As the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series approaches the finale of its 18-race regular season before galloping into the Countdown to the Championship six-contest playoffs, Pro Stock Motorcycle is undergoing ch-ch-changes. The movement from team to team has already begun, and the addition of a test-bike for this 64th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in preparation for the 2019 16-race campaign are but two intriguing stories.
First off, Vance & Hines announced a third bike for this most prestigious tenth race for their PSM class, taking place a couple of miles from the V&H race shop and factory. Veteran “Tater” Chip Ellis will wheel an R&D chassis for the Harley-Davidson factory team as they prep for 2019. Ellis, who raced for Junior Pippin before his death last year, worked with V&H in the past. Renowned for his testing capabilities, Ellis has been enlisted to evaluate a new bike and, hopefully, take part in the biggest race of the year.
He last raced a Suzuki for V&H at the 2018 NHRA season closer in Pomona last November, but as reigning PSM champ, 2017 U.S. Nationals winner and V&H rider Eddie Krawiec told me, there’s no pressure on Ellis. Acknowledged as one of the most gifted riders in the PSM pits – a true natural, Krawiec said – Ellis’ job this weekend is to help V&H discern the direction of their 2019 program. Why? To earn a title, no racer can afford to prep for the coming season during the all-important Countdown.
One rider who isn’t waiting until next year to swap teams, Joey Gladstone has moved from Jim Underdahl’s Suzuki operation to take over good friend Cory Reed’s Team Liberty as teammate to three-time champ Angelle Sampey. While this move had been planned for the 2019 season, Gladstone will be riding Reed’s Buell while the latter rider waits for his new motorcycle to be built.
Reed is mathematically out of the top 10 for the 2018 season and wants to see his team advance. “Angelle is in the top ten right now and Joey has a good chance of getting in,” he said. “We want to make sure we can get both of them in the top ten before the Countdown. Joey is one of my best friends, and he was going to join Team Liberty Racing at the beginning of 2019 – we’re just getting a head start on it now.”
Gladstone brings his primary sponsor, Yellow Corn, with him to his new ride and the colors will be blazing yellow and black this weekend and moving forward. While he felt he was doing well with the Underdahl Suzuki, “We just weren’t getting the results we wanted. I learned a lot while I was over there, but my plan has always been to run with Cory and Beam Liberty Racing. We just decided to start early on our 2019 goal.”
Pro Stock Motorcycle boasts a 22-bike field for this 64th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, as this class, together with Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock, solidifies the Countdown entries over the next four days. The final four slots are still open, as points leader Andrew Hines, Krawiec, Hector Arana Jr., LE Tonglet, Gerry Savoie and Matt Smith have locked into the 10-motorcycle playoffs.
Currently, Scotty Pollacheck (Suzuki), Angie Smith, Sampey and Hector Arana, all riding Buel motorcycles, hold the top ten spots. With such a large field, the results could swing any direction, making this one of the best contests to watch at this all-important event.