NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Jianna Evaristo is finding her groove after Pro Stock Motorcycle switch-up

Learning to ride a 200-plus-mph Pro Stock Motorcycle is a daunting task, but it's one that Jianna Evaristo embraced as she made her 2019 debut aboard a Matt Smith Racing (MSR) Suzuki. Five years in, the Scrappers Racing rider is proving she's up for a new challenge – and expeditiously adapting – as she transitions to an MSR V-Twin Buell.
18 Jun 2024
Kelly Wade
Jianna Evaristo

Learning to ride a 200-plus-mph Pro Stock Motorcycle is a daunting task, but it's one that Jianna Evaristo embraced as she made her 2019 debut aboard a Matt Smith Racing (MSR) Suzuki. Five years in, the Scrappers Racing rider is proving she's up for a new challenge – and expeditiously adapting – as she transitions to an MSR V-Twin Buell.

"As much as we love the Suzuki program, Matt Smith Racing specializes in V-Twins. It's what they're known for, and they're amazing at it," said Evaristo, who would have been the only one of the four riders under the MSR umbrella on a Suzuki had she not made the switch. "For the team, I felt like it would be easier if everyone was on the same platform, and we wouldn't have to pick and choose which one to focus on. It was my decision to go to a V-Twin, and I think it was the best choice for myself, my team, and our success and longevity."

Making the decision was the easy part. Evaristo then had to basically relearn how to ride a Pro Stock Motorcycle. The move also came on the heels of a career-best season in which she finished No. 5 in the Pro Stock Motorcycle points, made the first 200-mph run of her career (200.02 mph in Reading), and recorded personal-best numbers in elapsed time (6.784 at the NHRA Finals in Pomona).

She had made so much progress riding a Suzuki, but Evaristo recognized the value of taking a step back and beginning down a new path that could, potentially, take her much further.

"I did so well last year, but I had to make that sacrifice and believe it was going to pay off down the line," she explained. "It was tricky. A lot of people don't realize that, yes, they're both motorcycles with relatively the same power, but they are nothing at all alike aside from holding the throttle open and shifting. I think I underestimated how different they are. I knew it would be a difficult process, but to have success in my career, I had to bite the bullet and look at this as a learning year."

The team tested relentlessly in order to get Evaristo as much seat time as possible, even as the season began. She held patient – as patient as the competitive young rider could remain – as now-uncharacteristic first-round losses and disappointing qualifying positions filled out the first part of her scorecard. A test session in Indianapolis though, just before the Super Grip NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol, held the key that would unlock the next level.

"We tested after Chicago in Indy, and we made some very minor, simple changes with my foot placement," she said. "It solved so many issues. I was so happy, but so frustrated at the same time. 'Seriously? That's all I had to do?' But that's the lifelong story with these motorcycles. It's always something simple, but it's just getting to that point and not giving up that's difficult. It's been tricky, but Matt and Angie [Smith, MSR teammate] both have been really good about reminding me to keep working on it, and it will pay off. I'm starting to see that, and it's like a breath of fresh air. I'm doing something right, apparently.

"The five or so laps that we made in Indy, after we made that adjustment, were probably some of the best passes I've ever made on a V-Twin. That was really promising, but I was nervous for Bristol. It's a really tricky track, and this is still a new bike for me. After the first couple of qualifying runs, I knew where the bumps were and felt really comfortable with the parameters of the bike. That gave me confidence – not just in my abilities, but in knowing what the bike was going to do. That comfort and confidence allowed me to make a really good run and secure that qualifying position."

In the third qualifying session, Evaristo bounded up from the bottom half of the pack to No. 5 on a 6.865, 198.32 mph. First-round opponent Marc Ingwersen was a no-show, and Evaristo claimed her first round-win of the season, but she showed that she had earned the win light with a steady 6.871. Coming up against 2023 NHRA Rookie of the Year Chase Van Sant for round two, she stayed cool as her opponent went -.024 red, and the automatic win light sent her ahead to a semifinals meeting with charging Richard Gadson and his RevZilla/Mission Vance & Hines Suzuki.

Gadson, in the midst of his first full season of NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle competition, is no stranger to two wheels. With multiple titles earned in a variety of series, the veteran rider displays a distinct level of comfort in the NHRA realm. He's also part of the team that has been Matt Smith Racing's staunchest rival, both last season and this year.

"I think one of my strongest characteristics since coming out here is that I've never really worried about who's in the other lane," said Evaristo. "Richard is an amazing racer, and we've become great friends. He's been really respectful, and I enjoy lining up against him.

"A lot of it comes down to staying humble and focused on my race. I can't control what they're going to do or spend more time focusing on them than myself. Every racer out there is bringing their A game. You don't get to pick and choose who to worry about because at the end of the day, the skill level is unlike any before."

Evaristo left the starting line first in their Bristol match, and although Gadson surged ahead for a moment, she came back around for a 6.898 to 6.916 victory. That set her up for a final round with the baddest hombre on the block, reigning world champion Gaige Herrera and his RevZilla/Mission Vance & Hines Suzuki.

"I had some mixed emotions going into that round," admitted Evaristo. "I feel really good when I race Gaige. I enjoy racing him – he makes the runs feel really fun and exciting – and it helps knowing I've beat him twice before. I know it's possible, and anything can happen on race day."

Evaristo put up a strong fight, but her best-of-the-weekend 6.861 was not quite enough for Herrera's 6.818.

"I wanted to win that for my team and to have the title of Matt Smith Racing/Scrappers Racing V-Twin bests the Suzuki, just because that's our goal – to be one of the best bikes out there," said Evaristo. "It was unfortunate that I wasn't able to bring that trophy home for my team and everybody, I made some mistakes on my end, but these are all good learning lessons.

"I'm not anywhere perfect, I still feel like I'm behind the bike and working on little things trying to adjust, but we all agree my progression getting used to the V-Twin happened a lot faster than it did with the Suzuki. There were a lot of things I was really good at toward the end of last year, but I was good at those things because I was comfortable on the bike. I took that same mentality into this year, and it just didn't work. But stepping back and saying, 'Let's focus on the fundamentals again,' that's what's working. I'm excited to see what we can do, not just myself but my team as well."