NHRA Toyota NHRA Summernationals, June 5-7, 2015 at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, Englishtown, NJ, USA
Englishtown is Wide Open
story and photos by Tim Hailey with reports from NHRA and others
The 2015 Pro Stock Motorcycle season has been more wide open than even this 4-Wide final at Charlotte suggests. But never count out Englishtown homeboy Eddie Krawiec (near lane) at the track he used to manage
"Why not make it two in a row?" Hector Arana Sr said while preparing to leave Corydon, Indiana for this weeke'd NHRA Summernationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey. "We are looking forward to getting more wins, especially consecutively." And why not? The silver haired racer, who won last time out at Atlanta Dragway,has just as good a chance as anybody in a PSM season that's started out more wide open than anyone would have reasonably predicted.
Karen Stoffer won Gainesville on a Suzuki, Andrew Hines the 4-Wide on a V-Rod, and Arana Sr's win was on a Buell.
One racer and make that's struggled is 2X champ Matt Smith and his brand new Victory-bodied, S&S powered bike. Seven PSM races remain in the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series regular season, and sitting 11th place in the points standings isn’t where Smith expected to be. After consecutive first-round losses and only one round win through the first three events of 2015 on his Victory Factory Racing Gunner, Smith wants the slump to end immediately. “We need to win rounds,” said Smith, who has 17 career victories. “(Wife) Angie has two round wins and I’ve got one. We’ve got to win some rounds and get some points built up so we can get into the top 10. It’s starting to get down to crunch time and we are starting to put some pressure on ourselves. That’s why we’re testing a lot right now.”
Matt Smith launches the Victory at zMax
It is just the fourth of 16 events for the Pro Stock Motorcycle class, but Smith is eager for a big turnaround. Seeing Smith outside the top 10 is surprising. He has finished in the top five in eight of the past nine years – finishing sixth in the other year – displaying the kind of consistency that has made him one of the top riders in the class for nearly a decade.
To earn another spot in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship and earn his first victory since 2013, Smith knows he has work to do. But that aspect of the job has certainly never been a problem for Smith. “After we left Atlanta (the most recent race), we drove straight to Rockingham (Dragway) to test,” Smith said. “We’re trying to figure this out. I just don’t want to get too far behind. We’ve been working hard and trying to get everything right. We’re figuring out little things, but we need a tenth (of a second). That’s how far we’re off from where we need to be.”
There may be frustration in Smith’s voice, but the potential for a quick about-face at Raceway Park is certainly there. He has two wins in Englishtown (2011, 2006), which means it may be the perfect spot for a turnaround. “Hopefully we’ll be able to perform a lot better,” Smith said. “We just need to win rounds and have a chance to win races. We’re struggling a little bit right now. We have more power than last year but we haven’t put it together.”
Smith said qualifying better will be crucial in Englishtown. After qualifying No. 1 at the season-opening race in Gainesville – only to lose in the first round to his wife by virtue of the infamous "Red Towel"– Smith has qualified No. 14 at each of the past two races. He knows that is not a typical method for success, especially considering the talent in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Defending world champ Andrew Hines took home his second Englishtown victory last season en route to his fourth series crown. Hines is currently second in points to teammate and Bayonne, N.J. native Eddie Krawiec, a 2012 winner of this event. Former Englishtown bike winners Angelle Sampey and Shawn Gann will also be in pursuit of more success at the event. Meanwhile, Hector Arana Jr., Stoffer, Steve Johnson, LE Tonglet and Scotty Pollacheck are among a group of riders who are ready to challenge for the victory.
Hector Sr—visor down and ready for business
Arana Sr's win in Atlanta on May 17 snapped a losing streak that dated to 2009. He'd had been to 11 final rounds in the time between his victory in Las Vegas in 2009 and in Atlanta last month. The drought lasted 86 races, but it probably seemed longer to the 2009 Pro Stock Motorcycle champion. The Atlanta win, though, changed all of that. "I'm looking forward to Englishtown, for sure," Arana said. "That win in Atlanta was just what I needed. It gives me the confidence, the boost I need to keep going and work hard. You start doubting yourself a little bit, so I'm very pleased with the win and I'm looking forward to going to my next race."
Englishtown is often a place where national records are set, and PSM riders are still chasing the 200-mph barrier. Hector Jr. holds the speed record at 199.88 mph, set in Charlotte this year, but conditions aren't likely to be conducive for a record this weekend. "We want to be the ones who break the 200-mph barrier," Arana said. "But let's be realistic: We're not going to have the conditions that we had in Charlotte when Hector went 199 mph. Still, we're going to give it our best.
"I know we haven't made that kind of horsepower to go 200 mph with regular conditions, but we need to continue to work hard and focus on going one round at a time, and maybe we can get that second win in a row."
Smith feels a number of impressive runs could happen throughout the weekend. He is also hoping to have a number of them on his own bike. “I love going to Englishtown,” Smith said. “It’s always fast and the conditions are usually great there. We are really trying to go fast.”
The Star Racing Team won at Englishtown 32 years ago and it has claimed eight more victories since 1983. Rider Angelle Sampey has performed well at the New Jersey track, winning three times in a row at Englishtown during her career. With that type of track record, Angelle and the Star Racing team are looking forward to making another run toward the Winner’s Circle. “We are ready to get back to Englishtown and pick up where we left off. When we left the Atlanta Race, we all felt like we had unfinished business to tend to,” said Star Racing Team owner George Bryce. “We were quick and fast and Angelle was going straight. Angelle is just now starting to get her confidence back and has had enough “seat time” to start winning rounds.
“We really look forward to going to the next race to continue our climb back to the top,” added Bryce, who also made special note this week’s sponsor for the team. “As a business owner, I am fired up to show what we can do to work with a great company like (new sponsor) Platinum General Construction Services. We are going to provide TV presence, media exposure, and provide a ‘corporate retreat’ atmosphere for Ralphie Navarro, his team, and his customers. It will be a great chance to show our hospitality to interested companies in this way.”
For her part, Angelle is also looking forward to returning to a track where she has enjoyed great success in the past, and she is focused on building upon the fast runs she made in Atlanta. “I’m excited to return to Englishtown for several reasons. I’ve won there three times in a row and I have a lot of friends and fans at that track. I remember setting a record there which lasted quite a while,” said Angelle. “Most importantly, I am excited we will be representing a great guy named Ralphie Navarro. He has become an awesome friend who joined Team Angelle with his company Platinum General Construction Services. Ralphie’s passion for racing is contagious and his energy and enthusiasm makes him exactly the kind of person we love to have on our team. I can’t wait to race with him and hopefully bring him to the winner’s circle. My team and I have been headed in the right direction with our performance so far. I have a fast motorcycle to compete with and the right guys on my side. I know we can and will be a force to reckon with.”
The NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series will hit the track for its fourth race of the 2015 season. The Toyota NHRA Summernationals also will feature the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where the future stars of the sport earn their racing stripes.
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.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, June 5, with sessions at 4 and 6:15 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, June 6, at 12:45 and 3:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 7.