Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – BRISTOL, TN – Veteran Steve Matusek has put together a number of career firsts at Bristol Dragway, which is the site of this weekend’s E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service race as part of the 19th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.
They include the first time ever qualifying in the class as well as his first career final round in Pro Mod, which took place in 2014. But five years later, Matusek is still looking to add another first to the list – his first victory at the picturesque track. With things starting to come together in his turbocharged Aeromotive Ford Mustang, Matusek believes now is as good a time as any to take care of that last item on his Thunder Valley to-do list.
“I’m really looking forward to going to Bristol and it’s one of the neatest tracks we go to,” Matusek said. “We’re looking forward to the next opportunity and we’ve got a good car and a good crew. We’re in the game and that’s all we can ask for. I’ve had numerous highlights there and a lot of firsts that have happened there, so hopefully we can add one more and get our first win there.”
The race, which is presented by the Real Pro Mod Association (RPM), is the seventh of 12 events during the 2019 E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series season and will be shown on Fox Sports 1 (FS1) and Fox Sports 2 (FS2). Former world champion Khalid AlBalooshi is the defending winner of the event, while Matusek hopes to add his name to the list and become the sixth different winner in the star-studded class this season.
It didn’t look good initially, as Matusek didn’t qualify at the first three races of the season while getting adjusted to his new Elite Motorsports team. Matusek joined the talented team, led by tuner Shane Tecklenburg, in the off-season and they took a radically different approach to the car. It took some time for things to click, but it happened in Virginia, as Matusek advanced to the semifinals before qualifying fifth last weekend in Topeka and winning a round. Matusek thought it could have been more, but after the slow start to the year, he’s more than happy with the recent progress.
“Just like every team, we’ve had a series of challenges, but it feels good to regroup,” Matusek said. “There’s a lot more ways to lose a race than win a race. We went from a car that seemed to have potential in Gainesville to start the year to a car that had its share of fits. We had to come back up the other side and qualifying eighth and advancing to the semifinals in Virginia and then to improve to fifth last weekend was big. How do you get down after that?”
Matusek is certainly riding high and he wants to keep that momentum going in Bristol, but it won’t be easy against another huge and highly-talented field. It’s a group that includes points leader Stevie “Fast” Jackson, the only driver in the class with two wins, defending world champ Mike Janis, three-time world champ Rickie Smith, Todd Tutterow, Sidnei Frigo and Chad Green. But Matusek is confident he’s going to be a threat from here on out, including this weekend in Bristol.
“We’d like to continue to forge ahead and get more data, and when we get to eliminations, I don’t think people want to run us,” Matusek said. “We have all the tools, it’s just making lap after lap after lap. Right now we’re going A to B and everyone is doing their jobs. It just seems like we all have a certain amount of persistence. We don’t give up and we keep our head down. I think we’re going to be a problem for the top 10 teams in the points from now until the end of the year.”
The Real Pro Mod Association (RPM) is the presenting sponsor for the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series race in Bristol, as the class starts the second half of the 2019 season. Featuring the world’s fastest doorslammer race cars, the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service offers something for every kind of hot-rodding enthusiast. The class is highlighted by historic muscle cars, like ’67 Mustangs, ’68 Firebirds and ’69 Camaros, as well as a variety of late model American muscle cars.
The RPM Association was created by Pro Mod team owners and drivers to preserve and promote the future of the category, helping fuel strong participation and interest in the class.
The first of four E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service qualifying sessions takes place at 3:45 and 6:45 p.m. on Friday, and the final two rounds of qualifying take place on Saturday at 12:15 and 3:15 p.m. The first round of Pro Mod eliminations are scheduled for 1:00 p.m. on Sunday.