’re really going to put a good foot forward. The scoreboard’s going to start doing some talking for us.”
RON TORNOW’S FAMILY AFFAIR - Racing is all about family. Another example of that is NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle pilot Ron Tornow.
The part-time racer is back at the U.S. Nationals with his brother, Tom, and his mother, Rita. This is Tornow’s sixth race of the season.
“We’re running nine this (races) this year,” Ron said. “After Indy, we are going to run Reading (Pa.), Charlotte (N.C.), and St. Louis.”
Reigning PSM world champion Matt Smith built the Buell motor Tornow runs, and Tornow switched to the Erik Buell Racing body.
“We had the bagger body on it before, which looks great,” Tornow said. “It’s got the bags on the side, but it’s not very aerodynamic, and we just couldn’t mph like everybody else. Talking to the different crew chiefs, everybody said it’s the body. I talked to Matt (Smith), and he wanted to get a newer version of the EBR body. This one’s been worked on, so it’s heavy. He sold it to us. He gave us a good deal on the used body. This year, we have the Gen2 motor. He built us a Gen2 motor because between the bagger body and the Gen1 motor, we just kept falling further, and it was a struggle just to make No. 16. Even then, sometimes, we were missing. Tom and I talked, and so we decided to invest in the body and in the gen-two motor just so we could stay competitive. It definitely makes a difference.”
Tornow rolled off the trailer in Q1 Friday and had a solid 6.934-second elapsed time at 195.68 mph, which put him eighth on the ladder.
“(Friday) we went out and made a great run,” Tornow said.
On Saturday, Tornow’s momentum didn’t continue as his Buell smoked down the track.
“We had a small oil line that goes to the rear cylinder and pulled out of the fitting,” Tornow said about his team, which has only one motor. “We lost oil pressure, and it looks like we had to replace one crank bearing, and thankfully, that was all the damage to the crank was a bearing. We got that, but now we still need to find a pushrod and some other stuff for the top end. We will not make the second session (Saturday), but we should be able to make the two sessions (Saturday). We are keeping our fingers crossed. I think we got lucky. It is just a matter of getting everything cleaned up and see what it looks like, but I think we will be okay.”
Tornow last ran this season at the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio, June 25.
Tornow doesn’t have to race, but it is something he has done for three decades and wants to continue.
“The passion for drag racing,” Tornow said. “I’ve raced for 30 years. Bracket racing for almost all of them. Just because it was cheaper to go faster when I got out of college, I had a Mustang, the V8, and I took that to the track, but then once I got rid of that, I still wanted to race. To have a dragster or something takes so much room. So, I thought, ‘Well, I’ll do bikes.’ So, then I had a street bike. I’d raced a street bike for a while and then eventually got a drag bike and ran that for 20 years. I ran the 8.20 class and traveled around doing that. In the meantime, I went to George Bryce when he taught at Frank Hawley’s School. I went to that, figuring that’s the closest I’ll ever get to doing this. I went to his school a couple of times just because it was so cool to do. I got my license while I was there, but there was no way to actually do anything.”
Then, that plan changed.
“Eventually, I started talking to some of the (Pro Stock Motorcycle) teams to see if I could do a rental one,” Tornow said. “That’s what we did. I talked to Matt (Smith), and he agreed. He said, ‘Well, we got to do a test session first.’ He said, ‘I don’t know you. I don’t know if you could ride or not.’ I met him here (in Indy) actually, I don’t know, four years ago maybe. They stopped here on their way from, it might’ve been Brainerd or something.
“We met here, and he let me make some passes on his bike, and he said, ‘Okay, pick an event, and I’ll let you ride.’ That’s how it started. The first year, I rented three races with him. The second year, I did five. Then Tom and I talked to him. My brother and I both own the team together. This a family thing for us. My mom (Rita) she’s 84 years old. She comes to every race. She loves coming out. Tom bought the motor home so we can come out here as a family. It’s like a family vacation every time we come to an event.
“That’s the enjoyment we get out. We get to spend time together; we get to do this together. Then, when we have a good run, it’s super cool to celebrate together.”
Ron retired from his day job in IT at the end of 2022. He had a database consulting business for 30 years. Tom does financial planning.
“I work in the back of the RV during the daytime here usually and then come out when things start to get ready to go, so we get up to the line and have some fun,” Tom said.
A year ago, Tornow qualified No. 16 in Indy and then upset No. 1 qualifier Angelle Sampey in round one.
“I’d love to repeat that. Yes. Except I’d like to do it from a higher position. Coming in at 16 is really going the hard way,” Tornow said. “That’s why we’re hoping to get our tune-up more refined so that we can qualify better because that kills us. We’re always 15, 16.”
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - STOP US IF YOU'VE HEARD THIS BEFORE - IT'S GAIGE HERRERA
WHIRLWIND YEAR FOR HERRERA WHO TAKES PROVISONAL NO. 1 SPOT: My what a year it has been for Gaige Herrera.
At the 2022 U.S. Nationals in Indy, Herrera made his NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle debut riding Gary Stoffer’s Suzuki.
Herrera was truly an unknown quantity.
Fast-forward to the 2023 U.S. Nationals and Herrera is the star of the PSM class.
Herrera, piloting a Mission Suzuki for Vance & Hines, is the points leader, winning six of eight races this season and has captured seven No. 1 qualifier spots.
On Sept. 1, Herrera clocked a track-record elapsed time of 6.746 seconds at 198.96 mph in Indy. Scotty Pollacheck has the PSM ET record in Indy with his 6.789-second run in 2020.
“That 6.74 was a perfect run for the team,” Herrera said. “Andrew (Hines) made 74 dyno pulls after Sonoma and it is kind of funny how that worked out. The guys at the shop have put in countless hours and that pass right there showed that.”
Herrera then took some to discuss how magical his season has been.
“Oh, it's been incredible,” Herrera said. “If you would've asked me a year ago if I would be here with Andrew Hines and be in the position I am, I would tell you I never would've dreamed of it. So yeah, I'm happy to be here. It's a Big Go and it's Indy, kind of my hometown. I live an hour and a half from here in DeMotte (Ind.).”
Herrera has been nearly perfect in his first season with the powerhouse team of Vance & Hines, compiling a 27-2 elimination-round record.
When Herrera arrived in Indy, he had no idea Vance & Hines would coming knocking on his door in October.
“We were just here having fun,” Herrera said about competing in Indy in 2022. “We had a little small motor at the time and I'm good friends with (Gary) Stoffer and we were at an XDA event a couple of weeks beforehand and we always thought, why not come to the (U.S. Nationals) and see what we could do? Just have fun with it. It's good to say I did it, ran a national and that turned into racing the last six races and then, yeah, I never expected to get the phone call from Vance and Hines. They started helping me out and me and Stoffer were out a little bit, like the last three races. I started getting a little connection with them, and then I tested for them and now I'm here.”
Herrera said when he did get the call from Andrew Hines about testing, he tried to keep things in perspective. Herrera tested for Vance & Hines on Oct. 31 after the national event at The Strip in Las Vegas. He was riding Eddie Krawiec’s Suzuki.
“I mean, when Andrew asked me that I changed my flight in a hurry and I looked at it as an opportunity just to ride one of the best bikes in the class,” Herrera said. “I didn't think anything would come from that. I just took the opportunity and had fun with it, and the test went very well. I think I made a total of five passes and I think based off what I ran, I would've qualified second, I think. So, it was a really good test session.”
Although Herrera turned heads at his test, he wasn’t hired on the spot.
“I didn't talk to Andrew, or we didn't talk at all about this year or the year coming up at that time until after Pomona. It was like two weeks after Pomona (which was run Nov. 10-13). Andrew called me. The biggest thing that helped me as far as staying calm and just going out and riding the bike the best, I can is I get along with them so well. They welcomed me. I mean, as soon as I came to the shop for the first time, I felt like I've known him for years, type of thing. I think that helped me a lot. And Andrew's an awesome teacher. He helped me with the little things as far as riding and my nerves and he's been doing this for so long so he knows with all the pressure with all the fans around and the games people play and stuff like that. So, I feel like that's what really helped me the most is just that they welcomed me like family.”
With points being reset after Indy for the six-race Countdown to the Championship, that would seem to frustrate Herrera. After all, he has 924 points this season – 359 points in front of second-place Hector Arana Jr.
However, Herrera is embracing the challenge in the upcoming Countdown.
“I actually like the countdown. I like the fact that someone can't run away with it so early,” Herrera said. “I mean, we've had an awesome start of the season and I'm excited for it because it kind of shakes it up. Now anything can happen. You could be really good at the beginning of the season, then suck at the end, or you could suck in the beginning and then be really good at the end. So, I'm definitely excited. We have a good motorcycle. Good team. I think we'll continue what we've been doing all year.”
Prior to last year, Herrera had competed at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park, winning bracket races. He would love to add an Indy Wally to his collection.
“Oh, I mean this is the Big Go. This is one everyone wants to win,” Herrera said. “So, I mean it would definitely be my all-time high. I mean, when I swept the Western Swing (Denver, Seattle, Sonoma, Calif.), that was something I never thought would be possible. I mean obviously it was the first time bikes ever got the chance, so that was awesome to be able to do that and get the All-Star challenge. But to get Indy, it would be awesome. I mean, this is a home-based town for Vance & Hines, and for me, and it's the Big Go. I mean, this is the race everyone talks about.”
MATT SMITH'S ELUSIVE SUZUKI WIN - Matt Smith has been the class of NHRA’s Pro Stock Motorcycle class – winning four of the past five world championships, including the last three in a row.
Smith turned some heads in the offseason when he announced he was leaving his trusty, championship-winning Buell to ride a Suzuki for his Matt Smith Racing team.
Smith has a solid season as he arrived for the U.S. Nationals in Indy fourth in the points standings on the strength of two runner-up finishes. When he came to Indy, a race he won twice in 2006 and 2022, it was with a simple goal.
“To win on a Suzuki this year,” Smith said. “We've won this race on a V-Twin, and our goal right now is to win on a Suzuki. We're closer (to being where we want to be). We're making really, really, good power, and we even found some more power during the four-week break after Sonoma, so I think we'll be really fast, but we still don't know why the bike didn't start up out west.”
In Seattle – in the semis against Eddie Krawiec – and in Sonoma, Calif., in the finals against Gaige Herrera – he couldn’t get his Suzuki to start.
“We know it was a cam sensor failure, but we don't know why it failed, and it did it back-to-back in Seattle and Sonoma,” Smith said. “Both times we get up there to run, and it wouldn’t start up. So, we've rewired the bike and hopefully that fixes it, but we can't put our hands on what happened there.”
Smith said his team – which includes his wife, Angie, on a Buell and Jianna Evaristo on a Suzuki – did some testing prior to Indy.
“We went to Darlington (S.C.) to test last week,” Matt said. “I made four on my Suzuki, Jianna made four, and Angie made four.”
Despite being dominant the last three seasons by winning three consecutive championships, Matt was ready for the challenge to switching to Suzuki in 2023.
“We knew it was going to be a learning curve, and I needed to learn more on a Suzuki to get me up to speed,” Smith said. “I think I'm up to speed. I think if you look back at Seattle and Sonoma, we had the second-best Suzuki out there, and it's just one of those deals. Gaige (Herrera) has the best bike out here right now, but we're close. I mean, we were within one thousandth of him in Sonoma, so hopefully with the added horsepower we just found, and we can parlay that to the racetrack, we should be pretty good here.”
Herrera has been the king of the PSM class in 2023 on his Vance & Hines Suzuki, winning six of eight races. He came to Indy with a 359-point lead over second-place Hector Arana Jr, in the points standings.
However, after Indy, the points will be reset, and he will only have a 100-point lead over the 10th place rider in the points.
“I've told everybody all along, you just have to be good the last six races of the year,” Smith said. “It doesn't matter what you do in the regular season, you can lose first-round all year long, but as long as you're good the last six, that's all it counts. And the biggest loser this weekend is Gaige (Herrera). Gaige is the biggest loser here, and he's the one that's losing all the points. So, the way I look at it, I've already won, because I've closed that gap. So, we're going to continue to press and push hard, and I think we'll be fine.”
Matt Smith is tied with Andrew Hines and the late Dave Schultz for most world cchampionships at six. He talked about what No. 7 would mean to him.
“I can tell you this, if I can pull this championship off this year and win it, I might not race anymore,” Smith said. “I might just crew chief the rest of my life with this, and I'll race something else. Not Pro Stock Motorcycle. But to get that milestone, I would love to do it, and hopefully I can do it at some point. Maybe not this year, but maybe next. But we're not out of this thing yet, and I'm going to push really hard to get seven.”
Smith also knows his wife and Evaristo are also going to be in the world championship conversation.
“Jianna's had an incredible year (she’s ninth in the points). You look at where she's come from to where she is now,” Matt said. “I would have to say she's the most improved rider by far, by double what anybody else has done this year. So, hats off to her. She's done an awesome job with working out and doing everything I've asked her to do. We've gave her a good bike, and hopefully we continue to impress people and go forward with her more. There's still a lot more for her to do, and to go. Angie's had a fabulous year too (she’s fifth in the points), and I think she's going to be a contender the Countdown, especially with the rules just taking 10 pounds off the V-Twins. They (NHRA) took 10 (pounds) off here for the V-Twin ... she should be pretty fast here, so we'll see what happens.”
Matt knows taking 10 pounds off the V-Twin made sense.
“Yes, that'll help us. I mean, they slapped weight back on the V-Twins after I won Denver and dominated last year, and I told them, I said, ‘You shouldn't do that, because that's a one-off race and it's ... the V-Twin always runs better in Denver than anything else.’ But they finally woke up, and they took the weight off, and I think she'll be a contender too, now.”
Matt has no extra time this weekend as he navigates through the marathon again as a team owner/driver and crew chief for his bike, Angie’s, Evaristo and Ron Tornow.
“We got five qualifying passes. It looks like the weather's going to be beautiful this weekend, so we should get all five of them in. And I got three bikes under my camp. And then Ron Tornow, we help him (with the V-Twin he’s running). We do the motors and help him over there, so in all, we got four bikes that we're helping. All in all, I'm excited, because if I had one bike, I would probably lose more hair, and I'd second-guess myself a lot, so it helps to have more bikes.”
HECTOR ARANA JR. MAKING MOST OF FULL-TIME RACING - Racing part-time wasn’t in Hector Arana Jr.’s plans, but the veteran Pro Stock Motorcycle racer had no choice for a few years because of lack of enough financial backing.
Rather than dwell on his plight, Arana Jr. made the most of limited opportunities.
Competing in only seven of the season's 15 races, Arana Jr. had wins in Dallas and Las Vegas and finished 11th in the points standings on his Buell.
Those stats caught the attention of sponsors and on Monday, March 6, the fastest name in credit card processing, GETTRX, powered by Global Electronic Technology, Inc., announced its return to the world's fastest motorsports to sponsor Pro Stock Motorcycle Arana Jr. and the Arana Racing team for the entire season.
Arana Jr. hasn’t disappointed.
He arrives at the U.S. Nationals second in the points standings on the strength of one win four semifinal finishes.
“I mean, yes and no,” said Arana Jr. when asked if he has surprised about his season results. “We've always had good power. We had a couple of issues that we had to work through, and I mean, that's just part of racing. There's always your ups and your downs and we just kind of worked through those problems. And when we came out those few races last year, I mean we came out strong and we ran well, and I just knew having more seat time and just having more laps on the track that we'd be able to dial the bike in and just run faster.
“Our biggest problem is when we were doing only a couple events when we stopped racing full time was just (a lack) of running and running on the NHRA track prep. It's changed over the years, so you have to change the way you're set up with the bike to accommodate the track prep. It's really just getting laps down the NHRA track and getting the bike dialed in. And the power's always been there, so we're running well. I feel like I've been doing a really good job of riding. I'm out here fighting to keep the sponsorship, so it's different. You're riding with all your heart and trying the best you can.”
Arana Jr. has fond memories of the U.S. Nationals. In his rookie year in 2011 he won the storied event in Indy for his inaugural Wally.
“I mean, it was just amazing to get my first win here at the U.S. Nationals,” Arana Jr. said. “I grew up two hours south (of Indy), so all my friends and family were here. It was just awesome.
Arana Jr. has a simple approach for the remainder of the season – Indy and then the six race Countdown to the Championship.
“Just keep doing what we're doing. I mean, if we keep running well and running consistent and going rounds, that's the plan,” Arana Jr. said. “We'll see what happens. I know last year we did well at Dallas and Vegas, and we shook up the Countdown. As long as we just keep up that momentum and run well, we have a really good shot.”
Arana Jr. is thrilled to be able to have his family out here racing – wife, Nicole and daughters, Sofia, 4, and Ella, 1.
“Oh, it's awesome. And I got to get my first win with the kids at the racetrack when I won (Norwalk) Ohio earlier this year. And it was just awesome to have them come running down to the top end and to just have all there instead of having to make the phone call (and tell them). So, it was really great. You could try to explain it, but until you actually experience it, there's nothing like it.
“Sofia is always telling me, ‘Daddy, I'm going to be a motorcycle racer like you.’ We got a long time before she gets of age, but we'll see what happens.”
KELLY CLONTZ HAVING CAREER-BEST SEASON: Kelly Clontz has spent blood, sweat and tears with her husband Chris to get her Pro Stock Motorcycle competitive – in an ultra-competitive class.
They have done just that. Clontz, who rides a Suzuki, enters the U.S. Nationals 10th in the points standings for the first time in her career.
“I definitely feel like I have improved a lot,” Clontz said. “We've always had Vance & Hines behind us, and my husband has always helped, been behind me a thousand percent. I mean, we've set a lot of goals and it takes time. And just putting the whole plan together and doing everything I need to do on the track and just being consistent on the track is the most important for ET.
“This is the first time that we're coming in here in the top 10. We are looking to improve from that spot. I know we have the bike; I know I have the team and the sponsorship support. I have all the support in the world behind me. I just have to do my job A to B.”
Clontz acknowledged being one of the best in the talented PSM class is no easy task.
“Like I always say, it's consistency and focus. I mean, you have to be aware of everything you're doing, and you need to be a machine on these machines,” Clontz said. “It's all about finesse and consistency. It's not about just getting from A to B. You have to be perfect, as close as you can on everything, and you have to put all the pieces together as a rider. It's not (where) you're perfect on your reaction and everything else is terrible, it's the whole package. Everything has to be perfect.”
Clontz has competed in 77 races now since making her PSM debut in Englishtown, N.J., in 2017.
“I think everybody might look at somebody else's timeline and think they're ahead or whatever,” Clontz said. “I just stay in my own lane because I'm a work in progress, and that's what got me here to Pro Stock Motorcycle. I take a little bit longer to get things because I didn't grow up around this. It was something I was able to start back in 2002 when I met Chris.
“I never had big hopes and dreams that I would run Pro Stock (Motorcycle), but we just kept putting the work in and then we made it possible for us to come out here. So, I just stay in my own lane and do the best job that I can, and I know I have the best equipment and the best people behind me and it's up to me now.”
CHRIS BOSTICK TALKS SEASON, FUTURE - Indy definitely has been memorable for Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Chris Bostick.
Chris Bostick’s NHRA career began exactly 24 years ago at the U.S. Nationals, riding the CTS offshore bike owned by Ben Hatcher.
After walking away from the sport for several years, Bostick, at the age of 60 in 2019, returned to the class essentially as a bucket-list item.
Fast-forward to 2023 and Bostick is still competing in the class on a Suzuki.
“It was going to be a onetime comeback; it was for my 60th birthday, and here we are,” Bostick said. “I'll be 64 two weeks from now.”
Bostick then addressed his plans moving forward.
“Here's my goal for the end of the year, without a sponsor, we are probably not going to try to go for a championship again for next year,” he said. “We're just going to pick some races that we want to go to that we enjoy, this obviously being one of them. The only way that I can compete for one of the top 10 positions and be on stage in California at the end of the year, is you obviously have to be top 10 in points by the end of the regular season. Or you have to have attended 100 percent of the races, which I have. That's why I rented Hector Arana (Sr.’s) bike for the Western Swing. All three of the races on the Western Swing, I was on a V-Twin of (Hector Arana’s). I rented it for the Western Swing. The reason I rented his bike is because mine had three new engines being built and I sent my motorcycle to Gaige Herrera, and he completely rewired it. We went testing with it (Tuesday and Wednesday) in Bowling Green and are extremely happy with the way it's going. So, we're looking forward to possibly being able to obtain my goal. My goal for the end of the year is to be able to finish eighth or better for the season.”
Bostick acknowledged that racing is an addiction for him.
“Oh yeah. I mean, I loved it all my life,” he said. “I retired in December of 2018, sold my car dealerships. I owned all three of the Kia automobile dealerships in Nashville, Tenn. That's why in 2019, I decided to come back. My business partner, whenever I got into the Kia business, he made it very clear that he could make me a fairly wealthy man, but he was not going to allow me to be his business partner in a huge venture like that and have me competing on a race motorcycle. He wasn't interested in that. So that's why I waited so long before coming back out.”
Bostick is upbeat about what he can do this weekend.
“I believe that we can qualify top half of the field,” he said. “I mean the engine that's in here is our number three engine. If you rate my engines one, two, and three, best being one, this is my number three engine. And I have it in here just because this race is really not going to matter. We are in the Countdown, so this is just our test, basically ... to get ready for our first race in Maple Grove (Sept. 14-17) for the Countdown.”
As for 2024, Bostick will compete on a limited schedule.
“I'll go to Gainesville (Fla.), I'll go to the U.S. Nationals, I'm sure I'll probably do Chicago. Chicago's on the list because that's where my wife's family's from,” Bostick said. “I'll do Las Vegas. We love Las Vegas, and that'll be about it. Just something that will keep the fun, keep the young alive.”
WELCOME BACK ODOLPH DANIELS: Odolph Daniels has made plenty of runs in NHRA’s Pro Stock Motorcycle class – but he had not competed since 2019 at the U.S. Nationals until this weekend at the U.S. Nationals.
“(We) Built a new bike, new motor, new everything,” said Daniels about why he returned to racing. “We’re running a Suzuki with the new four-valve, Monster head, fuel injection. We are loaded.”
Daniels said it took he and his team 18 months to get his new-look Suzuki back to the track.
“To be competitive, we wanted to come out and show people that we can compete with the best,” Daniels said. “Right now, we got some of the best parts available in our bike this year. It's the first time we ever had it, so we are looking very forward to being very competitive this weekend.”
Daniels said coming back out in Indy made the most sense for him.
“Well, we only live about four and a half, five hours out from here, we're from Detroit,” he said.
Daniels said he has competed in Indy from 2017-19,
“It's an incredible experience (to race at the U.S. Nationals),” Daniels said. “Just to be out here amongst the best of the best, it's incredible. Indy is a super track, always has been, and it's like the granddaddy of them all. It's big-time racing.
“We plan to do more racing in 2024. We going to be doing a lot of testing the next couple of days, and hopefully we can have all the testing down by the last qualifying pass on Saturday and Sunday we'll be able to really put things together on this bike,” Daniels said.
Daniels’ first pass on his Suzuki will be in Q1 Friday.
“Always is (some nerves),” Daniels said. “Once I get in the burnout, then everything else it is just about business. I think more or less now it (racing) is being able to compete. Competition-wise, it's just to compete with the big guys. That's what got me out here. The rush? I'm 60 years old now, so all that's gone. All that is pretty much gone.
“This is a huge deal for us this weekend, we did a lot of the work, fuel injection system, we did all this ourselves,” Daniels said.