VICTORY RIDER BLOG: ARMED WITH EXTRA HORSEPOWER, NHRA RACER MATT SMITH IS SET TO WIN WITH VICTORY GUNNER
Two-time NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Matt Smith is in his second season racing a Pro Stock Victory Gunner on the world’s premier drag racing circuit. The team extracted additional power from its motors during the off-season, so he has high hopes for a winning 2016 season with Victory. He answered our questions in this Victory Rider Blog Q&A, as did his teammate and wife, Angie Smith.
Q: What letter grade would you give yourself for last season?
Matt Smith: I’d have to give us an A. We took the Victory Gunner that we struggled with in the wind tunnel [trying to get] the numbers it needed to be [compared to] what we ran the previous year, and we made it very successful last year. We found some power and we ended up finishing fourth in the world. So for our first season with that body style, I would have to give us an A.
Q: What were the biggest lessons you learned last season, your first with the Victory Gunner bodywork?
MS: The lessons learned were that it was a totally different bike than what we had [previously]. We don’t have any kind of frontal area to get tucked behind, so there’s a lot more wind on the rider’s head, shoulders, hands. So that was the first step, we had to learn that in testing.
I had my hand blow off the clutch lever a couple times going through the lights, and so did Angie, so that [exposure to the wind] was the biggest thing we had to learn, and once we got that down pat, then we just started making progress.
Q: Did you change the bodywork much for the new 2016 season?
MS: I really didn’t change anything on the bodywork or the bike as far as the Gunner body style. We worked hard on motors over the winter and found about 13 hp, and we should be very, very strong this year, starting right out of the box.
Q: Can a change in your riding style help, or is your focus on the bikes’ mechanical makeup and setup?
MS: No, my riding style’s pretty good. I’ve been to the wind tunnel four or five times now and we’ve got about the best riding position that we can have, aerodynamically. It’s now all just the fundamentals of getting the tuneups right on the bikes, getting the horsepower there, getting it to the ground, getting the gear ratios and the clutch – all of that – to what the track is giving us. So that’s where you’ll see our improvement this year.
Q: Can you benefit by changing how you approach individual tracks, or are you familiar enough with all of them to know how you’ll approach and attack every track?
MS: We’ve raced every track to know what we need to do. On the first qualifying pass you’ve just got to go A to B and get some data so you can tune the bike as best you can. And from that point on, you just try to make it better so you can be ready for Sunday. Our approach is that we’re going to go and try to be aggressive right off the bat and see if we can qualify 1, 2, or 3, and try to win the race.
Q: What do you do to stay in shape during the off-season?
MS: I really don’t do a whole lot of working out. Just doing the everyday work we do in the shop – if you add up how much we walk every day in the shop, we probably walk 5 to 6 miles a day, at least. And the lifting – lifting motor parts and this and that – that’s probably a big enough workout for us.
If I were just a paid driver, like some of these top fuel funny car guys, we might have a workout program that I did every day. But when we have to do so much work ourselves, you just don’t really have time to go work out at the gym.
Q: Can you recommend any exercises riders can use to improve their reaction times?
MS: It’s kind of just hand and eye coordination, and either you’ve got it or you don’t is the way I look at it. You can’t focus too hard on the tree. You just want to see things naturally. You just go up there and react naturally, and most times you’ll have a good reaction time.
When you try to push yourself, or you go up there and say, “I’ve got to have a good reaction time, I’ve just got to,” a lot of times you mess up, either you red light or you’re late. So you just go up and have fun and do your job, and you’re normally pretty good.
Q: You spent a lot of time with Victory riders and with Victory dealers last year in your hospitality area at the racetracks. You also raced against Victory riders on the drag strip at Sturgis during the rally. At Sturgis, you were running on a stock Vegas demo bike and beating everyone you faced. You looked like you were having a ball.
MS: We had fun at Sturgis. I got to race [the Product Manager] from Victory and I raced [the Marketing Director] from Victory, and it was really cool because those are the two guys that hired me to do this. At the end of the track, they both came up to me and said, “Well, we know why we hired you now because you just kicked our butt.” And riding against the Victory dealers and Victory owners at Sturgis was awesome. We also did that at Denver, we rode against some of the owners out there [during the American Victory Rally], and we had a ball there.
All of that was fun, but the hospitality, meeting the fans, meeting the Victory dealers [at the racetracks], that was awesome, too. So all in all, I would classify all of it as way cool, fun, and an awesome deal. But, of course, I love riding motorcycles, whether it’s a stock bike or the drag bike, so I really enjoyed the Denver and Sturgis events.
Q: Which Victory models did you ride the most for fun during the off-season?
MS: Right now we have a Magnum and I have a Gunner and Angie has a Vegas. I have ridden all of them and I love riding my Magnum the best because it’s got the radio and I love riding the bagger-type bikes. We have a new Hammer S coming that I’m excited to ride because I like the fat tire on it and I think it’ll be fun to ride. We’ve got a new Octane coming, too. I got to see it a year ago before anybody else knew it was coming out, and it looked really fun. It has a really cool body style and I’m excited to ride it because it’s got such a powerful engine.
One bike I rode at Sturgis that I really liked, too, was the electric bike, the Empulse TT. I thought that was really cool. I would really like to have one of those to ride around home.
Q: When you win a race this year, will you give the Wally [trophy] away to a Victory fan at the track, like Cam Newton giving away touchdown balls?
MS: Yeah, you don’t give Wallys away. Anybody on the team can buy a replica after you win a race, but giving away a Wally, man, those things are too hard to come by. They’re valuable. It’s a little bit different than just giving a football away. It would be like Cam Newton, if they won the Super Bowl, giving the Super Bowl trophy away, that’s just not going to happen. They’re too hard to come by and you always keep them for yourself.
But our goal is to win one, two, three, four races this year. I’ve won 18 in my career myself, and with everybody that’s been on our team the past four or five years, we have 22 wins. So we’ve had a lot of wins and we’re excited to get some more this year – we’re going to, I can say that. We will get a win this year, I promise, with Victory.