O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at zMax Dragway in Charlotte, North Carolina, September 14-16, 2012

Hines does what we said he would at Charlotte

story and photos by Tim Hailey

 

Andrew Hines, shown here winning at Indy, won again at Charlotte NHRA Bike Photos

Andrew Hines scored his fifth win of the season and 30th in his career in Pro Stock Motorcycle, beating Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson teammate Eddie Krawiec to the finishline with a time of 6.862 seconds at 194.49 mph in the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte.

“We just tried to stay calm,” said Hines, who had a bye run and then beat Shawn Gann and Hector Arana Sr. to advance to his 51st career final round. “We just had to keep our focus all day long and we were on a mission when we came here, to defend our regular season win streak of 10 in a row and we needed to come out here and see if we could do that. Luckily, everything all in the end panned out for us and it’s just a great feeling to start off the Countdown this way.”

Hines' win was predicted here on Eatmyink.com, as the momentum he gained in Indy seemed destined to carry through to Charlotte. As was pointed out earlier, V&H seems to spread the performance wealth around, and it looks like it's Drew's year. Defending champion Krawiec continues to lead the Countdown to the Championship points by 10 over Hines.

Hector Arana Sr NHRA Bike Photos

Lucas Oil Buell rider Hector Arana Sr. raced to another semifinal, but claims he overpowered the track in falling to eventual race winner Hines. "The track was not there," said Arana. "It left, but after that, there was nothing. It launched, and I felt the Gs pulling. All that is normal, and then suddenly, it just threw me forward. It threw me forward so hard that I hit the windshield. I could hear the motor on the rev limiter already, so I just pulled in the clutch and killed it right there. Nothing we can do but regroup, learn from it and see what happens next time.

"I felt comfortable. We struggled a little bit in qualifying. We couldn't get the bike to respond well, but then again, everything was fresh: New ring, piston, all that. Overall, I'm pleased with the performance, except we missed the tuneup for the semifinals." Arana Sr. remains fourth in the Countdown to the Championship.

Hector Arana Jr NHRA candid photos

Hector Arana Jr. needed to be restarted after his Buell stalled before his first-round pass, and then he survived a close call in the second round. But Arana Jr. fouled out in the semifinals before aborting his run when the motorcycle began to slide around. "I don't know, it's been a crazy day," Arana Jr. said. "We were able to hold on all the way to the semifinals at least."

Arana Jr. qualified No. 3 and faced No. 14 qualifier Chip Ellis in the first round. But after his burnout, Arana Jr.'s Buell stalled. "I was putting it into gear, and the clutch slipped out of my hand, and it stalled," Arana Jr. said. "But (brother) Adam (Arana) was fast enough to see it and get it started again. No worries. We're allowed one restart, so we were able to get it started in just enough time." Arana Jr. then left first and outran Ellis with a pass of 6.939 seconds at 190.83 mph, topping Ellis' run of 6.959 seconds at 190.22 mph.

Against Michael Ray in the second round, Arana Jr. was moving ahead before his Buell started moving toward the middle of the track. "That run against Michael Ray was a close one," Arana Jr. said. "The bike was drifting to the centerline, and I couldn't get it to come back. It was shaking real bad, but I knew it was really close. I just had a good feeling, so I stayed with it, and everything turned out for the best." Arana Jr.'s pass was 6.914 seconds at 190.89 mph, beating Ray's run of 6.918 at 191.76 mph. The margin of victory was .002 seconds.

That matched him against Eddie Krawiec in the semis, but the race was over when Arana Jr. left .007 seconds too soon. The bike spun the tire and later washed out down the track, and Arana Jr. pulled in the clutch early, not knowing he had left early. "They said the bike creeped," Arana Jr. said of the redlight. "But it was also dark, so you see the lights better, quicker. That's just what happens." He remains third in the points standings.

Scotty Pollacheck NHRA candid photos

Sovereign-Star Racing’s Scotty Pollacheck advanced to No. 5 in the Countdown after defeating teammate John Hall in round 1. “I’m glad the crew and I have really gotten to see some of our hard work pay off this season,” Pollacheck said. “Being in the top half of the Countdown is a great feeling especially as a rookie to the NHRA Full Throttle series. Now it gets way tougher, though. It’ll be a whole lot harder to move up from here, but that means that we’ll just have to work harder from now on.”

Hall, who was less than 30 points away from getting into the Top 10, managed to qualify at No. 7 while Pollacheck got into the field at the No. 10 spot. So as luck would have it, the two teammates had to run against each other in round 1 eliminations for the third time this season. After a nearly perfect .002-second reaction time by Hall, Pollacheck had the lead back by the 330–ft. marker to take the win with his 6.927-second run at 189.92 mph. “I think that a lot of people assumed that I was going to lose against him on purpose, but that’s not really how we race,” Hall said. “When you look at the run, you can see that we both got good lights and then he just ended up edging ahead of me. It’s never fun to lose, but with the points situation the way it is right now, if you’re gonna lose it may as well help out your teammate.”

This win was enough to push Pollacheck ahead of Karen Stoffer, who dropped down to the No. 6 spot after losing to Shawn Gann in round 1.

Pollacheck faced Krawiec on his Screamin’ Eagle/Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson in round 2, where Pollacheck’s attempt to get a starting line advantage on the Harley’s four-valve, double overhead cam engine caused him to leave .005 seconds too early, turning on the redlight and giving Krawiec the win.

“It was great to be able to run our best times on Sunday. Of course, we didn’t like to have to race each other again, but when you’re running two bikes that usually qualify in the top half, chances are you’re gonna have to run each other sometimes,” Star Racing owner George Bryce said. “We moved a little closer to the leaders, other than the four-valve double overhead cam Harleys. Scotty moved up to fifth and we’re very proud of that. We’re already back to the drawing board at Star Racing working on our Sovereign two-valve pushrod S&S engines to make more power and go faster."

Karen Stoffer NHRA Bike Photos

As Stoffer approached the first round of the first race of the Countdown to the Championship, crew chief Gary Stoffer made a lane swap, putting his wife in the left lane. "That was Gary's call," Karen said. "That's what he does. He figures out which lane was better. For a bike, it's a little different than a car. We only have one patch to go in, so he might've seen something in the right lane that didn't look good, and he put me in the left lane."

Gann had a .060-second reaction time, leaving ahead of Stoffer's .117. Stoffer made a solid pass, going 6.989 seconds at 191.08 mph, falling to Gann's 6.984-second pass at 191.70 mph in a matchup of the Nos. 8 and 9 qualifiers. "Neither light was sporty," Stoffer said. "we both ran dead-on, and it was just the better light of the two."

Leah Pruett shown in action at Indy NHRA Car Photos

Leah Pruett raced to her first victory of the season Sunday in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by ProCare Rx portion of the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries.

Pruett also claimed her second victory in three final round appearances at zMAX Dragway, as well as her third career victory by outrunning Mike Knowles in the final round. With the victory she moves to fourth in the points standings.

"It feels phenomenal,” Pruett said. “To think that the three times I've been here in this car, I've reached the finals all three times and won twice. At the beginning of this race, I had a good feeling about getting to the final round and back in the winner's circle.”

Pruett, who qualified ninth in her ProCare Rx Ford Mustang, raced to early round wins over team owner Roger Burgess, top qualifier Don Walsh and Kevin McCurdy. In the final she powered her Mustang to a winning performance of 5.936 seconds at 246.44, while Knowles shut off his ’68 Camaro near mid-track.

“That final round was one of the edgiest passes I've had in this car in a long time,” Pruett said. “If it would have been anything but a final round, there would have been a little bit of lifting going on. It was pretty gnarly. All I knew was that I didn't see him, which means I was in front of him. All that meant I had to keep going. That would have been the worst feeling in the world to see someone go flying by you.”

Mike Castellana advanced to the semifinals and maintained his series points lead over second place Rickie Smith, who lost in the first round.

Shawn Langdon raced to his first career Top Fuel victory, defeating Tony Schumacher with a performance of 3.785 seconds at 326.71 mph in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster. Schumacher finished in 3.808 at 322.27 in his U.S. Army dragster. Langdon won from the top qualifying position and beat Chris Karamesines, Bob Vandergriff and Brandon Bernstein to advance to the final round.

"I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason," Langdon said. "87 races into it, I've always kind of wondered, 'Man, what does it feel like? Why haven't I won? Is there something I'm doing wrong?' I had a car capable of winning at times driving for the Lucas family for three years, and I came to this team that Sheikh Khalid [Al Thani, team owner] and Alan Johnson [team manager] that was built around winning. It gets to the point where it's the Countdown and it's crunch time. You couldn't have scripted it any better. It's a surreal feeling.”

Schumacher took over the points lead with the runner-up finish after playoff top seed Antron Brown was eliminated in the first round when his Aaron’s/Matco Tools Top Fuel dragster encountered a mechanical issue midway down the track, sending Al-Anabi driver Khalid alBalooshi into the second round. Langdon moved to third in points with the victory and Brown dropped to fourth overall.


In Funny Car, Ron Capps raced his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger to his fourth victory of the season, defeating Mike Neff’s Castrol GTX Ford Mustang in the final. Capps sped to a winning run of 4.067 at 315.49 and increased his points lead as he heads into the second round of the six-race Countdown.

"We were pretty pumped up," said Capps, who beat Jim Head, Cruz Pedregon, and Matt Hagan in early rounds. "It just happens so fast, but what a race car. The car gives me confidence, but I learned a long time ago not to get overconfident. I was still a nervous wreck before the first round. I don't take anything for granted. Mike Neff is a guy who can throw down at any time. He ran the table and won the race in Indy, and, lo and behold, we were able to gut it out without lane choice in the second round in the semis.”

In Pro Stock, Jason Line claimed his second win of the season in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro with a final round performance of 7.518 at 200.20, outrunning series points leader Allen Johnson in the final round. Johnson’s Team Mopar Dodge Avenger made quick move toward the center line off the starting line and he shut it off. Line defeated Frank Gugliotta, Larry Morgan and Warren Johnson in the first three rounds.

“Winning this race is a big way for us to start the Countdown but it doesn’t mean a whole lot unless you can keep going,” Line said. “To get any kind of lead at all is a good thing. Right now, the top six cars are all so good that whoever lets the clutch out first is usually going to win. That’s a lot to ask from anybody.”

Krawiec Leads Countdown to zMax

But does he have the Big MO on his side?

Eddie Krawiec at speed NHRA Bike Photos

After 17 NHRA Full Throttle events so far this season, racers enter into the six event Countdown to the Championship, beginning this weekend at the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at zMax Dragway in Charlotte.

Eddie Krawiec leads Pro Stock Motorcycle into the Countdown and is having a helluva year. Two time champion Krawiec has been #1 qualifier three times this season and has yet to lose a final-round appearance in 2012. And yet after this past weekend, when his teammate Andrew Hines seemed to dominate every round at Indy, Krawiec may have peaked too soon. But does having those two championships under his belt give him a little bit more of a leg up on the rest of the competition?

“I'd love to say it does, but honestly I really don't think it does,” said Eddie. “I think the key is performing under pressure and maintaining composure. It's worked for me in past years. I've had the opportunity obviously to win the championship in '08 without ever winning a race. To me, that was the toughest thing to do. You never think that would ever happen.

“I followed it up in 2009 with a very dominant season. I went to, I believe, it was nine finals in a row. Then a total of 10 finals that year, I won five races, and I lost the championship by two points.

“It goes to show you, whether you have a championship or not, it doesn't really matter. It's the excitement and the drama that the Countdown brings. And more important, it gives the chance to everybody. It sort of opens up the door. The key thing for that is not to make mistakes and continue what we're doing.

“Obviously I've had a successful pre-season, as I would like to call it, first half of the season going into the Countdown. For me, it's just not to change anything, but continue moving forward and just stay focused.”

Given the cooling of fall, the Countdown might also be when we see what the Vance & Hines V-Rods are truly capable of at some of the quickest tracks on the schedule. “Obviously, looking at the schedule, the one that sticks out to me is Reading,” said Krawiec, referring to the October 5-7 race at Maple Grove in Pennsylvania. “Reading is going to be the one, and you can't count St. Louis out, because you can have some pretty good air there possibly in October. I think national record conditions could be possible in Reading if the right weather falls, and Pomona could be fast, too.

“The key thing here is going to be making good runs and taking advantage of every single qualifying point you can. That means you need to come off the truck strong with the best tune-up and the right calls in order to make it down the track. It's going to be those little ones, twos and threes at the end of the Countdown that are going to impact sometimes where you lie.

“I mentioned, I lost my championship in 2009 by two points. I went out in Pomona, we literally smoked the tire off the starting line, went with like a 1.18 60 foot for two of our qualifying runs. Hadn't we done that, I probably would be saying we won the championship in 2009. The way I look at it is, you need to make it count for every single run down the track. You need to do the best results.”

Pass after pass at the Gainesville PSM opener, Krawiec flirted with the 200-mile-an-hour mark. Does he think we’ll see that milestone broken in the class this year? “Reading would be that place, but it's tough to say. I would have loved to see it happen in Gainesville. When we went testing in Valdosta at the beginning of the season, I went 200.08 unofficially. Everything was legal, the bike was legal, it unofficially happened. Without happening at a national event, it's not a national record, or recognized as a national record I should say. Obviously, everybody knows we did it.

“After Gainesville, we got a weight penalty of 20 pounds. NHRA felt we needed to be brought back a little bit. I'm not going to argue with them. We just continue to move forward. There's nothing you can say or do. You just take it as it is.

“We've been trying to get over that hump. We have the bikes working well chassis-wise. At the end of the day it's a little bit heavier and difficult to overcome. It's the second half of the track where you need to pick it up. As you carry weight, some of it may help in the front half of the track initially, but for us it definitely hurts you in the back half.”

Going 200, or just going rounds, takes great focus—even when you have the performance advantage that we can all agree that Krawiec and Hines have with their V-Rods. “You need to mentally keep your head in your game,” said Eddie. “People love to talk trash, say everything. I've been fortunate enough, I have a lot of experience in the motorcycle world, not just there, but my background and history as a racetrack manager. I've heard it all, seen it all, seen a lot of people do it, and I've seen it get to people.

“The key thing is, you can't pay attention to them. If you sort of block out what people have going on, worry more about your lane, that's the best way to get it done.

“I personally feel my biggest competitor is myself. It's nothing against anybody else in the field, but if you let your mental guard down and you let people get into your head or say stuff to you that is going to make you start thinking, then you failed personally.

“So your biggest competitor is yourself. You need to understand the key thing is just keep cool, calm, keep your composure, go up there, do the same thing you do every single run, regardless of how much pressure is on you.

“I feel I'm a better pressure racer than I am a regular racer. If there's something on the line, I feel I can rise to the occasion a little easier and I bring myself to that point to sort of over-excel myself rather than if there is no pressure. It sounds crazy, but I think it's the way certain people are driven in certain areas. For me, I feel very comfortable when I have a lot of pressure on my shoulders.”

Not that Krawiec was born that way. Those of us who’ve known him for a very long time remember when young Eddie would get that deer-caught-in-the-headlights look when the 600 Supersport pressure was really coming down. That kid is long gone. This is a different Eddie Krawiec, one that went from NHRA obscurity to having the full respect of the field for his performance both on and off the track.

Multi-time Top Fuel champ Larry Dixon was actually listening to advice from Eddie NHRA candid photos

Of course, some of that on track performance is due to the-well developed, well-maintained, and, well, rules-advantaged motorcycle between Eddie’s legs. Looking forward to next year, does Krawiec expect to see a rules change? “I can't speak for NHRA. You never know what's going to come down the pike. I know they've been looking at the class as a whole and in general.

“But I think if you analyze the whole Pro Stock Motorcycle class and not just us, if you look, we haven't gained performance, I don't believe. I don't think we're light-years ahead of where we were last year when you look at the two Hectors and you look at Andrew and my bike. I think we're a little better than we were last year, not much.

“The Suzuki package is obviously struggling a little bit. To be 100% honest with you, towards the end of last year, there was a lot of mechanical problems. At Vance&Hines here, we build a lot of the engines for them. We got hung out for a while with parts through suppliers (read that as “Falicon Cranks”). We had to make the business decision of moving forward and trying to build the platform. We've struggled a little bit in that department. We've manufactured some new parts, crankshafts, some other items. We're just trying to get those guys up to speed.

“They're starting to get out there now. We're starting to get some of our customers new parts, get them in their engines. It's been a long process.

But when you look at the overall performance of the class, yes, it's been down a little bit. I think some of it is obviously due to some budgets and stuff like that.

“You look at Matt Smith, how he started to perform in Indy. He started to run really well in qualifying. He went, tested, came back from testing after the first part of Indy and said, ‘Hey, I found something.’ It obviously showed the second half of Indy, until he broke a transmission first round and had some unfortunate luck.

“It's due to a lot of testing. I don't know how much the other teams are testing. We struggled to find a tune-up, although you wouldn't think so, our bikes always ran I would say mediocre in the heat. We did a lot of testing towards the middle, end of last year, beginning of this year. Andrew's bike, we went to Indy in April and May, made a bunch of runs, really trying to sort the tune-up out.

“The testing side of it is also a big factor. Yes, we are one of the larger-budget teams, so we can afford to do that. When some of these other engine platforms are having a hard time staying together, they're getting bad parts, the end result is you're scared to go test or scared to go figure things out unless you have a budget. If you have a budget, you chalk it up as R&D, research side of things.

“I think it's one of those things, if you have the budget to do it, you can go out there and perform a little better and find a tune-up better.”

Budget is nice, but so are more displacement (as compared to Suzukis) and the elimination of pushrods (which the S&S Buells are stuck with). And yet, the Hectors are always in the hunt. But only barely, and their Lucas Oil Buells have yet to see the winners circle this year.

Hector Arana Jr. only wants to improve one position over last year's Countdown, which would make him the 2012 champion. H2 finished second in the PSM points standings a year ago in a season where he won three races and claimed the Auto Club Road to the Future Award as NHRA's top rookie.

And after finishing third in the 2012 regular season, Arana Jr. considers himself a title contender again. "Yes, definitely," Arana Jr. said. "If we keep up this consistency and just chisel at them one swing at a time, we're going to get 'em.

"I'm going to treat it like the whole rest of the year, except we're going to really lean on these motors now. We're going to do whatever it takes to try to get around these (Harley) guys."

Arana Jr. hopes for a faster start to the Countdown than last year, when he qualified No. 8 and went out in the second round. "Last year was just funky at Charlotte," Arana Jr. said. "We had motor issues, the weather was weird and cold, and then the bike didn't want to start against Eddie (Krawiec) in the second round."

But Arana Jr. bounced back with an impressive run in the remaining Countdown races and has continued that run this season. "We've eliminated all those little issues we've been having," Arana Jr. said. "Now, we'll be ready to go out and give Charlotte a good try."

Hector Arana Sr NHRA candid photos

Hector’s dad, the 2009 champion, finished fourth in this year’s regular season. "We're going to regroup," Arana Sr. said. "We have to find that something extra, bottom line. We have to find something. Otherwise, we'll probably going to finish third and fourth, and that's not my goal, that's not the goal I have for Hector either."

The week after the U.S. Nationals was a bit of a scramble for Arana Sr.'s team, as he suffered a lurid engine failure in Sunday's final round. But Arana Sr. had worked to prepare his team in weeks prior to the U.S. Nationals to be prepared for the six-race grind of the Countdown that starts with four races in four consecutive weekends, so he had extra engines ready to go. "Let's see what happens," Arana Sr. said. "Who knows? By the motor breaking in Indy, it could make things better."

Arana Sr.'s qualified fourth or better in 16 consecutive races, the equivalent of a full season in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Plus, he's won at least two rounds in six of the last eight races, including his final-round appearance at Indy. Does he consider himself a championship contender? "Oh, definitely, especially with how I drove at Indy," Arana Sr. said. "I kept improving, the bike responded to the changes we made, so we're still learning with that. Overall, I think I am a contender. I've done it before, I've been there. I can do it again. I'm not giving up. I'm going to do the best, all the way to the end."

GEICO Suzuki's Karen Stoffer is fifth in the standings, but thanks to the points being reset, she's now only 50 points out of the lead. "We just have to race like it's not the Countdown," Stoffer said. "We have to race our race, keep our head high and keep focused on making the bike perform at the best it possible can every single round. We'll do that in qualifying, and we'll do that on raceday. We don't hold anything back. We've been consistently up in the top ranks. We've been consistently mid-pack, fifth or sixth. That's how we'll attack this Countdown."

Stoffer has won at least one round in nine of the 10 races in 2012, including two semifinal appearances. She's ready to step up her game and continue a solid season of riding. "I think I've learned a lot over the last two years. We had some issues with redlights previously,” admitted Stoffer, but then again, so did the whole class. “If you look at my stats, we haven't done that at all. My lights are pretty much in the .020s on race day. That's where it's been this year."

Stoffer knows it's an uphill battle against the category's best—and best equipped—but her Suzuki team, led by crew chief Gary Stoffer, is making the best of the challenge. "Gary's going to scour over all the notes he has and try and get another 6.90 or better bike for Charlotte," Stoffer said. "From a riding standpoint, a race track's a race track.”

Matt Smith will have increased support from Viper Motorcycles in the Countdown.... NHRA Bike Photos

2007 champion Matt Smith and his quasi-teammate Michael Ray will be bringing a renewed commitment from Viper Motorcycles into the championship. Viper Motorcycle Company, a wholly owned division of Viper Powersports, announced a marketing agreement with Gottspeed Racing and Matt Smith Racing for the remainder of the season.

...and so will Michael Ray NHRA Bike Photos

Both teams are qualified for the Countdown, with Ray in 8th and Smith in 10th. Both riders will debut the Viper colors this weekend in Charlotte. “We have been working with Hal & Rugger Gottsacker and Matt Smith since the first PSM race in Gainesville,” said Viper Motorcycle Company VP of Marketing and Racing Operations Colbert Seagraves. “We had just signed the two Gottsacker-owned Harley-Davidson dealerships to carry the Viper Motorcycle brand. At the Gainesville event both Michael and Matt carried the Viper Motorcycle logo on their bikes. They have promoted Viper all season by using a Diamondback as a push back bike along with a Viper display in their pit area. So it just made sense to expand our relationship with both teams during the countdown to the championship and continue to raise awareness for the Viper brand.”

“I’m excited to be a member of Team Viper,” said Ray. “My goal this weekend and the rest of the season is to go rounds and hopefully win my first race.”

“I have ridden a lot of bikes but the Viper Diamondback is a kick in the pants,” schmoozed Smith. “The Ilmor engine produces unbelievable power and performance. zMAX is my home track so I want to put on a good show for both Viper and the hometown fans.”

“We want to show the world that the Viper Brand is second to none in styling, performance, power, and reliability,” said John Silseth, CEO of Viper Powersports. “Our relationship with Michael and Matt is only the beginning, as are working with NHRA for type approval on a Viper/Ilmor based Pro Stock Motorcycle.”

Ilmor is a very serious company and has a very strong pedigree in building racing engines. But then again, so did McLaren when they took on the ill-fated DSR Suzuki project. It would be very cool to see them involved.

John Hall and Scotty Pollacheck last week at Indy NHRA Bike Photos

Sovereign-Star Racing’s Scotty Pollacheck locked into the Countdown after winning in round 1 against his teammate John Hall at the U.S. Nationals. Even though the Sovereign-Star Racing team was looking to get Hall into the Countdown from his No. 11 spot in the point standings, there were no hard feelings between the teammates after Pollacheck’s Round 1 win against Hall. “If I just had to go that one round to get in it might have been different, but I would’ve basically had to make it to the finals to get the points I needed,” said Hall. “I wouldn’t expect Scotty to come all the way from Oregon twice for Indy to lay down for me in the first round. I could tell you 100 reasons why I didn’t make it into the Countdown, and 99 of them are my fault. So, I told Scotty, ‘I’m working for you now.’ I’m gonna help my teammate win because whatever points I can take away from the other nine in the Countdown just puts him closer to the top.”

John Hall still puts his Fast Lane boots on one leg at a time NHRA candid photos

Hall’s quick transition over the year from spectator and recreational racer to the No. 11 Pro Stock Motorcycle racer in NHRA still surprises even him. “It’s crazy to think of how far I’ve come this season from watching Indy on my couch last year to actually racing here. I’ve been a fan of these (PSM) people for years and then I was competing against them for the top ten. We had them worried about it too because we were so close! This year has given me a great learning experience.”

Even though Indy didn’t give the results they were looking for with both racers, the team was thrilled to get one of their rookie drivers into the Countdown at the competitive No. 6 position. “I’m so happy that we got Scotty into the Countdown, but on the other hand I also wanted to get John in and I wanted a blue, yellow and red bike to win the U.S. Nationals,” Bryce said. “As far as the strategy is concerned going into North Carolina, we’re 10 points behind Karen Stoffer and 20 points behind Hector Arana. Anything can happen at this point.”

“The first thing I want to do when we get to Charlotte is to get in a good qualifying run like we did in Indy to get us solidly in the field where we’re not scrambling later to make up for lost ground,” Pollacheck said. “Making that first run count like we did at Indy makes everything so much easier the rest of the weekend.”

2010 champ LE Tonglet NHRA Bike Photos

Also in the Countdown are Shawn Gann and 2010 champ LE Tonglet. The Tonglets will be stopping in to see new sponsor Zloop—based in Hickory, North Carolina—on their way to Charlotte.

As for North Carolinian Gann, zMax is also the NHRA track closest to his home as well. NHRA candid photos

Will Andrew Hines make a run on Wallys and the championship? NHRA candid photos

But if Eatmyink has to pick a winner for this weekend’s race, go back to the top of this article and look under “momentum.”…you’ll find Andrew Hines. The V&H team seems to like to spread it around a bit, and it’s been a while for Andrew. His bike is politically advantaged, well tuned in, and the rider’s not making mistakes.

North Carolina is a Pro Mod state, and the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by ProCare Rx returns to zMAX. Mike “Here’s the Beef” Castellana and Hot Leah Pruett will be looking for continued success at a track that has treated them well during the course of their careers.

Mike “Here’s the Beef” Castellana NHRA Car Photos

Last week’s Indy runner-up Castellana was the most recent winner at zMAX Dragway when he drove his Al-Anabi Racing 2012 Chevy Camaro to his third NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series career victory at the race in April. He and his team are anxious to return to Charlotte and a track that is very familiar to them. “We won there at the first race of the season and have a pretty good handle on the track,” Castellana said. “Hopefully the conditions are pretty similar when we go back and we can set the car up similar to that. We have a pretty good baseline to start with.”

Leah Pruett was to face Castellana in the finals during that race but was unable to make it to the starting line after her car suffered extreme engine damage during the semifinals. The loss stung, but it was also a learning experience for her and the R2B2 Racing team. “It was super hard and I didn’t know what to think,” Pruett said. “Are you a good sport if you show up and watch the race or are you a good sport if you don’t? I finally said I would like to see what Castellana was going to run and what I would have been up against. I went up and stood up in my lane and watched the run and it was very hard. We’ve learned from it. We have the extra parts now that are needed and I hope that doesn’t happen again.”

zMAX Dragway was the sight of Pruett’s first career Pro Mod win in 2011, and even with the disappointment of the race in April she still ranks it as one of her favorite tracks. “I feel like that track has been very, very good to us and we have done very well so I can’t wait to get back there,” she said. “We will definitely have a shot at winning the race. Right now everything is very tight in the points and I’m still in the mix. The very beginning of this year you’re really thinking points and getting a good head start, but now it is all about getting a good finish. I can’t wait.”

The Pro Mod teams will be coming off a short week. “We’ve got a good routine and once you get the momentum going you are fine with that,” Castellana said. “When you get to a track and you have a good idea on how to set the car up it really takes a lot of guess work out of it.”

“If we have turbo issues, or converter issues, or transmission issues, we send those out like any other team to get fixed, as well as all the other Pro Mod teams,” Pruett explained. “So the manufacturers might have a bit of a work overload and maybe products won’t be finished in time and that is something that is kinda on my mind.”

Will Tricky Rickey get a home win? NHRA Car Photos

With only three races remaining in the Pro Mod season, the series battle has tightened with Castellana now leading the points by only four over Tricky Rickie Smith. Troy Coughlin sits in fourth, Don Walsh holds down fifth with Danny Rowe in sixth. The series will next race at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals in St. Louis and will conclude the season in Las Vegas at the Big O Tires NHRA Nationals on Oct. 25-28.

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