Angie Smith is now in the position she always wanted when she started competing in Pro Stock Motorcycle in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Now with the chance to qualify for the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship for the first time in her career, Smith isn’t about to let up.
Smith has posted seven round wins in the past three races, including her first career victory, putting together the most impressive run of her PSM career. The next step for Smith, who is currently eighth in points, is staying in the top 10 and contending for a championship.
Now that those once lofty goals have become reality, Smith is ready to keep that momentum going at the 27th annual NHRA Sonoma Nationals, July 25-27, at Sonoma Raceway.
“This is what I’ve dreamed about,” Smith said. “It’s just been a blessing with how it has panned out. Everything has fallen into place and I couldn’t be happier.”
Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Vincent Nobile (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will once again be televised nationally on ESPN2.
The NHRA Sonoma Nationals marks the ninth of 16 events during the 2014 PSM season and it serves as a crucial race. Only one event remains after Sonoma before the fields are set for the Countdown to the Championship and there is plenty of elite competition chasing those 10 spots in the two-wheeled category.
Smith, whose husband Matt is the reigning world champion in the class, is right in the middle of that after her recent hot stretch. After not competing at the season-opening event in Gainesville, Angie Smith has made steady improvements, picking up a round win in Atlanta.
But after a first-round loss in Englishtown her Kandy Magazine Buell has come alive. She won the next race in Epping, beating her husband in the first husband-wife final round in NHRA history. It was a long time coming for Smith, who reflected on dramatic improvements she has made on her bike.
“It’s amazing to go to the starting line and know you have a chance at winning,” Smith said. “It’s such a good feeling and it’s been very satisfying. I know if I do my job on the starting line that I am capable of winning. I’ve made huge strides on the starting line and everything we’ve worked on has dramatically helped my lights.”
That has been readily apparent in recent races as Smith used incredible reaction times to take down the Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team of Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec in Epping, and Krawiec again in Chicago.
Those are impressive feats, considering Hines is the current points leader and Krawiec, the 2012 world champion, is second. But Smith insists better performances off the starting line didn’t just happen. She put in ample work with her husband, making numerous adjustments in several areas, including her staging process and with the clutch.
The payoff has been obvious this season, making Smith a dangerous contender at every event.
“It’s just been gradual improvement in a lot of areas,” Smith said. “I watched a lot of video with Matt and we were able to critique my riding and see where I needed to improve. I’m doing a number of different things better. It’s a matter of doing the same thing every time you go up there. That’s the main thing, but when you go and fix things one by one it starts to show improvement.”
Smith wants to see continuous improvement during a rigorous two-race stretch that starts with a trip to Denver before heading to Sonoma. Hector Arana Jr. is the defending champion in Sonoma and is coming off a recent win in Chicago, but Smith will have to deal with a host of competitors that includes the likes of Michael Ray, Steve Johnson, Scotty Pollacheck, John Hall and Hector Arana.
There’s also the huge transition of going from the high-altitude conditions of Denver to the ultra-fast sea-level atmosphere at Sonoma. But Smith never has had a problem getting prepared for the scenic Sonoma Raceway.
“Sonoma is one of my favorite tracks and I love it there,” Smith said. “It’s a beautiful place and it reminds me a lot of home. The entire facility is just great. It’s such a different race than Denver and everything is a lot faster in Sonoma. Hopefully we can keep this pace and momentum going and I can stay in the top 10.”
Reigning Top Fuel world champion Langdon took home the win last season in Sonoma and took home his first victory of 2014 in Bristol. Points leader Doug Kalitta, who has seven final round appearances in 2014, has five career wins at Sonoma but will be challenged by the likes of five-time season winner Antron Brown, who has three Sonoma wins, Tony Schumacher, Spencer Massey, reigning Auto Club of Southern California Road the Future Award winner Brittany Force, rookie Richie Crampton, rising star J.R. Todd and Steve Torrence.
Funny Car driver Capps has four career victories in Sonoma and earned his first win of this season at New England Dragway. The 16-time Funny Car world champ John Force has the most wins of any driver at Sonoma Raceway with seven and to earn his eighth he will have to get past stars like Cruz Pedregon, who has two wins at the Northern California track, two-time Sonoma winner Tim Wilkerson, points leader Robert Hight, Courtney Force, Del Worsham, Alexis DeJoria, Matt Hagan and Tommy Johnson Jr.
In Pro Stock, Vincent Nobile won for the first time in Sonoma a year ago, but will face stiff challenges in his bid to repeat. That will come from the likes of Jeg Coughlin, Allen Johnson, Jason Line, Dave Connolly, points leader Erica Enders-Stevens, who won the most recent race in Norwalk, Shane Gray, Chris McGaha, Jonathan Gray and Greg Anderson, who missed the first five races of the season following off-season and is making a charge to qualify for the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
Sonoma Raceway will also host the NHRA MiraMonte Records Pro Bike Battle, a specialty bonus event in Pro Stock Motorcycle. The event will take place on Saturday, July 26 and feature eight riders vying for the top prize.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy some cherished face time and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
The event will also feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, July 25, with sessions at 4:15 and 6:15 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, July 26, at 12:55 and 3:20 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 27. The MiraMonte Records Pro Bike Battle will occur on Saturday, July 26 with rounds at 12:45, 3:15 and 4:40 p.m.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call Sonoma Raceway at (800) 870-RACE (7223) or visit www.racesonoma.com/tickets. Kids 12 and under are free on the final day of qualifying, Saturday, July 26. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.
Before the NHRA Mello Yello Series arrives in Sonoma for the NHRA Sonoma Nationals, the circuit will visit Bandimere Speedway, July 18-20, for the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals. Keep up with all the action on ESPN2.