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NHRA: Smith Continues to be Pro Stock Motorcycle's Ironman

15 July 1998

MORRISON, Colo. -- While the majority of headlines in Pro Stock Motorcycle this season have been centered around the dominant performance of Matt Hines and the unmatched celebrity of Angelle Seeling, one rider has conducted his business without spotlight or fanfare in workmanlike fashion. But Minneapolis' John Smith, in many ways the category's ironman, wouldn't have it any other way.

Smith, 33, is molding a sixth-straight top-five Winston points finish on the Anoka-Ramsey Suzuki. And he's doing it in his typical, blue-collar style: consistently winning rounds. In seven races this season Smith has four semi-final round appearances. He's qualified in the top-five at every race so far. He's currently third in the Winston standings, 314 points behind leader Hines.

Smith, who has earned three victories during his seven year career, will try to move closer to first place in the Winston standings with another consistent showing at the 20th annual Mopar Parts Mile- High Nationals, July 16-19 at Bandimere Speedway near Denver. The $1.5-million race is the 12th of 22 events in the $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

Smith will try to combine the momentum he has gained from strong recent performances at Chicago's FRAM Route 66 Nationals and the Sears Craftsman Nationals in St. Louis with several good performances at Bandimere Speedway over the years, including a runner-up finish there in 1994, to get back on the winning track.

"It seems momentum carries you a lot better from the last couple of races rather than what you did at a track in past seasons," Smith said. "We've had some luck at Denver and some bad luck, too. I like the track and would definitely like to get a win there. It seems like we always run pretty good there, so a win there is certainly a possibility."

However, Smith knows that in order to win, he'll most likely have to outrun Hines, winner of six races this season and the category's defending champion.

"When you look at Matt's operation, they're really getting everything out of their bike," Smith said. "That's why they're winning so much. They're really on top of their game right now. If I was sitting here getting 110 percent out of my bike and still wasn't winning races, then I would be disappointed. But we feel like there's still some left and we're just trying to find that power. When we do, we'll be right where we need to be."

Smith is sure that sooner or later Hines' victory parade will come to a screeching halt.

"I think that kind of dominance comes and goes," Smith said. "It's really easy to get lost in this business. One minute you can't do anything wrong and you're winning every race. Then, when you think you've got it figured out, something will happen that will totally mess you up. Then you start trying to fix it and second-guessing yourself. The next thing you know, that winning combination you had is nowhere to be found."

His best evidence is the current slump of six-time NHRA Winston champion Dave Schultz, the winningest Pro Stock Motorcycle rider in NHRA history, who hasn't won a race since the 1997 Mac Tools Gatornationals.

"When Dave was winning all the time it would have been real easy for everyone to say, 'OK, we're not racing anymore, Dave's just too tough,'" Smith said. "But that didn't happen. It's not going to happen with Matt either. We're all very competitive and anyone out here can win a race at any given time. Sometimes, the best part of racing is having a rabbit to chase. Right now that rabbit happens to be Matt."

And Smith is very confident that he's just about finished constructing the perfect rabbit trap. He says as long as he continues to win rounds, the wins will follow.

"Our goal has never changed, and that's to win rounds," Smith said. "When you do that, you are going to win races. It comes with the territory. We've been working very hard on every little part of our program, fine-tuning it. We feel pretty confident about our chances of winning some races this season. It's all going to come together for us, and when it does we'll be better than ever."