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ESPN.com's week of season previews for the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series kicks off with the Pro Stock Motorcycle category.
Last year, PSM was dominated by two families that placed five riders in the top 13 of the season standings.
|Defending Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Matt Smith celebrates with wife Angie after winning at Maple Grove Raceway on Oct. 6, 2013.|
Matt Smith reeled off three consecutive late-season wins to claim his second PSM championship, while his wife, Angie, finished 13th in the points chase after narrowly missing the NHRA's Countdown to the Championship postseason.
Meanwhile, the Arana family added a third member to the PSM ranks, with Adam Arana joining his father, Hector, and older brother, Hector Jr., in two-wheel drag racing's top echelon.
After finishing in the top 10 of the standings every year since his first PSM crown in 2007, Matt Smith regained his winning form in what was a tremendous year for his entire family. He clinched the PSM crown at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with one event to spare as his father, Rickie, also won a championship in the NHRA Pro Mod category.
"What else can you ask for?" said Matt Smith, a 41-year-old North Carolina native. "With me winning the championship and Dad winning the Pro Mod championship, it's been great -- not just for the NHRA, but for the entire motorsports world. You've had the Earnhardts, the Pettys, the Yarboroughs -- never was there a father-son that won the championship the same year. We've done that now, and that's amazing, in my opinion."
John Hall also earned two event wins for Matt Smith Racing on a similar Viper Motorcycle Co. Buell on the way to seventh place in the standings.
"I don't want to sound too confident, but we've almost been unstoppable," Smith remarked. "We've been to 10 finals since Epping [the Auto-Plus New England Nationals in New Hampshire that concluded June 23] and have six wins. Those are amazing numbers for our team."
Michael Ray, who swapped seats with Hall prior to the 2013 season to ride a Buell for Sovereign-Star Racing, hopes to improve one position on his runner-up finish in the PSM standings. Sovereign-Star continues to regroup in the wake of rider Scotty Pollacheck's departure in September and continued work on developing a Suzuki bike for PSM competition.
|The Arana clan placed three riders in the Pro Stock Motorcycle top 10 in 2013, with Hector Arana Jr. leading the way in fourth place.|
"The NHRA really did a good job with helping the Suzukis," Ray said in a blog posted on NHRA.com. "They have always been behind the curve since the Buell came along and really changed the dynamic of the class, so this year should be exciting."
Hector Arana Jr. just edged his father for third place in the 2013 final tally, with brother Adam placing ninth in his rookie campaign.
Arana Jr. has finished fourth or better in the standings in his three seasons of PSM competition, with seven victories, 13 final-round appearances, and 13 No. 1 qualifiers in 48 career races. He posted a career-high four wins in 2013 and led the point standings for 12 races before faltering in the Countdown with mechanical problems.
"I have no complaints," Arana Jr. said. "My dad and my brother both made it to finals, each one of us qualified No. 1, and we all made the Countdown."
Meanwhile, three-time PSM champion Eddie Krawiec had just two wins in 2013 after compiling nine wins on the way to dominating the 2012 championship. Krawiec was still the most successful Harley-Davidson rider. His Vance & Hines Racing teammate, Andrew Hines, endured a disappointing campaign; the three-time PSM champion (2004, '05, '06) failed to qualify for the Countdown for the first time in his career.
Another rider looking for improvement is 2010 titlist LE Tonglet, who rebounded to finish sixth in the standings after dropping to 10th in the two years following his championship-winning performance as a rookie. Riding for Nitro Fish Racing, Tonglet was Suzuki's top competitor in 2013.
Five weeks after the NHRA's professional car categories start their seasons, the Pro Stock Motorcycle season rumbles into action, beginning with the Amalie Oil Gatornationals from March 13-16 at Auto-Plus Raceway in Gainesville, Fla.