NHRA Full Throttle Gainesville, March 9-11, 2012
Third Straight Gators for Krawiec
story by Tim Hailey, photos courtesy of the NHRA
Eddie Krawiec swept the table at Gainesville
Kwick Eddie Krawiec took all 150 points home from Gainesville, winning the opening round of the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle season for the third straight year. His and teammate Andrew Hines' Harleys were on their own planet, running 6.70s in the semis before backing it down to 6.80s in the final. Both gave up the tree in the semis—Krawiec to Matt Smith and Hines to Hector Arana Jr—before driving around to reach the final.
"Definitely, I'm upset right now because we had to wait a whole day, and now we have to go home after just one round," Arana Jr. said after posting his worst pass of the weekend. "We left the line a little too aggressive, I think it spun a little, I'm not really sure. Then, I don't know if there was a bump or what, but I double-bumped the shifter, so it went straight to fifth gear. It bogged, and I was watching him pull away, so I just pulled in the clutch because I got real mad."
The race and its outcome show how far Arana Jr. has come in a year. He failed to qualify for the Gatornationals last year in his first attempt to make a Pro Stock Motorcycle national event. Arana rebounded to win three races, score a class-leading seven No. 1 qualifiers and finish second in the points standings. That earned him the Auto Club Road to the Future Award as NHRA's top rookie. "It was a better weekend this time through, for sure," Arana Jr. said. "It was a good first weekend, considering everything we went through. I wish I would've made a decent last run. I would've had a better chance, but, oh, well, what can we do? I guess we'll go home and do some more homework and try to catch up."
Hines took the tree against Eddie .010 to .033, but Krawiec's had the stronger bike for two years running and all week long. Performances like this one will make it hard for anyone to stop Eddie from winning his third NHRA championship.
Krawiec 199+ in round 2 headwind
Kwick Eddie Krawiec didn't seem to have a chance to notch the 200 mph milestone on his belt, with a stiff and steady headwind fouling eliminatons at Gainesville. But Eddie came damn close in round 2, running 199.14 on a 6.76 pass to trailer Scotty Pollacheck. Eddie had a small 2-step button/shiftlight fire in the shutdown. His teammate Andrew Hines drove around LE Tonglet and Hector Arana Jr drove around Karen Stoffer.
"We were there, but unfortunately, the power of those V motors got us," said Stoffer. "It's going to be a tough year. The Suzuki count is dwindling. The V motors are getting more and more volume out there, and there's more of them, and a lot more R&D on them. They're coming out swinging this year. Our bat just wasn't as big as theirs. We gave it a good shot," Stoffer said. "We were right there with them. I don't think it had a low .80 or a high .70 like the V motors out there, but we definitely had a good performing Suzuki. We were 1 and 2 as the fastest Suzukis with L.E. Tonglet, and we're proud of that fact.
"I'm proud of the team putting this together and putting on a good show without any testing. We had no issues and kept tuning it and racing. Not exactly ecstatic, because we do usually do well. We have a challenging year in front of us, but we're ready to keep working at it and keep trying to get some more power out of these. We didn't have any motors to test with, so we had no testing. We came in here cold. Gary (Karen's husband and tuner) got to the tune-up real quick, though. It was a weird weekend here in Florida. We couldn't exactly use last year's data because the conditions were a little different. But Gary was able to get the bike tuned up really quick and get us in the seventh spot. Had we had some test sessions, who knows? Maybe it could've been better. But it got us in the top half of the ladder, so that's good for the GEICO team."
New NHRA starter Mark Lyle tired of Hector Sr and Matt Smith's round 2 staging duel and pulled them off the line, quite some time after Hector flickered the bulbs and backed out. They made short work of it second time around. Hector slowed on the big end and Matt will advance to face Krawiec (lane choice) in the semis.
"Something happened to the motor," Arana Sr. said. "It didn't perform like the run before. We're going to have to see what happened. There's definitely something wrong. We're going to find it, and we'll be ready for Houston. This is the nature of this business. Today, you're on top; tomorrow, you're not. But if you still want to be on top, you've just got to work. It's out there – you've just got to find it. We're going to keep going. That's what we want. I want my record back, and I want to win another championship. I have to stay focused. We don't always have to be the fastest bike. My focus point this year is on me now. (Son) Hector (Arana Jr) doing a helluva job on his own. I don't have to worry about him. But I've got to hurry up because if (son) Adam doesn't start this year, he definitely will next year, and I'll be in worse shape."
Hines will have lane choice over Hector Jr in the other match-up of an all-V-twin semifinal round.
Harleys hit the button in Round 1
Probably it's the high revving 4 valve heads that only the Harleys are allowed amongst the V-twins. Maybe it's the angle I was watching from. But Andrew Hines shot out like a rocket at 1000 feet against redlighting (-.006) John Hall, crossing the finishline nearly 11 mph faster than Hall's 2 valve, pushrod, S&S powered Buell. Eddie Krawiec crossed the line nearly 10 mph faster than Swede Ulf Ogge on the old Mohegan Sun Buell. Scotty Pollacheck won the first round for the new Star/Sovereign Racing team, trailering Steve Johnson, whose 2012 season is starting out about as badly as 2011. LE Tonglet drove around fellow Louisianan Jerry Savoie, as Jerry and tuner Mark Peiser learn what their new Buell wants in changing weather conditions on a cool, damp day. Louisianan Mike Phillips .003 light wasn't enough for him to get the win over Hector Arana Jr's Buell, while Hector Sr left Jimmy Underdahl's .188 light sitting ugly back at the tree. After nailing his tuner/bikelord Matt Smith at the tree, Joey Gladstone nosed over for—er, against—Matt Smith at mid track. And Karen Stoffer beat Shawn Gann.
Who’ll Survive The GATORS?!
story and photos by Tim Hailey
The NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle season starts this weekend with the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals presented by NAPAFilters.com at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, Florida—a track dear to the heart of every motorcycle drag racer and fan from the twice a year meetings that AMA/Prostar held there back in the day.
Eddie Krawiec at Indy last year
Eddie Krawiec returns as the defending NHRA Full Throttle world champ, his second for the Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle team. Krawiec won his second straight Gatornationals last year and went on to win a total of four races in seven final round appearances with three number one qualifiers in 2011. I might also add he fulfilled my prophecy to win the championship, though there were many times during the season I felt he was just trying to make me look bad . . .
Hot on Eddie’s heels at the Pomona finale was first year rider Hector Arana Jr. Hector rode his Lucas Oil Buell to three wins in five finals, including a win at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indy. He finished second in points, 90 behind Krawiec. Hector also walked away with the $20,000 Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award, which recognizes the top-performing rookie driver of the year, the second straight biker to do so after LE Tonlget won the award—and the championship—in 2010.
Hector Arana Jr.
Arana Jr. claims to have never heard of a sophomore jinx. “Until my media people told me, I didn't know about a sophomore slump,“ said Hector, who never ran a lap in competition on anything until NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle. “I finally have some experience underneath my belt. So my goal is to qualify at Gainesville, which I didn't last year, and go some rounds—just start strong from the very beginning.”
“Obviously it's exciting to go back to racing after the off-season,” said Krawiec. “You end up waiting around and thinking, just getting anxious, want to go back to racing. And having the opportunity to be able to defend a possibility of a third win at the season opener is a pretty cool thing. It's not many opportunities you get to go back-to-back, but to try to do it three times in a row is definitely something that I'd love to do. Anytime you can start off the season with a win, it's a good thing.
“When you carry that number one on the side of your bike you tend to be a victim of guys that are willing to take a risk a little more against you. In years past, obviously as we all know, the competition has gotten greater and greater and greater. The only way that you can have that opportunity to defend your championship is you’ve got to improve and get better as well as everybody else. That's my goal here. My goal is to be a better racer on Sundays. I struggled a little bit in the middle part of the year. I think I got over my slump. We made some tune-up changes in the motorcycle that helped it react better to the way that I'm on it. The end result is hopefully it leads to good reaction times and consistent ones at that. That's the key—being consistent. A raceday racer needs to be .020s and .030s, just be good on the tune-up. Hopefully that will get you a couple race wins.
Eddie Krawiec at Englishtown last year
“Maintenance and preparation is key. Every time you pull up to that waterbox or starting line, you need to make sure your bike starts and you go down that track. If that doesn't happen, you're giving away qualifying points as well as round-win points. With that being said, obviously that one point that you may not have the opportunity to get may be the straw that breaks the camel's back. It's just so important. Every single little point adds up in the end. For me, I really didn't have any unsuccessful runs last year. I did have one or two mishaps where a chain broke or I had an ignition failure. But every other time my motorcycle went down the track. To me that is one of the keys to the whole entire success of our year.
“Obviously we're always working on horsepower and trying to gain performance. That's something that we're never sleeping on. You got to always have that power. I think our main goal for Gainesville is going to be mostly trying to get a better percentage out of what we already had. We had strong bikes towards the last two races of the year. We changed our exhaust, which helped us, moved us in the right direction. But when we did that, it sort of shifted our powerband. We went from going 1.04, 1.05 60-foots to 1.07s. You can't compete with a 1.07 60-foot against a 1.02 or 1.03. We need to move back that direction and get our chassis working better. I think for this coming season, you're going to see hopefully our bikes working better off the starting line and being a little more consistent, and the end result hopefully netting some better ETs.”
Well we’ve seen that already this week in testing at Valdosta, where the Screamin’ Eagle team laid down the gauntlet. Right off the trailer in a stiff headwind, Andrew Hines ran 6.758 at 199.82 mph. Krawiec ran 6.77 at over 200! The records are 6.777 (Hector Arana) and 199.26 (Krawiec), both set last year in Gainesville and sure to fall this weekend if the weather cooperates, and so far it looks great.
Andrew Hines last year at Englishtown
After dominating the championship from 2004-2006, Hines has been prone to poor raceday performances. “I think he struggled a lot last year with the motorcycle tune-up,” Krawiec said about Hines. “He rode really well, had great reaction times. He lost a lot of races due to let's say inconsistency issues. If you notice, his bike was never really 60-footing. Really struggled on the tune-up side of it. To be honest, we don't know why. We've taken all the components off of his, put his on mine, just nets the same result. Kind of weird. But I think he is a serious contender at any given race and any given time. My honest opinion, Andrew is always on his game. As always, we all do falter every once in a while, we all do make mistakes. I've had them as well as everybody else in this class. If you're a racer that says you never made a mistake, you should be right towards the top. I would say there's maybe one or two people I would put on that podium. It's just a matter of making good, clean laps, running down the track, getting your focus back. When you have confidence in your equipment, you will be that much better. I think one of the things this year is we took his bike completely apart and redid it over the winter. I really expect to see it turn around and run well.”
In addition to Andrew and the Aranas, Eddie sweats every rider out there as a contender. “Anybody who qualifies!” laughed Krawiec. “There's a big list. You look at both Hectors. There's Matt Smith. Man, the list goes on, Karen Stoffer, L.E. Tonglet. I think the Suzukis are going to be a force to be reckoned with this year. They're going to pick up some power over the winter. We supply a lot of those guys with engines. We definitely didn't stay still on the Suzuki engine program. You're going to see some improvements this year with those guys. It's definitely going to make it for an interesting year.”
Vance & Hines’ Brownsburg neighbors across Northfield Drive—Jerry Savoie and the White Alligator Racing team—bought, stripped, and rebuilt John Hammock’s Buell over the winter. 53 year old Alligator farmer Savoie came back to racing last year after 30 years off, and qualified and raced well on Suzukis bought from Don Schumacher. His tuner Mark Peiser has spent his whole career on Suzukis, so is this equipment switch a distraction for a program that went from scratch to serious contender in the course of one season? “They have a great program over there,” said Krawiec. “I've heard reasons why they've switched, that they're going to be sort of working through both motorcycles as the year goes on. I think the goal needs to be focused on whatever works best for them. They're championship contention. Jerry is a great rider, he proved that last year. He was on the tree. He put me on the trailer two or three times. The end result of it is, it's whatever they feel makes their program successful is what they need to focus on. I'm sure Mark will do that.”
The WAR team had a best of 6.90 at 192 in Valdosta on the Buell. “Doesn’t look bad considering Matt went 6.88 and LE went 6.90,” Savoie said after only four passes on his and the team’s first V-twin. “We’ll probably start with the Buell in Gainesville and then decide (which bike to run). We know the Suzuki is stronger than last year, but we can’t go 6.75 198 or 6.77 200.8”
Krawiec and his teammate took a lot of ribbing last year (and every year) about the “exclusivity” that the V&H Harley program enjoys—basically running their own equipment under their own rules. No one was better at getting media attention for their jibes than Savoie and Peiser. “That's actually motivation,” said Krawiec, who saw more trash talking in one weekend of AMA/Prostar 600 Supersport than he sees in an entire season in the NHRA. “I've been around drag racing for a long time. I actually grew up around it. My earliest memories are going to the track at four years old with my dad. The motorcycle drag racing, when I came into it in the early to mid '90s, has a whole different view. It's a very close family that sticks together, unlike the standard racecar drivers. The motorcycle guys, they group together. But we all know when we pull onto that dragstrip, it's no holds barred. Whoever it is next to you, you want to whoop them, beat them. Nobody wants to go home the loser. I don't know one guy that pulls out of the shop and says, ‘I hope to go out first round, second round, lose in the final.’ That motivates me. Whenever people talk junk, I'm pretty consistent, I don't let anything get in my head. I stay with my routine. I try not to let anything out of the ordinary throw me off. Believe it or not, I switch up my routine quite often on what I do just for that whole spectrum of if a problem does arise, it won't throw me a curve ball (i.e. moving towards the waterbox at the US Nationals and realizing you forgot your gloves, remember that one Eddie?). I can handle myself in different situations. As years of experience come, I learn every single race I go to. By no means am I never not learning anything. If anybody says they're on par, know it all, so be it. There's always going to be that one curve ball that will throw you off. I always think the opposite way: let's look at it from a different perspective and see what I can take and learn out of it. Once you make a mistake, you can't make it again. My main goal pretty much all the time is, ‘Don't listen to what everybody else out there is telling you, just stay in your own element.’”
Hector Jr. is also not shy, and also got in a spat with the WAR team over the finals of the US Nationals. “I love to have fun,” said Arana, who’s trailer is without question THE party spot in the Full Throttle pits. “Every time I go down the track is a plus, that's why I'm so excited and so outspoken is 'cause I am enjoying every bit of it. I'm loving every bit of racing. I'm living my dream. I want everybody to understand how exciting this is for me, that way I can get the fans excited and riled up. They want to come watch the races more, watch it on TV. I just love it. I love just expressing all the moments and everything that feels that way to help the fans enjoy the sport.”
Arana, whose father is from Puerto Rico, also addressed the diversity (both ethnic and mechanical) that characterizes the NHRA and the PSM class in particular. “Everybody is equal in the NHRA. They're all able to have the same equipment. Everybody can have whatever they want (oh oh, I bet Savoie, George Bryce and many others have a thing or two to say about that). They have the option to run the different categories, the different classes, the different makes and models, whichever one they choose, that's what they can run. That's a big reason why NHRA is so good. Also just anybody who has the drive, the will to win, can race NHRA. I mean, there's women, guys, different races—that just brings everybody in to watch NHRA. They don't just go and sit in the stands and watch the races. They're able to come in the pits, watch us work, talk to us, see how everything is going. They get to see the effort, the thrashing, all of the emotions going into this, the smells. All that comes together with NHRA. That I think is what makes it such a great spectator sport.”
“I think one of the ways to sum it up, which Hector did pretty good, is 'fast family fun,’” added Krawiec. “That was one of our slogans at my home track (Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New jersey). It's a gathering of families and individuals. It's not just a sport that a man can be competitive, a woman can be competitive. Whether you're black, Hispanic, anything, any race, it's a cool thing. I'm glad. We have a whole culture that sort of comes together and acts as one. Everybody at the dragstrip that particular day, yes, they may be from different races, they may be different backgrounds, but they all have one thing in common, and that's drag racing.”
“You know, this class is extremely close,” said Arana. “We have three different makes. The Suzukis can win a race, the Buells, and the Harleys. You can't take any of the guys lightly. The No. 16 qualifier can win a race. Our fields are getting tighter and tighter, everybody is getting more consistent. I just think that the different powers of the bikes, they're in different RPMs, powerbands. Some have torque, where some don't have as much. Between the weight, NHRA is doing a great job of evening that out. I think it has made our class really close and tight.”
George Bryce back in the Rush Racing days
Campaigning two Buells, and returning to the NHRA for his first full season since a lackluster reunion with Angelle Sampey a few years ago, is six time champion tuner George Bryce. Bryce and his Star Racing have partnered with the 2011 UEM European Pro Stock Motorcycle championship team, Sovereign Racing— named after team owner Jeno Rujp’s European sugar distribution company.
With no big sponsors, Bryce stirred up a lot of chatter when he posted the requirements to ride either of the two Buells. They boiled down to weight (under 155 pounds), proven ability (at Bryce’s Pro Stock Motorcycle drag racing school), no family tag-alongs, no excuses, and—most importantly—5 grand per race. That’s $80k for the entire season.
AHDRA Pro Stock racer Scotty Pollacheck
Fitting the bill were former AMA/Prostar Supersport and Real Street racer John Hall and AHDRA Pro Stock racer Scotty Pollacheck. “It’s tough to get all that time off traveling to all the races, and it’s a lot of money to spend,” said Pollacheck, who has entered four NHRA events previously and qualified once.
AMA/Prostar Supersport and Real Street racer John Hall
“It was a no-brainer,” Hall said about getting his feet wet at the NHRA with Sovereign/Star. “I had never ridden a Pro Stock bike before going to the school, and, I think, George and Star Racing test you more than anybody—and that’s something that I needed. It’s a great group of people from the top to the bottom, from the shop to the track and everywhere in between. I think I’m a good fit and that we’re gonna have a great time.”
“The plans for us for 2012 is to make engine improvements, find more horsepower, do research and development, do dyno testing and track testing, develop the drivers to drive better and the engines to make more power,” said Bryce, though the team didn’t show up this week down the road from their Americus shop at the test in Valdosta.
That was the test session dominated by Bryce’s nemesis—Vance & Hines. George was immediately posting his thoughts on Facebook: “VHR and HD just ran 6.7s with both bikes today at OVER 200.00 MPH!!!! Good job BOYS!!!!! Lets see how fast the rest of us could go..if NHRA and VHR would let anyone have a VROD or a 160 cubic inch double overhead cam engine with 4 valves per cylinder....Try it with pushrods and 2 valves per cylinder...like the rest of us have to run.....Try it after you sell over 60 engines to all other racers and let them work on them..see how fast your customers can go..”
And further: “NEW NHRA RULE!!!! GREG ANDERSON and KB Racing is the only team that can run overhead cams and 4 valves per cylinder in Pro Stock..500 inches...all other teams MUST run 2 valves and long push rods...see if that would fly...yeah right!!!!!! AND...KB does not have to sell these to anyone..BUT ALL other teams must use ONLY available parts.”
Back in the G2 days, the other George in that equation—George Smith of S&S—used to seethe at the attention that Bryce used to get from the media. But Bryce was an NHRA supporter back in those days, not the vocal agitator of today. It will be interesting to see if the TV show focuses its lenses and microphones on Bryce this year as they have in the past.
Two time champ Krawiec at Etown last year
Krawiec, obviously, will get his share of well-deserved TV time. “I'm pretty excited (about this weekend) and really looking forward to it,” said Eddie. “To be honest, I feel 2009, the year I lost my championship to Hector Sr, that year for me was my championship year. I went to a total of eight final rounds in a row, 10 that year, won five, really was on fire, in my opinion. Hector Sr. was just on top of his game that much more and got the championship by two points when it was all said and done. But last year was the icing on the cake. It's nice to see that you're a one-time champion, but it's even better to say a two-time. When you're a two-time champion, nobody can turn around and say you didn't earn it. You don't fall into championships, they're usually earned. I feel I earned this one. It was a great battle all the way to the end. There's nothing better than the rider having to do his or her job on Sunday in order to get the win. I don't want to have a dominant bike that shreds everybody. I want it to be close and at the end of the weekend you look back and say we got that win because we as a team were successful.”
The lanes are full, there is only one Wally. The Gators are ON!