NHRA at Sonoma: Riding with Mr. and Mrs. Smith

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For Matt and Angie Smith, the attraction was immediate. Both were drawn to motorcycles almost from the first time they rode in their late teens.

As for their attraction to each other — well, that one took a while.

“I think his mentality was he didn’t want to get beat by a girl,” Angie said. “... He was cocky, he was arrogant, and I didn’t like that.”

“I think just being a girl, out there in our sport,” Matt said when asked what rubbed him the wrong way. “And she had a cocky attitude a lot of times.”

They raced against one another on numerous occasions, mostly in their native state of North Carolina in the early years, before they finally learned to embrace the mutual cockiness. Now they are happily married and racing for Matt’s Pro Stock Motorcycle team. They will be garage-mates, and possibly drag-strip competitors, during the NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway today.

NHRA includes a lot of father-son, father-daughter and sibling connections, but the Smiths are unique.

Some people complain about not getting to spend enough time with their spouses. Matt, 41, and Angie, 35, face the opposite challenge. They share the cab of a truck for long hauls across the country, work together at the track, talk shop after races, and team up on sponsorships and marketing. It can be a little much.

“It’s not always peachy-creamy between us,” Angie said. “There are days where we feel like nothing goes right. And there are days that we butt heads. Sometimes I just have to take a walk or go do something. I mean, in every relationship you have those days. But the good thing about it is we’re married, and we’re in a great relationship, and we get through it.”

Both have accepted the inherent dangers of drag racing, not only for themselves but for their better halves. Neither has been seriously injured on the drag strip, but they’ve had close calls. In 2003, a 50-mph crosswind blew Matt into a wall at Englishtown, N.J.; he stayed on the bike but got banged up. In 2012, Angie lost her brakes while qualifying at Norwalk, Ohio, and ran straight through the sand trap, over a strip of grass and into a cornfield before laying down the bike. Her motorcycle was totaled, but she suffered only a sprained pinkie finger.

Neither dwells on the risk.

“I feel like when we’re out here racing, it’s a little bit safer than riding on the street,” Angie said. “I feel like when he goes on the track, I’m safe with all the tune-up calls he makes.”

Matt learned the trade under his father, Rickie, who also was a successful drag racer. Matt rode dirt bikes a bit as a kid, but rode his first street bike at 17 and was soon racing on tracks around his home in King, N.C. He also learned the mechanical side of the sport.

“Even in high school, I never took an automotive class or shop class or anything,” Matt said. “I learned this stuff on my own. There’s no better way to do it than just hands-on experience, and to tear stuff apart and rebuild it.”

He has won 17 Pro Stock Motorcycle events and two series championships, including last year’s. He also serves as crew chief for his bike and Angie’s, as well as those ridden by John Hall and Scott Pollacheck, both of whom ride under the Matt Smith Racing banner. Separate crews do most of the work on each bike. All of them ride Buells.

Angie didn’t have the same pedigree as Matt. She rode go-karts and Jet Skis when she was young, but her parents forbade her from getting on a motorcycle. She finally defied them when she was 19, and never looked back. Angie has learned her way around an engine, and she handles most of the team’s finances, though she still works part-time at a dermatology office in Winston-Salem, N.C.

It took a while for Angie to get her first NHRA win. It finally happened at the New England Nationals at Epping, N.H., in June. Of course, she wound up racing Matt in the final round. The husband fired out to a solid lead, but broke a rocker arm and pushrod and lost power, allowing the wife to cruise to victory.

Angie had no qualms about beating Matt in that race.

“I was happy,” she said. “I really didn’t want to beat up on him, but I did. It was so satisfying just for me to get there. I waited seven years. I’d never been to a final before. I have been so close, yet so far away. I’ve been to numerous semifinals, and I just couldn’t get past the semifinals, and I just thought I was doomed.”

Matt was thrilled for his wife and teammate, but couldn’t completely subdue his competitive nature.

“For her to get her first win was awesome,” he said. “Like I said, you kind of have mixed emotions. Yeah, I wanted to win.”

Angie grew up in Kernersville, N.C., about 25 miles from King. Both are close to Winston-Salem. Perhaps it was that local rivalry, along with their fiery natures, that made Angie and Matt enemies. It was Matt who buckled first when he saw that Angie backed up her confidence with skill and toughness. He offered her an opportunity to ride one of his bikes. She told him to get lost.

“There were several times that he would call and we would have conversations, and he wanted me to ride his bike,” Angie said. “But I really didn’t want to. With us being competitors, I really didn’t see that it would work out. I kind of kept avoiding him and avoiding him.”

She finally relented in October of 2007 and agreed to race one of Matt’s motorcycles at Rockingham Speedway in North Carolina. “I said that just because I was tired of him calling and bugging me,” she noted.

The move was a bit controversial at the time. Angie replaced another rider, Chris Rivas, during qualifying after Matt and Rivas had argued on the track. Some race fans accused Matt of plotting Rivas’ ouster in advance, with Angie waiting in the wings. But that’s water under the bridge now. Matt and the former Angie McBride were married two years later, in October of 2009. Matt has a son from a previous marriage, but he and Angie don’t have any children together.

Maybe that’s why they dote on their motorcycles so much.

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