NHRA Full Throttle Chicago, June 29-July 1, 2012
Harley orders seconds, field waits for scraps
story by Tim Hailey with team reports from all teams involved; photos courtesy of NHRA
Hector Jr. might need more than good lights to catch the Harleys
With the Harley-Davidson Museum in downtown Milwaukee as a backdrop, hundreds of motorcycle enthusiasts in the audience, and the Harley-Davidson Screamin’ Eagle/Vance & Hines Pro Stock Motorcycle team in attendance, NHRA officials announced that the Harley-Davidson Motor Company has extended both its official program with NHRA and its title sponsorship of the NHRA Harley-Davidson Sportsman Motorcycle Series through the 2016 season.
This continuing, cozy relationship between the NHRA and H-D will strike many in the Pro Stock Motorcycle field and the internet forums as a furthering of a performance bias the Screamin’ Eagle bikes are allowed—4 valve overhead cam heads vs the Buells, displacement vs. Suzukis. Vocal critic George Bryce has posted the positive side of the news on his Facebook page: “This means NHRA will ‘love’ Motorcycles for a little while longer :) This is GREAT news for our industry and our passion for Drag Racing Motorcycles! Thank you to all involved. At least the class will stay instead of go the way of the Pro Stock Trucks ...and we will have something to complain about for a few more years..and a JOB!”
Kwick Eddie is making no mistakes so far in 2012
The Vance & Hines team seemed to tune their advantage down a bit until this year, but now the Eagles have run free and added weight has doe nothing to slow them down. Defending champion Eddie Krawiec is racing flawlessly this year and no one will Stop the Reign.
With the deepest pockets other than the Motor Company, the Lucas Oil sponsored Aranas are sure trying. Lucas Oil Buell rider Hector Arana Jr. sits third in points standings heading into this weekend's O'Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois. Arana leads the class with an .029-second average light during eliminations, something he views as a great source of pride. "I want to keep that up," Arana said, "and I want to try to lower my average. I know my reaction times have been pretty good, but I didn't realize they were that good. It's an average of all laps since Gainesville, an .029 light, and that was No. 1 for the class. That's pretty fun to see that.
"It shows that I'm not just doing well because I'm on a fast bike, I'm also cutting lights to win rounds, too. I don't want people to think, 'He's only doing well because he's on a fast bike.' I want them to know I can ride this thing. I'm cutting the lights, my shift points are right on, and I've been making straight passes. I'm trying to prove to myself that I deserve to be out there."
Arana will make his 21st career start in Pro Stock Motorcycle this weekend, meaning that he still learns every time down the track. "Every lap, it gets easier. You see more, you feel more relaxed, you take more in, you can give a better report back to the crew as to what you felt. Everything gets better and smoother."
One reaction time in particular from earlier this year, an .026 light, gets under Arana's skin. That came in the finals against Andrew Hines, who cut a perfect. 000 light to beat him. "Every time I think about Houston, I get burned up that I got beat on a holeshot," Arana said. "I cut a .026 light and it wasn't good enough. It burns me up, and I want to make sure that never happens again."
He'll get that chance this weekend in Chicago, where a year ago he secured his second of a class-leading seven No. 1 qualifiers before falling in the second round.
Is Hector Sr. hoping Jr. makes a mistake?
2009 series champion Hector Sr. is fourth in pointsand is coming off a final-round performance in the series' most recent race at Englishtown. H1 has two No. 1 qualifiers in four races this season, qualifying second and fourth in other two. He's reached the semifinals in the last two events and carries a 6-4 round-win record into this weekend's 15th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway, where he still holds the track record in Chicago—a 6.894-second lap set two years ago.
"Really? I didn't know that," Hector said of the record. "That's nice." So can it be broken this weekend? "I think so. If the weather is right and we have the tune-up, we can reset that, yes. I hope we're the ones who do it."
Temperatures are expected to top 90 degrees this weekend, so Arana's record may stand after the race. But he isn't exactly focused on records. He simply wants to get back to victory lane for the first time since Dallas in 2009.
"I'm not worried about anyone else right now, not the Harleys or my son or anyone," Arana said. "My son (Hector Arana Jr.) proved to me that he can handle his own situation, his own bike. We have been working very hard at finding some more horsepower, and we will not stop working, but I need to put all my energy into my program now."
The main nemesis to the Aranas' bikes has been the Harley-Davidson team of Krawiec and Hines, who have won all four races this season. But Arana is a tireless worker, constantly trying to improve the speed in his Lucas Oil Buell. "I don't think about anyone else," Arana said. "Other people can do what they want. I want to keep improving so everyone will be chasing us."
Karen Stoffer just returned from Finland?!
Still, it must be frustrating to need the silver team to make a mistake for anyone else to take home the Wally. It’s even worse if you have race a Suzuki. GEICO Suzuki rider Karen Stoffer leads the inline crowd, sixth in points. "I'm definitely ready to go to Chicago," Stoffer said. "It's always a fun place to go, and it'll be nice to get back on the bike. Hopefully, we'll hit all six gears and have a fast motor. We had some definite struggles in Englishtown. We had a good motor in the bike, but for some reason the transmission wasn't working right. It wasn't going into high gear, which is definitely an inconvenience."
Stoffer and crew chief/husband Gary Stoffer traveled to Sweden after Etown to help rider Fredrik Fredlund at a race on the European Drag Racing Series, and then spent time vacationing in Sweden and Finland. "Fredrik has a lovely house in Finland, in the Aland Islands," Karen said. "He has a guest house right on the Baltic Sea, and he asked us if we wanted to spend some vacation time there, so that ended up being my vacation. It was a busy trip. We had some wonderful food. Fredrick really treated us well. We toured the whole island and ate at some of the "A" restaurants and definitely enjoyed the wining and dining and drinking and sunshine of the Finnish island."
The next five weeks will be especially challenging for Bryce’s Sovereign-Star Racing Team as they prepare and field two Buells in the four upcoming races. During the past four weeks since Englishtown, the crew has made some significant improvements to the program to prepare for a demanding schedule taking them from Illinois to Ohio, then out to Colorado and California. “This is our first back-to-back race where the truck and team leave and won’t come back for two races,” 6X national champ Bryce said. “We’re basically looking at four races in only five weeks, and from a preparation standpoint this could be a nightmare for our team or it could be our best advantage. We’ve ramped up our R&D efforts with the bikes to find more power and basically dynoed our butts off these past few weeks!”
The team’s two rookie racers, John Hall and Scotty Pollacheck, have qualified at every race, won four rounds in four races and remained consistently in the top 10 points standings. They are now looking to take their team to the next level. “I think what we should be shooting for and thinking about is to be the fastest Buell out there,” Pollacheck said. “I don’t know what would happen with the Harley situation, but if we could be faster than the other Buells and Suzukis in the field, that would be making serious progress.”
“Going rounds would be the next step because we haven’t been able to put a string of rounds together,” said former Prostar standout Hall. “Of course we want to win – that’s a given – but we also need to concentrate on the rounds and qualifying in the top half, which makes Sunday a little bit easier and puts you in a better position to win.”
Both drivers think the Sovereign-Star Racing Team is headed in the right direction, but they also point out that consistency and small details can make the difference between winning and losing. “We all need to be consistent in everything we’re doing– from the tuneup to driving the bike. We showed that we can be consistent at Englishtown, and we just need to continue that,” Hall said.
“I think we’re refining a couple of things at this point in the series,” Pollacheck said. “We’ve kind of changed the reaction time goal and the shift point goals a little bit as far as finer details of what rpm to shift at. All of those things are a natural progression of getting better and getting used to the bike.”
Although the team is focusing on this weekend’s race in Chicago, the crew is prepared for the intense five weeks ahead of them.
“I’m glad that we get to do two weekends in a row again,” Pollacheck said. “Having four races in five weeks might be a little tough, though. We definitely haven’t done that yet; so, we’ll see how it goes.”
George Bryce has always got something to say, including this quote before Gainesville
Bryce, owner of Star Racing, points out that this tight schedule is intensified when fielding two motorcycles instead of one. “What’s really challenging about this is that we’re ‘double dipping’ with two bikes, two races, double the fun, double the money, double the effort. Everything’s times two. We’re developing two rookies, two engine programs and two motorcycles at the same time.
“Star Racing’s engine development goals are to show up at each race this year with more power – and that’s what we’ve been doing. When you get close to running 6.80s the improvements seem to be harder to find than when you’re running 7.00s. So, everything we try doesn’t always gain performance, but we are trying a lot of things! I’m even bringing stuff on the airplane with me to Chicago. The team goals are for all of us to become more familiar with the process required to make great laps and to go faster every race.”
Will that be fast enough to catch the Screamin’ Eagles? Not likely, not as fast as Terry Vance moves in the boardrooms. Give Vance kudos for his skills and competitiveness.
The contract extension continues the all-encompassing involvement of Harley-Davidson with NHRA at a number of levels, including the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series and NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series. As the official motorcycle of NHRA, Harley-Davidson has an extensive presence on-site at NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series events as well as in the ESPN2/ESPN2HD broadcasts.
The NHRA Harley-Davidson Sportsman Motorcycle Series is contested in four of NHRA’s seven divisions within the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.