Pro Stock Motorcycle leader Matt Smith’s 46th birthday was Sunday.
And he got his wish before blowing out the candles on his combination championship / birthday cake this evening after extinguishing Eddie Krawiec’s challenge in a winner-take-all showdown at the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Pomona, Calif.
Smith clocked a 201.22-mph speed – the fastest in class history – and won with a 6.765-second elapsed time aboard his Stockseth/Denso/Lucas Oil/Elite Victory motorcycle. Krawiec challenged with a 6.812-second, 198.35-mph performance on his Harley-Davidson Street Rod that fell short by .0471 of a second, about 14 feet.
Smith claimed his third title and denied Krawiec his fifth overall and second straight. Smith won in another final-round tug-o-war with Chip Ellis in 2007 and repeated in 2013, when he shared the spotlight with Pro Mod-racing father Rickie Smith.
“I was in the same situation in ’07. I had to win the race to win the championship. History repeated itself, except this time it’s my birthday,” Matt Smith said. “Eddie said he was going to blow the candle out on me. But he didn’t get close enough to blow the candle out.”
Smith’s path to the double triumph wasn’t smooth. His bike broke an air line in the opening round, the transmission broke in Round 2 when he was going across the finish line.
“My guys did their jobs. We fixed all the stupid stuff that broke. We put up three 200-mile-an-hour runs today. In the final we put the fastest ever up again,” Smith said.
“That’s a testament to my team and all the people who work with us behind the scenes. I’d love to call their names, but they have to stay anonymous, because I don’t want all the other teams to try to get them. That’s what happens. You’ve got a lot of big-money teams and they’ll just go and hire them right out from underneath you. I don’t have a lot of money. And to beat the people who’ve ha millions of dollars for the last 18 years and we’re doing it on nickels and dimes, that shows the people I’ve got behind me. We’re having the time of our life right now. Praise the Lord and praise my team,” he said.
The only other time Smith and Krawiec met this year in competition was at the Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle at Sonoma, which Smith won for a $25,000 payout. So the stakes have been high for these two multiple-time champions. Sunday Smith earned the $75,000 champion’s share of the purse.
Smith recalled that a broken fuel ended his Countdown-opener at Reading, which likely kept him from clinching the championship sooner. But he said this clash with Krawiec “was just meant to be. It was supposed to be a storybook ending.”
He called Krawiec and the Vance & Hines team and Harley-Davidson “a class act” and said, “They’re why the motorcycles are out here.”
Smith joined first-time champions Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), JR Todd (Funny Car), and Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) – all of whom also won the event.
Krawiec was hoping to bring the Vance & Hines organization its 10th championship in the past 15 years and 13th in 22. He also won in 2008 and went back-to-back in 2011 and 2012.
Five riders entered race day with a chance to win, and Jerry Savoie bowed out as the top four – Smith, Krawiec, L.E. Tonglet, and Hector Arana Jr. – reached the semifinal round. By that time, only Krawiec could overtake Smith.
In one semifinal, Smith eliminated Tonglet, who reportedly was angry that Smith got a solo pass in the first round against his wife, Angie Smith. She performed a crowd-entertaining burnout and word was that something broke on her bike, ensuring her husband a free pass to the quarterfinals. In the other semifinal race, Krawiec beat Arana Jr.