Matt Smith has won a lot of races. He has collected a lot of poles. With wins and championships aboard nearly all of the top motorcycle brands Sunday marked the first time in his illustrious career Smith visited victory lane with a Suzuki driving his Denso Auto Parts bike to a big win over Steve Johnson at the Virginia NHRA Nationals at Virginia Motorsports Park.
I havent been this excited to win a race in a very very long time Smith said. It wasnt because it was Steve Johnson in the other lane. It is because of the bike that I am on right now. Everybody said I couldnt go back to Suzuki I would not win on a Suzuki. We are just out here to prove everybody wrong. In a race in which Smith qualified fourth and his wife Angie took the pole the defending class champion went four big rounds ending in an epic showdown with longtime Pro Stock Motorcycle rival Steve Johnson in the final round.
Admitting he was down on power against the twotime race winner in 2022 Smith entered into a bit of gamesmanship against the current points leader. He delayed starting his bike prior to the run to force his opponent to fire first and then continued the games at the starting line when he lit both of the staging bulbs before his opponent visibly rattling Johnson. Forced to play catchup Johnson was late on the tree as Smith used a starting line advantage to win on a holeshot with a 6.842second pass at 198.35 mph. Johnson crossed the stripe just behind with a quicker 6.786 at 198.06 mph to take the runnerup position.
Steve has been out here a long time and everybody knows what he likes to do. He likes to stage first. He likes to start his bike last. I made it a point that since he had the better bike I had nothing to lose Smith said. If they kicked us both out because we dont want to start our bikes Ive already got second I wasnt going to worry about it so I made him start his bike first. And I was right there at the beam when I got the bike straight and I knew he loves to stage first so I knew I had to roll it in about 10 inches and that is what I did. I doublebulbed him and I think that threw his game off.
Sundays win was the 33rd of Smiths career as the fivetime champion moved into a tie for fifth on the alltime Pro Stock Motorcycle win list with the late John Myers.
Smith added round wins over Chris Bostick Jim Underdahl and Eddie Krawiec to reach his second final round of the season. Impressively in those three round wins Smith was behind on the tree in all three using bracketlike passes of 6.871 6.860 and 6.868 to advance to the final round in the fourth race of the season in the category.
Johnson had wins over Lance Bonham Karen Stoffer and Marc Ingwersen to reach his third final in four races. Still despite the loss Johnson continued to flex his power as one of only two drivers to dip into the 6.7second zone on race day. After the race Smith reflected on the rivalry that has been budding between the two competitors stemming back to a comment he made referring to Johnson as a hobby racer a few years prior.
Everybody wants to win but I do this for a living. I get paid by my sponsors to win races. I dont have another job. If I dont perform and I lose my sponsors then I have to go drive a truck and then I become a hobby racer Smith said. I am out here to be a professional and that is the way that I explain it and that is what I meant. It wasnt a slam on him. It wasnt a slam on the class. He took it to another level and he got a lot of attention for it. Good for him. It is a good rivalry right now.
You always need rivalries out here. It makes the sport better. We are all professionals here we all have sponsors you just cant cross the line and call people names. We can have rivalries we just need to be professional about everything. With our sponsors I represent all of them up here so does my wife. We cannot go out there and call people names and be ugly about stuff like that. We get paid money to win races and that is what I am trying to do. Smith went on to note that while Johnson is running strong now there are plenty of other drivers in the class to watch including other budding rivalries that might one day strengthen the class.
Im glad to have a rivalry with him but there are other people we can have rivalries with Smith said. Angelle Sampey is fast. Eddie Krawiec is coming on. Jimmy Underdahl is going to be fast he is already showing he is fast. Im just excited to be a part of this program. For Smith he continued to talk about what winning his first race on a Suzuki means to him and his team as he has now won on f
our different bike brands in his career.