NHRA Full Throttle Mac Tools US Nationals, Lucas Oil Raceway Park, August 31-September 3, 2012

Hines Finally Snags Indy Win

story, photos and video by Tim Hailey

 

Already smoking while staging, Arana's bike never pulled like it should as Hines drove away. Bike Photos

Andrew Hines fulfilled my Saturday prophecy and earned his first Indy victory by outrunning Hector Arana Sr. in the final round of the rain-delayed Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Auto-Plus at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. Number 1 qualifier Hines rode his Screamin’ Eagle Vance&Hines Harley-Davidson to a 6.937 at 191.70 lap to take the easy win as Arana’s Lucas Oil Buell was sluggish the whole way and blew in a cloud of smoke at about 1000 feet. "It hurt the motor," said Arana Sr., who won this race in 2009. "I looked in the throttle body, and I can see the valve and part of the piston shoved inside the head to the throttle body. Let's hope it didn't ruin the injectors. It's not good."

It was Hines’ fourth win of the season and 29th of his career. He used a string of consistently low 6.90-second runs to defeat Dawn Minturn (making her first PSM start ever) and Karen Stoffer in the first two rounds. "The GEICO Suzuki is still the fastest Suzuki, but that's not what it's about," Stoffer said. "I think I'm going to petition NHRA and say, 'Hey, we need to have two trophies at the end of the year. One for the top four who are always in the semifinals and finals and one for the rest of the class who are actually racing each other.'"

Hines beat Hector Arana Jr. in the semi. Arana Jr., who scored his first career victory at Lucas Oil Raceway last year, left first on all three opponents Sunday. In the first round, he had a .007-second reaction time against Mike Berry, and then outran him with a pass of 6.935 seconds at 192.44 mph. Arana Jr. had a .014 light against L.E. Tonglet in a battle of the past two U.S. Nationals champions in the second round. H2 then pulled away with a pass of 6.981 seconds at 192.25 mph for the victory.

H2 suits up for the semis. Candid Photos

In the semifinals, Arana Jr. had the edge on Hines at the tree (.026 to .038) but it wasn't enough to overcome Hines' run of 6.914 seconds at 193.10 mph. Arana's pass was 6.947 seconds at 192.93 mph.

"All those runs, I popped the clutch and never saw those guys, even against Andrew," said H2. "I went up there, I felt no pressure, I was amped up, and I was ready to play. I was ready to go have fun and win a race." But alas....

"We tuned the bike every round, every round's tune-up was different," said Hines, when questioned about tuning on a when the weather was nearly as consistent as his passes. “This is really satisfying, Minus one year, I’ve raced every year on a Harley. And for us to struggle like we’ve done here, with inconsistency in tuning and riding, and every scenario possible going against us, like last year when my transmission locked up after the first round burnout, to finally get the Indy win and stand in the U.S. Nationals winner’s circle is something I can look back on years from now. I had found the winner’s circle four times here with the Pro Bike battle, and to actually stand there with the U.S. Nationals trophy means the world to me.”

Hines and son Declan soak in the adoration of the Indy fans. Candid Photos

Hines was without the services of logtime tuner Scott Sceurman, who had a family funeral to attend. But the V&H team was also missing Terry Vance, who was celebrating his wedding anniversary...Since this is the V&H Harley's first U.S. Nationals win, might Terry not be invited back next year??

Arana Sr.'s day started with a .007 light and a low-ET-of-the-round 6.904 seconds at 192.88 mph in a dominant victory over Jim Underdahl. H1 then had a .035 light against Shawn Gann before outrunning him with a pass of 6.951 seconds at 192.41 mph.

That set up a semifinal matchup against Eddie Krawiec, the winner of six races this season and who has ended two prior events for Arana Sr.this year—including in the finals at Englishtown. Krawiec is also the rider who joked that he was Achilles who killed two Hectors. This time, though, Achilles was cut down. Krawiec left early, handing Arana Sr. the round win. "That was a sweet one," Arana Sr. said. "That was great. I was waiting for that one. I told Eddie, 'See, the Achilles also has weak moments, too.' That was sweet."

But Arana Sr. also noticed the engine in his Buell may have been hurt, and he wanted to change it before the final. "I asked NHRA if we could have a little bit extra time," Arana Sr. said. "My gut feeling was, 'Hey, we need to swap this engine.' But they said no, there's no time. All the hurrying, and then you sit out there (in the staging lanes) for another 25 minutes. We could've probably swapped the engine and not have this extensive damage that I have now."

Hector Sr. suits up for the final, knowing he's bringing a wounded bullet to the fight. Candid Photos

Arana Sr. ended up fourth right behind his boy in the Pro Stock Motorcycle regular-season points standings, as the Countdown to the Championship starts next weekend at Charlotte. "We've already started working on making more power," Arana Jr. said. "We're pulling the heads off the motor and sending them to Larry (Morgan), and we're going to go home and completely go through this motor. We're going to try to squeeze everything we can out of this motor and hopefully get a championship." Arana Sr.'s motor, remember, was squeezed a bit too hard in the final.

With Hines' win, the Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team claimed victories in all 10 regular season events this season (12 stretching back to last) and Hines' teammate Eddie Krawiec locked up the top seed for the Countdown. Michael Ray, Shawn Gann and Matt Smith claimed the final three playoff positions in the PSM top 10.

Byron was in the house, keeping the team straight and the tuning consistent. Candid Photos

“We remained undefeated in the regular season, so Eddie and I intend to extend our streak,” Hines said, and few in the pits who assume a Harley rules advantage doubt it. “Charlotte and Dallas are two tracks that I’ve never won at, so those are the last two on my list there."

The Countdown points are now reset, with Krawiec now 30 head of Hines. "We’ve got six races to go, and luckily my motorcycle finally turned the corner and we could have fun with it and tune it.”

Mariah Carlisle and Annemarie Krawiec love the camera, Kayden—not so much. Candid Photos

Mike Castellana (far lane) and Brad Brand both hike the wheels in the final. Car Photos

Bad Brad Brand raced to the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by ProCare Rx victory Sunday from the No. 16 qualifying position.

Brand defeated top qualifier Don Walsh with a powerful run in his 1953 Corvette in the opening round and never looked back as he took his first career victory at the rain-delayed event at historic Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.

After upsetting the No. 1 qualifier, Brand claimed victories over Steve Matusek and Rickie Smith before outrunning Mike Castellana in the final round. Brand raced to a final round performance of 5.914 seconds at 251.63 mph to get the win. Castellana’s Al-Anabi/Western Beef Chevy Camaro rattled the tires at the hit, veered towards the wall and shut it off.

Castellana also shook the tires badly in the semi, but opponent Troy Coughlin redlit. "I think I just got too deep in the first light, and when I went into the second light under power, it just went a little bit further and enough to create it to go red when I let go of the button," Coughlin said. "It was pretty close."

With the runner-up finish, Castellana moved four points ahead of Smith in the season points standings.


Spencer Massey (near lane) and Tony Schumacher disappear in a cloud of clutch dust. Car Photos

Tony Schumacher raced to a record ninth U.S. Nationals Top Fuel victory. Schumacher moved past “Big Daddy” Don Garlits for most Indy Top Fuel wins and into a tie with Pro Stock great Bob Glidden for most pro category wins at the world’s most prestigious drag race. In the final round, Schumacher powered his U.S. Army dragster to a 3.806 at 315.34 to hold off Spencer Massey, who trailed with a 3.828 at 319.37 in his FRAM/Prestone car.

“It may be sweeter [than the first Indy win],” said Schumacher of his second victory of the season and 69th of his career. “Anymore, it’s more difficult to win a race, by far, than it has probably ever been. The top seven cars are all so close that it’s pretty gratifying.There was a time where we were a tenth ahead of everybody and just needed to not make any mistakes." The Alan Johnson days, perhaps?"

Schumacher beat Hillary Will, Morgan Lucas and top qualifier Shawn Langdon in early rounds to advance to his 11th career U.S. Nationals final round. “To have a chance to win a ninth against my teammate, who was running as good if not better and had lane choice made it a perfect moment,” Schumacher said. “I didn’t feel like I was stellar on the lights, but I left on everybody, Mike Green [crew chief] made the car run fast, and we got the trophy.”

Another Don Schumacher Racing driver, Antron Brown, secured the top seed in the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship and Bob Vandergriff Jr. held off Clay Millican and Khalid alBalooshi for the 10th and final playoff spot in Top Fuel.

Mike Neff (far lane) and Tim Wilkerson. Car Photos

In Funny Car, Mike Neff raced to his second consecutive victory at this event, holding off hard-charging Tim Wilkerson in the final round. Neff took his third win of the season and ninth of his career by powering his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to a final-round performance of 4.079 at 311.05 to finish in front of Wilkerson’s Levi Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang, which finished in 4.152 at 286.13. “Tim Wilkerson left on me, and I caught a glimpse of him out of my peripheral at 300-400 feet,” Neff said. “When you can see someone in a Funny Car, they’re ahead of you. Just when I saw him poke his nose out there, I could see him mixing cylinders. He started going back the other way, and I knew the finish line was coming. I couldn’t have pushed any harder on that gas pedal. I didn’t even know we won when we crossed the finishline. I was asking, ‘Did we get him?” on the radio and didn’t hear anything, so I thought, ‘Crap. We must’ve got beat.’ As they’re pushing me off, the guy at the very end was clapping and pointing toward the TV cameras. I knew it was close and didn’t know if I got there first, so there was a lot of emotion going on there."

The win keeps John Force Racing’s domination going at Indy, as it is the fifth time a JFR car has won this event. "This is the U.S. Nationals, and there’s something about it," said Neff, who outran Tony Pedregon and defending world champ Matt Hagan, and benefitted when Todd Lesenko no-showed in round 2 after his big E1 explosion. "You know there’s a lot more at stake. You try to tell yourself that it’s just another race, but it’s not. You can’t deny that. It’s amazing to me how close everything was to what I went through last year. I didn’t qualify real well last year but felt like we were pretty close. I remember getting up on Monday morning last year just not feeling very good. I was talking to my brother last year, saying, ‘I dunno. We’re really going to have to pull something out of a hat here to do something today.’ We were able to do it both times.”

Wilkerson’s runner-up finish elevated him to 10th in the final regular season points and into the Countdown playoffs, along with Jeff Arend, who secured the ninth spot. Defending world champ Matt Hagan just missed making the playoffs as he lost in the semifinals to Neff. Ron Capps earned the top seed in the playoffs in Funny Car.

Dave Connolly (near lane) get sthe jump on Erica Enders. Car Photos

Dave Connolly used a reaction time advantage to edge teammate Erica Enders in the Pro Stock final round. Enders’ full-time crew chief covered the distance in 6.589 at 210.05 in his IDG Chevy Cobalt to finish just in front of Enders, who posted a quicker but losing 6.580 at 210.31 in her GK Motorsports Chevy Cobalt. “It was definitely bittersweet in the final, to run Erica,” Connolly said. “I hope she wins the next six finals, but this was the U.S. Nationals, and there was no laying over. We just somehow, and don’t ask me how, we managed to win. We were making pretty ugly runs, and her car was like a bracket car. Our car was not picture perfect by any means, but I’m not giving the trophy back.”

It was Connolly’s third U.S. Nationals win and the 23rd of his career. The former perennial world championship challenger who is Enders’ full-time tuner is running a limited schedule this season in a second Victor Cagnazzi-owned machine. Enders, who has won three races this season, was trying to become only the fourth female driver to win the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in the Full Throttle Series.

“I was swinging for the fence because I knew I didn’t stand a chance,” said Connolly, who beat Mike Edwards, Ron Krisher and Vincent Nobile in earlier rounds. “She drives incredibly consistent; she’s hard to rattle. She had a .026 [reaction] in the final and that should have been enough for sure. I can’t explain what happened to her. I feel for her. You know, like I said, there was no reason why she shouldn’t have run a 6.55 again and turned on the winlight.”....said....her tuner....

Allen Johnson captured the top seed in Pro Stock for the Countdown playoffs and the final three Pro Stock playoff positions were claimed by V. Gaines, Larry Morgan and four-time world champ Jeg Coughlin.

NHRA’s six-race playoffs, the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship, opens Sept. 14-16 with the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries at zMAX Dragway near Charlotte, N.C.

RESULTS

EARLIER: Hectors & Harleys again at Indy

Lean wit it Rock wit it...Hector Sr. (near lane) dips his shoulder and outruns Shawn Gann. Bike Photos

Pollacheck either nailed a monster holeshot on Krawiec or lit the redeye...it's the latter. Bike Photos

As it was with Pollacheck, so it is with Stoffer, against Hines, who will have lane choice against Arana Jr.

H2 took out LE. Bike Photos

Arana runs Low ET of Round 1

Jimmy Underdahl will not want to see this photo of him watching Hector Arana Sr. run low ET of E1 at Indy

Scotty Pollacheck (far lane) chucks Sovereign/Star teammate John Hall out of the Countdown with this E1 win

Despite losing this E1 race to LE Tonglet (near lane), Matt Smith still made the Countdown. Bike Photos

It IS happening, especially for Hines

Andrew Hines, shown in near lane against teammate Eddie Krawiec, has it all going his way this weekend

Last week, I really thought Sovereign/Star Racing's John Hall was gonna extend Andrew Hine's U.S. Nationals curse. But that match-up got rained out, and another weekend of Andrew qualifying on top changes everything. He qualified #1 with a 6.861 at 194.86 mph. Andrew has this event well in hand, and like he pointed out "This race is on Sunday." Maybe Hines just doesn't like Mondays?

“This has been one track that has been a nemesis to us,” Hines said. “We’ve had a great history here with the bonus events, the best that Pro Stock bike has had. But unfortunately we’ve never been able to find the winner’s circle here at Indy. So that’s our goal here. Our V-Rod is running very strong, and I made one of our best runs in that last session to get the No. 1 spot back. My goal was to come here and be No. 1 and win that Wally on the last day. Luckily, [my brother] Matt [crew chief] has given me the motorcycle to do it, and I think my dad [Byron, team owner] had an ear-to-ear grin on the starting line for that run, and it’s been amazing what our team has done all year long.”

Hines faces Dawn Minturn first thing tomorrow, after Steve Johnson bumped Mike Phillips off of the #16 spot.

Steve Johnson bumped Michael Phillips out of the field. Bike Photos

Hustlin' Hector Sr. is second with a 6.88 and faces Jimmy Underdahl. Bike Photos

Lucas Oil Buell rider Hector Arana Sr. extended his personal qualifying streak Saturday by grabbing the No. 2 position with a run of 6.881 seconds at 193.63 mph in the final session. Arana Sr. has qualified fourth or better in 16 consecutive races, the equivalent of a full Pro Stock Motorcycle season. H1 has qualified first or second in eight of the 10 Pro Stock Motorcycle races this season.

"I am happy we're No. 2," Arana Sr. said. "We're working hard over here. We're going to keep staying focused. I need to change how I see things, how I think about what to do. I need to start focusing on winning runs and going to the finals. It's time."

Arana Sr. is a past U.S. Nationals champion, having won "the Big Go" in 2009, when he also won the Pro Stock Motorcycle championship. He made improvement with every qualifying pass at Indy, including last weekend's sessions before rain postponed the race. He went 6.992 seconds at 191.46 mph in Q1, 6.950 at 192.11 mph in Q2 and 6.910 at 195.11 mph in the third session Saturday before going even quicker in Q4.

"We've had some electrical issues on this bike part of the year that put me behind the 8-ball," Arana Sr. said. "Now, I'm catching up. I can see what the bike wants. I can see when I make a change, it's responding. I'm heading the right direction in tuning this thing now."

Eddie Krawiec jumped from 7th to 1st in Q4 before getting dropped to third by Hines and Arana Sr. Bike Photos

Hector Jr. (6.897) has Mike Berry in round 1. Bike Photos

Hector Arana Jr. begins his U.S. Nationals title defense from the No. 4 position. Arana Jr. moved up to that spot with a pass of 6.897 seconds at 193.98 mph in the final session. The reigning rookie of the year has qualified fourth or better in 15 straight races, though his streak of 14 in a row efforts of third or better came to a close.

"We made some good adjustments," Arana Jr. said of Q4. "The bike reacted to it well, and we picked up. It was a good, decent run. I wish it could've been a little better so we could still have that streak going, but you can't worry about those things. You've got to go out there and get qualified well so you can be in the front half of the ladder for race day."

Arana Jr. faces Mike Berry in the first round of eliminations Sunday after Berry qualified No. 13 with a run of 7.014 seconds at 189.55 mph. "The most important part is me and my dad are on opposite sides of the ladder," Arana Jr. said. "We have a chance to battle each other in the finals. I'll go out there just like qualifying. I'll get in the zone, get relaxed and try to go out there and do my thing."

Karen Stoffer. Bike Photos

Karen Stoffer qualified No. 8 with a pass of 6.941 seconds at 192.19 mph, but her three other qualifying passes - including two last weekend - were within six-hundredths of a second. "It's a bracket bike," Stoffer said. "Today, we qualified eighth, and normally our spot is five or six. We're still the fastest Suzuki, and were sitting in the No. 8 spot, so what does that tell you? The other Buells are finally figuring out what the Aranas were doing before.

"It's definitely going to be a challenging season because we're maxed out. We're consistently doing well on our GEICO Suzuki, but the way the rules are, we just don't have enough to out-power those big V-motors on the other side."

Stoffer will face Chip Ellis in the first round of eliminations Sunday. Ellis qualified No. 9 with a pass of 6.971 seconds at 190.06 mph. She's won at least one round in eight of the nine races this season, but this one's a toss-up. "He's a good friend, and we're going to put on a good show," Stoffer said about Ellis. "He's on one of those big V-motors, too. We'll make the best of it tomorrow, have fun, and out-race him."

Not exactly one of the better looking Pro Mods, but Don Walsh's Mustang is #1. Car Photos

Don Walsh raced to his first career Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by ProCare Rx No. 1 qualifying position.

Walsh took the top spot with a performance of 5.854 seconds at 252.52 mph in his Walsh Precision Turbo Ford Mustang. The winner of the tour's most recent event in Norwalk, Ohio, Walsh will face Brad Brand in Sunday's first round of eliminations at the world's most prestigious drag race as he goes for his second win of the season and third consecutive final round.

The most notable first round pairing 2011 Indy runner-up Mike "Here's the Beef" Casetllana vs. teammate Shannon "Iceman" Jenkins.

Courtney Force raced to her first career No. 1 qualifying position. The 24-year-old rookie Funny Car driver powered her Traxxas Ford Mustang to a career-best performance of 4.049 seconds at a track record speed of 317.27 mph to take the top spot. She will face Jon Capps in the opening round of eliminations as she seeks her second win of the season and tries to win the world's most prestigious drag race.

“I wanted to take that No. 1 spot," Force said. "It’s Indy; it’s the biggest race of the season. It’s definitely a big deal. I’m so excited to say that I’ve gotten that. We just clinched a spot in the Countdown, and that’s a huge deal. It’s my rookie season, and I didn’t know exactly what to expect. If someone would’ve told me that I’d have a spot in the Countdown and qualified No. 1 for Indy, I don’t know if I would’ve believed them. This season is going better than I could’ve asked for it to be because I have a great team behind me."

Shawn Langdon claimed his second No. 1 effort of the season and third of his career by posting the fourth-quickest run in Top Fuel history near the end of the final qualifying session. Langdon covered the distance in 3.740 at 326.48 in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster and will meet Scott Palmer in the first round.

“We’ve been working on it all year, and we have a great group of guys who work on the car and understand that Alan [Johnson, team manager and tuner] will get it figured out,” Langdon said. “It’s starting to pay off now. We’re making some good runs.

“Winning here would be a great place to start. We’ve talked about trying to win a race before the Countdown just to get over that hill, and this is obviously the biggest race of the year. To get a win here would not only build confidence, but also set us on the right foot going into Charlotte for the start of the Countdown.”

In Pro Stock, Erica Enders claimed her second No. 1 of the season and fifth of her career with a 6.550 at 210.80 in her GK Motorsports Chevy Cobalt. She will race two-time Indy winner Kurt Johnson in the opening round as she goes for her fourth victory of the season.

“I know that this is the biggest and most prestigious race of the year, and it’s definitely got a lot of added pressure, but my team and I have kind of kept our mindsets the same, and the fact that we’ve got to continue to be consistent, carry the momentum, qualify smart and race smart on Sunday because it’s getting to be really, really important,” Enders said. “I’m really optimistic and excited about what’s going on with our team and on the race track. We’ve got a lot of good things in the works. This is something that we’ve been working so hard on for several years, and it’s finally coming together. I’m so proud of my guys.”

Several drivers qualified for the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship playoffs during today’s qualifying, including Funny Car drivers John Force and Cruz Pedregon, Pro Stock driver Ron Krisher and Pro Stock Motorcycle riders Scotty Pollacheck and LE Tonglet.

Several teams will be battling to qualify for the Countdown playoffs on Sunday, as Bob Vandergriff, Clay Millican and Khalid alBalooshi will be racing for the final spot in Top Fuel; Jeff Arend, Bob Tasca, Tim Wilkerson and Matt Hagan are competing for the final two spots in Funny Car; V. Gaines, Larry Morgan and Jeg Coughlin are racing for the final two spots in Pro Stock; and Michael Ray, Matt Smith, Shawn Gann, Steve Johnson and John Hall are in contention for the final three playoff spots in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Is this really gonna happen? Back at it at Indy

 

Sovereign/Star Racing's Ken "Big" Johnson speaks passionately about working on their two S&S Buells

Go back Jack, do it again...here we are back at Indy, underway for the 58th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Auto-Plus at Lucas Oil Raceway but delayed yet again by very heavy weather that blew through last night. But we will not be deterred!

“Basically, Hurricane Isaac wrecked our show,” Star Racing owner George Bryce said earlier this week. “We had both drivers qualified and now one (John Hall) is not. So in that sense, it’s not good for our team. Scotty (Pollacheck) is qualified, but he won’t necessarily hold onto the fifth spot. With John, we’d been thinking before the rain that if we could get just one more run in then we could get him off of the 16th spot. So, those are our goals: for Scotty to hold onto No. 5 and for John to move up some in qualifying.”

Bryce also had to time to talk about the V&H V-Rods and what he believes is a bolt-on governor that they are running. See the video below:

 

Bryce feels like his nearly 4 year long war against the Harleys' 4 valve head advantage is finally getting somewhere. "Graham Light (NHRA's director of competition) was told to fix it," Bryce told me. He aslo went on to say that talsk have begun with Eric Buell regarding making his 4 valve, overhead cam, V-twin 1190RS as the basis of an NHRA legal model.

GEICO Suzuki rider Karen Stoffer is tentatively set in the No. 6 position. "I think some things are going to change up," Stoffer said. "We hope that we can do that. We're not testing. I know some teams are testing, but we don't have a heck of a lot to test. We've got good motors, and we are the fastest Suzuki. We feel like we can continue to perform that way this weekend. We'll just unload everything and pretend like it's a brand-new race."

While Stoffer had to return home after rain washed out eliminations Monday, the GEICO hauler remained at Lucas Oil Raceway. "We had to fly home in between and do some things so it's going to be a little bit more hectic for us," Stoffer said. "But it's going to be interesting. We'll have two hits on Saturday to get it dialed in and ready for the race on Sunday."

Weather conditions should be different this weekend for Pro Stock Motorcycle competitors, with only a slight chance for rain on Saturday and highs in the low-to-mid-70s both days. The class gets two qualifying passes on Saturday before the field is set for Sunday's eliminations. "It's going to be a whole different weekend," Stoffer said. "We're going to have two hits. It's kind of like a do-over."

Indeed, it could be track record time for the bikes in the cool, clear weather. But it could be stressful for many. “It’s kinda like being a kid and somebody gave you this big piece of candy and then they take it away and say you can’t have it until tomorrow night after dinner; not tonight like we first told you,” said Antron Brown, the defending Top Fuel winner. “The weather is looking really good, mid-70s, so we’re looking for some fast times and it gets you excited about that, but right now you are bummed because you are just sitting here waiting for it to happen.”

Spencer Massey (Top Fuel), Courtney Force (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) will be the qualifying leaders. It will be televised by ESPN2HD on Sunday with five hours of coverage beginning at 3 p.m. (ET).

Force, who led Funny Car in the first three qualifying sessions last weekend with a performance of 4.049 seconds at a track record speed of 317.27 mph in her Traxxas Ford Mustang, is eager to return and try to solidify her first career No. 1 qualifying position.

“It is delayed a week but it is still the Indy race, The Big Go,” the 24-year-old Force said. “The Mac Tools U.S. Nationals is obviously the biggest race of the season and it really sets the mood for the Countdown to the Championship. Everyone is really trying to lock in. It doesn’t matter if it is this weekend or next, everyone is going to be fighting out there to get that spot.

“You’re ready to race and you are so excited since you are at the U.S. Nationals getting qualified and being in the No. 1 spot and then it all just kinda fades away. You look at it and you go I have to come out and do it all again,” Force continued. “It is tough to get a No. 1 spot and it will roll over but anyone can come out here and run better than a 4.04. You’ve got to be ready and you really have to get back in the fight mode.”

Massey, who already won the $100,000 NHRA Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Top Fuel, will now try to keep his hot Indy run going in his Prestone/FRAM dragster, and will work on claiming the top qualifying position and race victory. “Coming off the NHRA Traxxas Top Fuel Shootout win and being the (qualifying leader) we obviously wanted to come out there Monday and to get the race day going because we had some momentum going,” Massey said. “We still do, it’s just now we have to have a week off in between to keep it going. Now we are going to have two more runs, which is good and bad because it is a chance for other guys to knock us off the No. 1 spot, but also a chance for us to get two more runs of data and to keep going.”

Several Countdown-eligible drivers who failed to qualify for their respective fields last weekend will now get a much-needed second chance. Those drivers include Steve Johnson in Pro Stock Motorcycle, Terry McMillen in Top Fuel, Larry Morgan in Pro Stock, and two past event champions in Funny Car – Robert Hight (2006, 2008) and Cruz Pedregon (1992, 1994, 1995).

“We have new life, the weather put us in this predicament and the weather kinda got us out of it,” Pedregon said. “We are going to take advantage of it. The Snap-on Tools Toyota was off the first three runs, but the schedule was for five runs and we are going to make our best, be smart, get into the field and race like we are capable of doing and we could win this race.”

Savoie still on the WARpath...but in a couple weeks

story by Jerry Savoie, photos by Tim Hailey

White Alligator Racing's Jerry Savoie has had a lot of responsibilities on his plate lately. Candid Photos

Hello Everyone,

Last weekend there was a story about me that was on NHRA’s website titled “Where’s Jerry”, and I feel compelled to respond.

Although we were not in Brainerd due to medical reasons, we had all intentions of being at the race in INDY. But, no one knew that a tropical storm/hurricane would develop and come on shore right in my backyard. In the story, statements were made that they went to L.E.’s camp, Michael Phillip’s camp and to Redell Harris’ camp, all Louisiana boys, while they were in INDY, and they all stated that there were no problems where they lived. I am very happy to hear that their homes sustained no damage and life went on as usual for them. But for me, I live 100 miles from them near the coast and my home and business faced the worst of the storm, the center.

Luckily my home had no damage but we have several uprooted trees in our yard and lost power, cable, phones and internet for 6 days. My business on the other hand sustained physical damage and several employees evacuated for the storm and could not get back. I thought I would be left with the tough decision of staying and taking care of my family, home and business or leaving them behind to head to INDY, but mother-nature decided for me. The airport finally opened at 10:30 pm on Thursday evening, and I had a Friday morning flight, but the only roads leaving my home that would take me to the airport were closed due to downed power lines and trees blocking them. Just as well, as I knew I really needed to stay home and take care of my family and my animals (over 100,000 alligators). Please know that I was excited about racing in INDY this year and believe me, I feel the void of not having been there.

Well, there’s always this weekend you may say. But for me, not true. Anyone that knows me knows that I am all about family and friends, and my son Gerald harvested a really large deer at our ranch in Mexico in December 2011 and I entered him in two of the largest deer contests in the United States. Ironically, he placed first in both contests and one of the award ceremonies is in Laredo, TX this weekend. Again, I was faced with the tough decision of should I stay or should I go. I think about my fans and competitors whom I have grown close to that I will miss by not being there, and everyone should know that my competitive spirit really wants to be there as I truly love racing, but my son must come first. I want to be there when he is presented with his prestigious awards. I certainly hope that everyone understands and will continue to support us whether we are racing or not as I will not be in Charlotte the following weekend as his second award ceremony is taking place then in San Antonio, TX. See you in Dallas!!!!!!

Gerald “Jerry” Savoie

Team WAR

Saturday was not bad, Sunday's not good at all

story and photos by Tim Hailey

Persistent rains forced the NHRA to cancel the final two qualifying sessions for the Mac Tools U. S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis on Sunday. The fields for all the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series categories—Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle -- have been set by the qualifying sessions that took place on Friday and Saturday.

Andrew Hines and his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson recorded his second top Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying position of the season and the 32nd of his career with his 6.928 second pass at 187.63 mph on Friday night. This is his the second time in a row and fourth time of his career to qualify in the top position at Lucas Oil Raceway but he has yet to win this prestigious event. "It's not the way we wanted it to happen because we'd have loved to have all five qualifiers," said Hines. "But we expect our team to come out strong each weekend, and we'd like to turn my fortune around here and do great tomorrow and earn my first win at Indy and the first for Harley-Davidson."

John Hall's boots are made for walking out of round 1. Candid Photos

Hines faces Connecticut Prostar standout John Hall in round 1 and Eatmyink does not think it's going out on a limb by calling this one an upset in favor of #16 qualifier Hall. John and his Star/Sovreign Buell did not get a clean run in the two qualifying sessions. They will in eliminations. Andrew's Indy misfortune will continue. Call your bookie.

Eddie Krawiec, shown here actually giving advice to Larry Dixon, will easily see round 2. Candid Photos

Hines' teammate Eddie Krawiec will face Kieth Burley in the first round. Burley and this strange marketing decision by Triumph will fall to Krawiec.

Michael Ray will take H2 out early. Bike Photos

Hector Arana Jr. will battle Michael Ray. Once again, I'm calling for an upset. Ray only made one pass and he admits to putting the Gruene/Javelina Harley Buell on the rev limiter. Neither Mark Conner nor Michael's dad Paul will allow that to happen again. Something, I don't know what, will screw up H2's run and Ray will advance.

Dawn Minturn, seen here slumming with Paul Ray, did a great job qualifying. Candid Photos

Hector Arana Sr. will face Dawn Minturn. Sweet as she is, Dawn will not win this one.

Angie Smith has Matt's bike set on "Kill" Candid Photos

Matt Smith faces Shawn Gann, and it's Matt's turn to drink out of Gann's milk carton.

LE Tonglet's diet (or lack there of) might be enough to swing his round 1 race with Scott Pollacheck.

Scott Pollacheck vs. LE Tonglet? Too close to call. LE's computer blew a fuse in Q1 returning no data. "It bogged," said LE. "It spun," said his brother GT. "It ran through the clutches," said dad Gary. They'll put it all together for a good pass on Labor Day, but Pollacheck's on a roll.

One half of the V&H twins is clearly shocked by Chip Ellis' commentary. Candid Photos

Chip Ellis vs. Mike Berry? Chip all the way.

Karen Stoffer will show off these yellow colors as many rounds as she can. Bike Photos

Fresh off losing her sponsorship and having something to prove, Karen Stoffer with take out Jimmy Underdahl.

Michael Phillip's crewman Red ponders where the clutch tune-up went. Candid Photos

Adorable Katie Sullivan drove a long way for only two shots to make the field. Candid Photos

Spencer Massey (imitated beauifully by Micgael Ray) is coming off his $100,000 NHRA Traxxas Top Fuel Showdown victory on Friday night and will be looking to keep momentum high as he starts from the No. 1 qualifying position. His qualifying run of 3.762 seconds at 324.41 mph in his Fram/Prestone dragster earned him his fourth top qualifying position of the year and the seventh of his career. He will face Pat Dakin when eliminations begin.

Massey outran fellow Texas-native Steve Torrence in the final round of the Traxxas Nitro Shootout to earn the win. “Torrence’s car has been running on a string all year long and I know he wanted to win this thing just as much as I did,” Massey said. “When I hit the throttle the car started moving and I knew I was on a good ride. Then I crossed the finish line and saw the win light and I couldn’t believe it. I’m so proud of my Prestone guys, they deserve this win.

“We wanted to go out and make two more run today. We wanted to see the Traxxas Shootout for the Funny Cars and I wanted to see a Don Schumacher car win that Traxxas Funny Car Shootout. That would be awesome for Don to have a double up in Top Fuel and Funny Car. Now the situation is going to be race day. Get out there with the sun shining and have a great Mac Tools U. S. Nationals raceday. It is always a spectacular race, it always is. Now that I’m the first guy to hold up that Traxxas Shootout trophy I want to be the guy to hold up the trophy on Monday.”

Tony Schumacher will be paired up with T.J. Zizzo; Shawn Langdon will face Clay Millican and Bob Vandergriff will look to retain his position in the Countdown to the Championship when he faces Steve Torrence.

Courtney Force, driver of the Traxxas Funny Car, continues her recent hot streak as she secures her first career No. 1 qualifying position with her pass of 4.049 seconds at 317.27 mph—both personal bests, and the speed was a track record. Force also clinched her spot in the Countdown to the Championship and will face Blake Alexander in the first round of eliminations on Monday. "We've got a great car, and I think we're capable of earning another Wally and to win here at Indy would just be awesome," said Courtney.

Defending Funny Car world champion Matt Hagan will continue his bid to enter the Countdown to the Championship when he faces teammate Ron Capps—ouch! Jack Beckman will be matched up against Todd Lesenko. And Tim Wilkerson, who qualified third, will battle Jon Capps.

The NHRA Traxxas Funny Car Showdown scheduled to run on Sunday has been postponed to a later date.

In Pro Stock, Erica Enders powered her GK Racing Chevy Cobalt to the top qualifying position with a run of 6.624 seconds at 208.84 mph during the first qualifying session of the weekend on Friday night. This is her second consecutive No. 1 position of the season and the fifth of her career. She will face Ronnie Humphrey on Monday.

Vincent Nobile, who qualified in the No. 2 position, will face Rodger Brogdon, and Allen Johnson will be paired against Warren Johnson.

Sportsman racing will begin at 8:00 a. m. with the first round of eliminations for the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series to take place starting at 11 a. m.

Friday was dry, Saturday is trying at Indy

Two-time NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion Andrew Hines continued the yawning Harley-Davidson dominance when he rode his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rod to Friday's qualifying lead for the 58th annual Mac Tools US Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis with a 6.928 second pass at 194.21 mph. “We want to keep our streak going here,” Hines said. “I’ve won four times here in the [former] Ringers Gloves Battle so I know the way to the winner’s circle. I just need to get there on Monday. It does add some pressure to know we’ve won every race this year but we just want to keep it up.”

Sovreign/Star Racing's Scotty Pollacheck. Bike Photos

Hector Arana Jr. split Hines and V&H teammate Eddie Krawiec, running 6.93 to Krawiec's 6.95. Sovreign/Star Racing's Scotty Pollacheck did a great job bringing George Bryce back to the Big Go, qualifying fourh with a 6.97.

Ken "Big" Johnson and GB3 are back in the pits at Indy. Candid Photos

Hector Arana Sr. is fifth with a 6.992 followed by the last 6 second bike of the session, Karen Stoffer's 6.998 on her GEICO Suzuki. It was a bittersweet day for Stoffer, as the announcement went out that she's losing her GEICO sponsorship after 9 years with the insurance giant.

GEICO executives lauded Stoffer for her many accomplishments with the GEICO brand on her Suzuki drag bikes and saluted the rider for her unwavering support and professionalism. "Karen Stoffer has been a remarkable ambassador for GEICO and we extend our many congratulations on her numerous achievements over the years," said Bill Roberts, executive vice president. "Karen helped carry our motorcycle brand for almost a decade and introduced GEICO insurance to drag racing fans across the country. She was always a gracious and knowledgeable spokesperson for our products and we are very grateful for her spirited support."

Karen Stoffer's husband/tuner Gary looks grim, but said only great things about GEICO. Candid Photos

"We had a long, successful marketing partnership with GEICO and I thank them for eight great years together," Stoffer said. "We strived to provide GEICO and our other partners the platform and network to develop great business synergies within the NHRA. We plan on continuing that trend with other partners in the future."

Former Indy winner Matt Smith tuned up for this year's race by going to the Eatmyink open house. Bike Photos

Behind Stoffer's Suzuki are four Buells: Chip Ellis, Matt Smith, Mike Berry and Keith Burley.

Something about Mike Berry looks younger this year, but with his helmet on I can't quite tell what it is...

Hired gun Mark Conner's face is red but he's not ashamed. Candid Photos

At 11th, LE Tonglet is the second quickest Suzuki in the field. Bike Photos

Happy to make the top 12 cut-off but unhappy with 12th, Shawn Gann asked me "How's your mom and them?"

"Red" Dawn Minturn is 13th on a Suzuki, followed the Buells of John Hall and Redell Harris.

John Hall on the Sovreign/Star Buell. Bike Photos

Eatmyink party-goer Redell Harris getting his tuck on. Bike Photos

Jimmy Underdahl sits 16th on his Suzuki. Bike Photos

Katie Sullivan, Michael Phillips and James Surber all made it down the track but sit outside the top 16.

After breaking, Steve "I have pockets on my leathers" Johnson does his best Bernie Taupin impersonation

Former Elton John lyricist Taupin from the "Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player" album liner

Gottsacker Racing rider Michael Ray shut off his Matt Smith tuned Buell in the waterbox, inciting a bit of an inter-team squabble. Smith reportedly felt that Ray should have made the pass. Ray knew something was amiss in the clutch and felt that saving equipment was the best way to go. "They have to give us another pass anyway," said Ray. "I'll be a one shot wonder."

Common wisdom about the rules is that each rider must make a pass in each lane to qualify. But given the weather forecast for this, the sport's biggest weekend, it would hardly surprise me if the race went off with the one full round already in the books.

Ray Barton (in red) waxes philosophical about Hemis and heart attacks. Candid Photos

The annual Mopar Hemi Challenge is also in the books. I ran into Hemi guru Ray Barton in the staging lanes. Ray had two cars in the semis, one with a bye to the final. The other lost, so it came down to a classic Barton-customer vs. Charlie Westcott Jr. 1968 “Warfish” Plymouth Barracuda final.

Nose up and in front, Jim Daniels leads at launch of the Mopar Hemi Challenge. Car Photos

Michigan native Westcott defeated the 1968 Dodge Dart of Jim Daniels to complete his second straight sweep at the Indianapolis Mopar HEMI Challenge, seizing his fifth overall victory at the venue and pocketing the $15,000 winner’s purse from Mopar.

Westcott Jr.’s path to the final included a first-round bye, a pass of 8.498-seconds at 158.91 mph to defeat the 1968 Dodge Dart of David Barton (Ray's son) in the second round, an 8.447/159.44 to best former Indy HEMI Challenge champ Rick Houser (who also redlighted), and a 8.434/158.89 pass to win a close match in the semifinals with fellow ’68 Plymouth Barracuda driver Tyler Hard and earn lane choice over Daniels.

In the final, Westcott Jr. unleashed an 8.397/159.06 pass to reel in Daniels (8.485/156.92), who left quicker off the line with a .022 reaction time to Westcott’s slower .091 mark, with only five-foot margin of victory. “We come here to win,” said Westcott Jr. “We’re not here for the party. All we do is work on the car, and all I want to do now is take a nap. I’m whipped to the max. The clutch was getting aggressive and I kept tuning it a little bit at a time. I didn’t want to take a big swing at it and throw it away. In the final I turned up the starting line RPM and had the clutched backed off a little and it did a fairly good-sized wheelie for my car. It got a little crooked and he (Daniels) got out front a little ways, but then I started pulling on him. I was pretty sure I passed him, but it was close.

“It’s a great deal, especially for Mopar, with the big crowd. It’s great exposure deal for Mopar. Thank God they put up the money for this, because I wouldn’t be here if they didn’t.”

Daniels road to the money round featured a single run of 8.475/157.36 after Lloyd Wofford was unable to meet the bell in the opening stanza, a solid 8.480/157.83 effort to knock off the always-tough Jim Pancake in his Carriage Towne Chrysler 1968 Dodge Dart, a 8.490/157.41 mark to run down Steve Comella’s Dart, and an 8.487/157.45 pass in his semifinals bye into the finals. “I couldn’t be happier with the car," said Daniels. "We worked pretty hard on it yesterday. Thanks to Ray and David (Barton), my son, everybody that helped out. I can’t thank these guys enough. We come and we have a great time. It’s a great race, and you see people around the country you don’t see a lot.

“Charlie and his father (Charlie Westcott Sr., a former champion at the event), they work hard at it. I give them all the accolades. I told them before the race, ‘Let’s put on a good show for the fans,’ and I think we did. I wish it would have had a different outcome, but I’m completely happy with everything.”

A crowded field of 23 Mopar-powered Super Stock A/HEMI (SS/AH) 1968 Dodge Darts and Plymouth Barracudas duked it out at Lucas Oil Raceway. Daniels earned $1,500 with his runner-up finish, with Hard and Houser earning $500 each for their third- and fourth-place finishes, respectively.

Don "Not the Pacer's GM" Walsh powered his '11 Ford Mustang to the lead in NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by ProCare Rx qualifying action. Walsh's first qualifying attempt earned him the provisional pole with a 5.9869 second pass at 252.52 mph. Walsh is coming off his first career win at the most recent Pro Mod event in Norwalk, Ohio and if his time stands through Saturday and Sunday's qualifying sessions it would be the first No. 1 qualifying position of his career. Donald "Not the Mad Magazine cartoonist" Martin powered his ’68 Camaro to the No. 2 spot with his 5.961 second pass at 243.85 mph. Danny Rowe sits third and Mike "Here's the Beef" Castellana is fourth.

Veteran driver Tony Schumacher raced to the Top Fuel qualifying lead in his U.S. Army dragster. Schumacher ran low ET and top speed of the round with his 3.814 second pass at 324.67 mph under the lights. “It was a lot of pressure tonight but the NHRA did a great job with the track and we got it right and ended up No. 1,” Schumacher said. “We wanted to get down the track tonight and we managed to earn the top spot. We tested here last week and we ran great and it definitely helped up tonight.”

Schumacher is tied with “Big Daddy” Don Garlits as the winningest driver at the Mac Tools US Nationals with eight wins and he hopes that starting the weekend off in the No. 1 position will lead to his ninth win at The Big Go. “We’ve won this race eight times, but I’ve won one race in the last two years,” said Schumacher. “We’re just getting back to the way we used to be with the car running good.

"I’d rather race here than anywhere else because of the amount of success we’ve had. We’ve had some luck at other tracks, but this place has been so special from ’96 when I ran my first race as a kid who’d never driven a Top Fuel car in his life before and went all the way to the final. We’ve had so many great years and great moments.”

If Schumacher holds on to the No. 1 position it will be the fourth time he has been No. 1 qualifier at the Mac Tool US Nationals, fourth of the season and 70th of his career.

Jack Beckman earned the Funny Car qualifying lead with a 4.051 second pass at 302.62 mph for the provisional No. 1 qualifying position heading into Saturday. “It was hugely important [to get a good first run] because now it doesn’t matter what happens the rest of the weekend,” Beckman said. “Whether we get all the qualifying runs or not, we won’t get bumped out. We are absolutely safe, and everybody can breathe a sigh of relief.”

If Beckman maintains the No. 1 position through qualifying on Saturday and Sunday, it will be the third No. 1 qualifying position of the season, the seventh of his career and first at Indianapolis.

Erica Enders continued her recent dominance in Pro Stock with her Chevy Cobalt when she went straight to the qualifying lead Friday afternoon thanks to her 6.624 second pass at 208.84 mph. “I really feel very honored to be here, to be able to carry the momentum that we’ve had in the last few races into this event,” Enders said. “Our goal and what we’re really focused on is winning the championship. We’ve worked really hard all year, testing, and doing R&D stuff back in the engine shop. We wanted to be able to showcase what we’ve learned during the entire year right before the Countdown and then the last six races of the schedule.”

The most successful woman in Pro Stock history is coming off her third win of the season and if she holds onto the No. 1 qualifying position it will be the second No. 1 of the season and fifth of her career.

Clouds and Competition loom at Big Go

story and photos by Tim Hailey , the NHRA, and team reports from all teams involved

The former hurricane known as Isaac that dumped on Louisiana earlier this week is creeping its way to Clermont, Indiana and Lucas Oil Raceway Park. An hour ago the demarcation line showed blue sky on one side and gray on the other. That line has moved north and taken the blue skies with it. As racers get to their trailers to prepare for tonight’s qualifying round for the 58th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, the only questions as far as rain are “When?” and “How much?”

Jerry Savoie and Hector Arana Jr in last year's Indy final

But so far so good. Pro Mod cars roll at 4:30 local time, followed by the bikes and all the other pro classes. But last year’s Stock Motorcycle runner-up, Jerry Savoie, won’t be in the staging lanes. Savoie, an alligator famer, is stuck at home monitoring the generators running the water pumps for his baby gator tanks after that bastard Isaac knocked out the power to his Cut Off, Louisiana farm at a crucial time of the season.

But things could have been much worse. “At least the water on the other side of the levy’s gone down,” Savoie said, via his recently restored phone service. He was scrambling around the farm feeding alligators, repairing roofs, and cleaning up the mess. “Thank God we made it through another one. We sat through the eye of the storm for 8 hours while they were getting drenched all around us. It was kinda weird. When you’re dealing with mother nature, there’s nothing really you can do but respond. We live here, so we deal with it.”

Savoie’s also missing what was probably his best race of his rookie season last year on the NHRA tour. “I wish I was there. We’ve got some good engines for the Suzuki—probably the biggest numbers we’ve ever produced.” And indeed, even this afternoon the White Alligator Racing dyno is raising a racket 2 doors down from EatmyinkHQ. “If we do get electricity back here and it looks they’re gonna run on Sunday, we might haul ass up there and see what we can do.”

But for now, Savoie’s monitoring his generators 24 hours a day, making sure the pumps running for his baby alligators that only finished hatching the day before the storm.

Jerry lost that U.S. Nationals final last year to Hector Arana Jr. "This year has flown by," Arana Jr. said. "I can't believe that we're almost to Indy again. For some reason last year, it seemed like it took so much longer to do the whole year, and this year, everything is just flying by. I don't know why. I don't know if it's because we're doing better this year and there's been a little bit less stress. But this year has been really good so far. To win that race again would definitely be another dream come true. To be able to repeat my first race - and to be undefeated at that race - would definitely be amazing."

Hector Arana Jr.

Arana Jr. entered Indy last year without a victory in his rookie season, but he was coming off a final-round appearance at Brainerd, as his riding was catching up to the performance of his Lucas Oil Buell. Then, at Indy, he beat Angie McBride-Smith, L.E. Tonglet, Chip Ellis and Savoie to secure the first of his three victories of 2011. "Indy is the one of the most stressful races because it is the biggest race of all time for NHRA drag racing," Arana Jr. said. "Everybody says that your career isn't complete until you get a win at Indy. To be able to do that for my very first career win - and in my rookie year - boy, it's absolutely amazing."

The memories are still vivid for Arana Jr., who struggled in qualifying, securing the No. 5 spot after being first and second in the two prior races. But when Monday rolled around, Arana Jr. caught fire. "During qualifying last year at Indy, it wasn't going as smoothly," Arana Jr. said. "I remember a couple of things happened with the transmission, and we had to change out a couple parts in the engine. We weren't on top like we did a few races before that. Going into race day, I was a little bit nervous because of that.

"But after round one, everything just started to come together and fall into place. The bike came around, the tune-up came around. I was riding well, and after that first-round win, I was ready to go, I was amped up. All my family was there because it was a home race for us, and a lot of friends were there, too. Every time we'd come back after each round, they would all be there cheering and clapping us on. The whole day was really fun and exciting."

Arana Jr. admitted to feeling some pressure for the final round, but an unusual delay helped him focus. "We rolled up to the line, and we were waiting for live TV," Arana Jr. said. "The track's been prepped, and we're there sitting in the waterbox, just staring down the track, looking at the finish line, visualizing everything, just waiting. We had to wait about five minutes, and I don't know if that helped me get into the zone or what, but we were just sitting there waiting, and I was just visualizing getting a good light, going down the track and never seeing the guy next to me - and winning it. I kept visualizing that while we were waiting for TV. Once they said to fire them up, we did the burnout and everything, and that all came true."

His Lucas Oil Buell made a terrific pass of 6.867 seconds at 192.60 mph to secure the win. "We crossed the finish line, and I was like, 'Man, we just won the U.S. Nationals. We just won my first race. This is awesome,'" Arana Jr. said. "You just beat the guy and you won the race, and it seems so surreal. At first it didn't seem like I won the U.S. Nationals until I came around the corner and everybody swarmed around me and the Wally got placed into my hand and my family came up to me. Then it finally started to sink in."

Arana Jr., third in the Pro Stock Motorcycle points standings, should be one of the favorites to win again this year, as he's reached the semifinals in eight of the nine races of 2012, including three final rounds. Plus, he's qualified third or better in 14 consecutive races dating back to last season.

Hector Arana Sr.

LORP, obviously, is the home track for Lucas Oil Buell Pro riders Arana and his father Hector Sr. H1 knows the feeling of winning the U.S. Nationals in his championship season of 2009, and he'd love to experience that again. Arana beat McBride-Smith, Karen Stoffer, Ellis and Michael Phillips that year to secure the U.S. Nationals Wally. "It's a great feeling to have won that race and go in the history books," Arana Sr. said. "No one can take that away from you. To do it again would be even better."

Arana has raced at Indy since 1990, when he made his first start at The Big Go. Plus, he lives in Milltown, Ind., about 120 miles south of Lucas Oil Raceway, so he understands the importance of the U.S. Nationals. "This is the biggest race all year," Arana Sr. said. "It's the grand-daddy, the biggest one you want to win. It's the U.S. Nationals, so to me it's the most prestigious race there is."

Arana Sr. is coming off a #1 qualifier at Brainerd last week, his fourth this season. He's also qualified fourth or better in all nine races this season and 15 races in a row dating back to last season. He's clinched a spot in the Countdown to the Championship, which starts after Indy, and is fourth in the PSM points standings.

The Lucas Oil team tested at Indy last week, but most of his time was spent helping his other son Adam get time on a race-ready Buell. "We did test, but that was mainly focused on my son, Adam," Arana Sr. said. "He got some seat time, and he did well. We didn't really have anything new to test anyway, so I just focused on him, getting him some seat time so he'll be ready for next year."

Karen Stoffer

"I'm looking at it is any other race but not everyone does," GEICO Suzuki rider Stoffer said. "The goal right now is to go rounds and try and figure out how to beat those big V-motors. Right now, the Suzukis are racing past first round, and that's it. We've got to figure out a way to try to get them to screw up. Maybe there's going to be more antics on the starting line. Who knows?"

Stoffer isn't one to engage in games on the starting line, preferring to race competitors the way she likes to be raced. "I don't try and change, but I certainly try to be aware of it," Stoffer said. "That's what's going to happen. When you're in extreme situations, you pull out extreme measures. I can do that, I used to have to do that. I'd prefer not to, just because I want to beat you fair. But right now, it's really not fair, so you're going to have to delve into it.

"I don't like playing games, but there certainly might be a little slower staging and maybe a few wars. Maybe a little, 'I've got to fix my clutch cable' right on the starting line. You've seen a little bit of that more and more. I guarantee you're going to see it more and more in the future if things stay the same. Right now, there's absolutely no chance for anyone but the 4-H club to win."

Stoffer has qualified in the top half of the field in seven of the nine races this season and has won at least one round in eight of the nine events, reaching the semifinals twice. She's a part of 23 motorcycles entered at Indianapolis.

"Indy will be interesting," Stoffer said. "There's always more competitors come to Indy, and a lot of new announcements are usually made. That makes it fun an interesting for the bikes. I've got to keep focused. We want to continue being the best Suzuki out there, and to do that, we've got to stay focused. We've got to make sure we put all the ceremonies and all the glitz and glamour in the closet, put it away and focus on racing."

Michael ray and Hal Gottsacker at last year's US Nats

Riders Ellis, Michael Ray, John Hall, Redell Harris, Mcbride-Smith and her husband Matt Smith were amongst those hanging out at EatmyinkHQ on Thursday night.

John Hall

Hall will be riding for George Bryce and Sovereign-Star Racing, making it George’s first appearance at the Big Go since the Rush Racing/Angelle Sampey reunion tour a few years ago. The event may prove to be the most important race of the season for Hall and teammate Scotty Pollacheck as they try to secure places in the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship. The Countdown only advances the top 10 drivers in each class and resets their points to within 10 of one another, except for the points leader’s 30-point advantage over second place. These 10 drivers then compete for the Full Throttle World Championship during the season’s final six races.

Scotty Pollacheck

With Pollacheck sitting comfortably in the No. 6 spot in the points standings and Hall in the No. 11 spot, the Sovereign-Star Racing team is focusing on good tune-ups, clear minds and clean passes this weekend in the hopes that the points will follow. “Typically, Indy has been good to us in the past,” Star Racing owner Bryce said. George’s birth and the U.S. Nats coincide, and the 6X champion tuner hopes to celebrate his own 58th in style this weekend. “The fans, the media and the racers try to make it a really, really big deal. The points are the same as the previous races. In order to get points, you’ve got to tune good and you’ve got to drive good. And even though we’ve been doing it for 30 years, we can still only make one run at a time.”

“I just hope to carry over the momentum from Brainerd and keep the forward progress going,” Hall said. “And if we get the same results, then we’ll hopefully be in the Countdown. I’m not putting too much thought into it because we can only control what we do and there are others looking to get in just like us.”

“I feel like the team is on an upswing and that we keep progressing and doing better at every race,” Pollacheck said. “So, I think we’re going to continue that. I’m really upbeat about this weekend at Indy.”

In the midst of the biggest NHRA race weekend of the year, Bryce will continue to focus his drivers on making each pass count. “What I’ll endeavor to do with my rookies at their first Indy race is to continue to remind them that the only run that counts is the next one. We try to turn the volume down, turn the pressure down and just concentrate on the run at hand. We try to tune the bikes well, drive well and learn from each run. The team that does all of this the best by the end of the weekend will have the most points,” Bryce said.

“You just have to concentrate on what you know how to do and then go out there with a clear head, stay relaxed and get it done,” Hall said. “Now I go out there with the same mentality as when we’re testing in Valdosta. George drove it into my head to just act like we’re testing—no one in the stands, no one to compete against and all I’m concentrating on is getting a good time slip that I can be proud of.”

No matter how the weekend goes, the teammates both feel that they’ve accomplished a great deal so far during their rookie seasons. “I had a little list of goals in mind for the season, and one of the things was just to be able to say that I could go out there and do it and actually be competitive in that field,” Pollacheck said. “I feel like we’ve accomplished both of those things already. Another goal, of course, was to win a Wally, which hasn’t happened yet but we still have plenty more chances. It would be nice to check that one off the list.”

“In the beginning of the season, I was just going race by race hoping that I would make George and the guys proud and make all of us look good. I never doubted that I could do it, but it’s nice to look back now and feel like we’ve really improved throughout the season,” Hall said.

“The race goals are always the same. We have to work really hard here at the shop to prepare. When the truck gets loaded and leaves on time, that’s a beautiful thing. After everyone gets to the track, the pit is set up and both bikes are teched in, it’s another minor victory. Then comes the long process of qualifying and finding just the right tune-ups for both bikes to get an edge on the competition. All of that is hard enough to do without having to worry about one driver being in the Countdown and the other is not,” Bryce said.

And so what is already a painfully long weekend begins, and will be made either longer or shorter by Isaac. That eye that hovered over Savoie’s house has long since broken up into a disorganized mob of clouds that forecasters say will dump up to 6 inches of rain on central Indiana this weekend.

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