Story By: NHRA – READING, PA – Matt Smith’s dominant 2021 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season in Pro Stock Motorcycle included four victories and six final round appearances, giving him the points lead as the Countdown to the Championship opens this weekend’s 36th annual Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil at Maple Grove Raceway.
Even after a brief hiccup last weekend in Indy, where an electrical issue led to his only first-round loss of the NHRA regular season, Smith remains confident on his Denso Auto Parts/Stockseth/Matt Smith Racing EBR as he looks to win back-to-back world titles and his fifth overall world championship. He’s impressed at every turn over the past two season and Smith is hopeful that will continue as the playoffs get underway at Maple Grove Raceway, where he has two career victories.
“I feel like we still have the best bike in the class and I feel good about things heading into the Countdown,” Smith said. “I’m looking forward to it. It’s huge and so important to get off to a good start and we’re going to Reading to make a statement. We want to build some points in qualifying and we want to extend that points lead. We want to show what happened in Indy was a fluke and that we have the best bike. We tested after Indy, got our problem fixed and we’re confident we’re going to be fast in Reading.”
All the stars in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle will look to start the playoffs in impressive fashion, with the beautiful hills of the beautiful Pennsylvania countryside provide a picturesque backdrop. The event, which is the first of six Countdown to the Championship playoff races in both Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, will be televised on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including final eliminations on Sunday, Sept. 12 at 2 p.m. (ET). For Smith, it’s simply about returning to form after some misfortunate in Indy.
Eddie Krawiec took advantage there, winning the U.S. Nationals for his first victory of the season, while Angelle Sampey also impressed with a trip to the finals. Smith will have plenty of other marquee challengers as well, including Steve Johnson, who is second in points, teammate Scotty Pollacheck, Ryan Oeheler, Joey Gladstone, his wife, Angie, Karen Stoffer and Andrew Hines. But the defending world champ has always embraced those challenges and is preparing for what could be a record-setting weekend in Reading.
“It’s very fast there and if it’s dry and cool, you’re going to see some big numbers and you might see that ET record fall,” Smith said. “You’re definitely going to see some 200-mph runs, but I feel like we always run well in the Countdown. We do our testing throughout the year so we’re ready for the Countdown and I think we’ll be there fighting for the top. I don’t think we’ve shown everything we have. We know how to go fast and I think we’ll be really good (in Reading).”
Pro Stock’s Greg Anderson will head to Maple Grove Raceway in the points lead as he and defending world champ Erica Enders seem to be destined to duel with a fifth world championship on the line. Enders has won the last two titles, but Anderson has impressed for most of the 2021 season in his HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro. He has dominated in qualifying and has a pair of victories, though none have come since early May. That’s something he would love to change to kick off the playoffs, especially as he remains a victory away from tying Warren Johnson for the most wins in Pro Stock history.
That’s still top of mind for Anderson, but so is getting off to a great start as he seeks his first world championship since the 2010 season. With the way he and his car have performed this year, Anderson has a great shot, but he’ll be challenged by an eager mix of championship contenders, including Enders, who won in Indy, Aaron Stanfield, rookie Dallas Glenn, Kyle Koretsky, who has advanced to back-to-back final rounds, Matt Hartford, Chris McGaha, Mason McGaha, Deric Kramer and Troy Coughlin Jr.
“I’ve had a great car all year with my HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, and I was actually pretty pleased that my driving was on par with what we know my car is capable of (in Indy),” said Anderson, who has 97 career wins. “Right now, I’m feeling good about what we’re going to be able to do in the Countdown. I’m feeling good in the driver’s seat, and that’s a big part of the equation.”
Top Fuel’s Steve Torrence has the points lead heading into the playoffs and the Texan is attempting to win his fourth straight world title. Looking to end his run of dominance is a host of standouts, including 2017 world champ Brittany Force, Antron Brown, Leah Pruett, Mike Salinas, Clay Millican and Justin Ashley.
Ron Capps has the points lead in the loaded Funny Car class heading to Maple Grove Raceway, as the former world champ looks to strike it big again. Trying to stop him is a star-studded cast of drivers, including John Force, Bob Tasca, J.R. Todd, Robert Hight, Cruz Pedregon, Alexis DeJoria and Indy winner Tim Wilkerson.
The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport, as well as riders in the Top Fuel Harley Drag Racing Series. After qualifying on Friday, fans can watching a thrilling jet dragster exhibition from Ernie Bogue and his “Beast from the East Jet Car.” The Southeast Nostalgia Pro Stock Association will also make exhibition runs on Saturday.
As always, fans are granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity gives fans a chance to see teams in action and service their hot rods between rounds.
NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature one round at 4:45 p.m. ET on Friday, Sept. 10 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Sept. 11 at 12:15 and 3:45 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. ET on Sunday, Sept. 12.