NHRA Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida, March 15-17, 2013

Hector Jr takes opening round of 2013

story and photos by Tim Hailey

 

Steve Johnson would have needed a lot of ET to drive around Hector Arana Jr's .038 holeshot advantage

Hector Arana Jr. scored his fourth Pro Stock Motorcycle career victory and first in more than a year when he outran veteran rider Steve Johnson in the final at the Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals Sunday at historic Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesvillle, Florida, USA. Arana Jr. rode his Lucas Oil Buell to a 6.885 at 195.65 to hold off Johnson’s Suzuki, which trailed with a 6.920 at 193.99. “To grab the race win for Team Arana and Lucas Oil is a big accomplishment and it proves that having a third bike (with brother Adam riding the third team bike) isn’t going to slow us down, but actually speed us up,” said Arana Jr., who beat Michael Phillips, defending world champ and three-time defending Gatornationals winner Eddie Krawiec, and his father Hector Sr. to advance to the final.

Hector Jr radiated confidence all weekend, including in this shot on Thursday MORE PHOTOS

“I am looking forward to a very competitive season and some close racing this season,” Arana Jr. said. “This is a step in the right direction. When my dad won his championship he won the Gatornationals and Eddie Krawiec has done that the last two years. I hope to keep that trend going this year as well.”

The Gators was the first of 16 Pro Stock Motorcycle races this year, so there is plenty of racing left, but Arana Jr. and the three-bike Arana Racing team, which includes his father Hector Arana Sr. and brother Adam, have yet to fully push the envelope on their Buell engines. The team's off-season was a busy one getting the three bikes prepared, so there was no time for engine development.

Adam Arana gets last second advice from dad Hector before his first ever qualifying pass on Friday

"All we did was take our motors apart, freshen them up, and put them back together," Arana Jr. said. "To be able to get all three bikes here was an accomplishment in itself. To be able to get all three qualified was amazing. Then to go on and go rounds and grab the win for Team Arana and Lucas Oil, it's a very big accomplishment. It shows that having a third bike isn't going to slow us down; it's just going to speed us up."

Even though expectations were low for his brand new motor, 3X champ Eddie Krawiec had to have been disappointed with the Gators. MORE PHOTOS

Arana Jr. qualified No. 2 and beat Michael Phillips in the first round with a 6.829 at 195.00 mph to Phillips' slowing 9.170 at 93.15 mph. That put Arana Jr. against three-time champion Krawiec, who won a class-best nine races in 2012. Arana Jr. threw down a .006-second reaction time against Krawiec's .017 light and ran a 6.876 at 193.63 mph to beat Krawiec's 6.890 at 192.14 mph.

In the semifinals, Arana Jr. faced his dad, who had lane choice based on a better second-round elapsed time. "My crew chief Dan Gonzalez and I said, 'You know what? If we lose, he's still going to the final,' so we took a swing and it worked out for the best," said Arana Jr. "We sped up, and I actually got a holeshot on my dad."

Hector Sr MORE PHOTOS

Arana Sr. had the better ET, 6.844 at 196.10 mph to Arana Jr.'s 6.849 at 194.97 mph, but Arana Jr. was better on the Christmas Tree, .022 to .034, and earned the win. "He was very happy," Arana Jr. said. "It was a close race. I didn't know who was going to get it because he was right at the corner of my eye the whole time. I saw the win light come on and I was really excited. I didn't do any fist-pumping because I didn't want to do it in front of him, but I wanted to real bad. It was really exciting."

"Overall, it was a great weekend," Arana Sr. said in victory lane. "Adam qualified, which was one of my main goals. He did an excellent job. I got to the semifinals and nothing went wrong. To top it off, Hector (Arana Jr.) won the race. I couldn't ask for anything more. It's been great.It just means that I need to let them do some more work so I can focus on my point," said Arana Sr. "I'll play with the Tree and get better."

Arana Sr.'s entire family, including wife Grace and daughter Abigail, posed for photos in victory lane with Arana Jr. As the father and team owner, Arana Sr. was humbled by the experience. "I want to thank Lucas Oil and Forrest and Charlotte (Lucas) for the opportunity they have given us to stay together as a family," Arana Sr. said. "To add the third member this year, who would have ever thought in their wildest dreams that this could happen to me. I'm lost for words. I just don't know what else to say."

John Hall ran the Text “Newtown” to 80888 Buell, his first race with Matt Smith Racing MORE PHOTOS

Arana Sr. qualified No. 3 and beat Jim Underdahl in a very close first-round race. Arana Sr. recorded a .016-second reaction time and needed every bit of it to stop Underdahl's .020 light and 6.926 at 191.35 mph with a 6.860 at 194.74 mph. He then raced No. 6 qualifier John Hall in the second round and scored the win when Hall left too soon.

Angie Smith missed the field by .008, making it the first time since before Denver in July 1996 that a woman didn't qualify in PSM, according to Jackie Bryce's reasoning

Buells-A-Million! All of the Buells entered at Gainesville posed for an S&S photo shoot on Thursday

Katie Sullivan was only .009 out of making the quickest PSM field in history MORE PHOTOS

Andrew Hines racing his new Harley in his new DG's MORE PHOTOS

Scotty Pollacheck, shown alongside Matt Smith in qualifying, took it to the semis on raceday MORE PHOTOS

Sovereign-Star Racing’s Scotty Pollacheck celebrated the first semifinal round appearance of his NHRA career as he drove to the No. 4 spot in the Pro Stock Motorcycle points standings. “It was a huge deal for me to make it to the semis, because I hadn’t done that before. It was an awesome feeling just because we’ve been working so hard to do that, so to finally win second round and make it to the semis we knew it wasn’t some fluke thing that we made it that far,” Pollacheck said.

In the quickest field ever for Pro Stock Motorcycle, Pollacheck and new teammate Michael Ray qualified No. 8 and 9, respectively, resulting in an all Star Racing matchup during round one eliminations Sunday. The tight field with barely more than a tenth difference between the No. 1 and No. 16 qualifiers made for a very interesting weekend as the teams watched to see how the new rule changes would affect overall performance in the class.

“The competition was fantastic! I was so happy to see an .80, .82 and .83 out of the three different engine combinations, which totally shocked me,” Star Racing owner George Bryce said.

“It felt good just getting into the show,” Ray said. “There were a lot of really, really fast bikes that did not make the show. It sucked racing Scotty first round, but when you look at the season as a marathon not a sprint it’s good to come out of the first race better than I did last year.”

The round one Sovereign-Star Racing teammate matchup resulted in Ray going red against Pollacheck’s 6.896 ET at 193 mph.

Michael Ray's first race back with Star/Sovreign ended prematurely with an E1 redlight against his teammate

“As soon as I let the clutch lever out, I knew that I had redlit. I was just jazzed up, excited to be there first round and excited to be racing Scotty. It was more of a self-induced wound than a lack of focus,” Ray admitted.

Chip Ellis stepped in for injured Jerry Savoie and inherited the E1 win when polesitter Smith's Buell didn't shift

Pollacheck advanced to round two where he faced No. 16 qualifier Chip Ellis on the Savoie White Alligator Racing Buell. Although Ellis got the jump at the line, Pollacheck caught up with him past the 1000-ft. mark to take the win with a 6.894 against Ellis’ 6.947. In the semifinal round, Pollacheck was up against No. 4 qualifier Steve Johnson who set a new Suzuki ET record for Pro Stock Bike with his 6.825-second run during Saturday’s qualifying. Pollacheck’s 6.885 pass was not enough to take out Johnson, who had a 6.840 and went on to face event winner Hector Arana Jr. in the final round.

“I think, overall, it was a good start to the season,” Bryce said. “We came out No. 4 in the points. Michael is a lot further along than he was last year and so is Scotty. That was Scotty’s first ever semis in NHRA competition. I was happy with both drivers’ performances and our team’s performance.”

“I think we had a really good team effort this weekend. There was a lot going on with it being the first race and everybody getting back into groove of doing what we’re supposed to do. Our team looks really good so far, especially if we compare ourselves to last year when we were much farther behind everyone else at the start of the season,” Pollacheck said.

“Considering preseason testing and going to Gainesville this weekend, we’ve been down the track every time with zero parts failures. Going down the track and getting really good data is better than making one really fast pass and then not getting down the track the next time. So, that’s a huge testament to everyone at the Star Racing shop and all the work they’ve put in,” Ray said.

“Michael had a lot more left on the table as far as performance, and so did Scotty. Each time they came back from a run, we found something that could have made us a little faster,” Bryce said. “As far as the next few races, I would say that we are gonna be good. I feel confident that we’re gonna make more power at home and go faster at Charlotte.”

As he often does, #1 qualifier Matt Smith talks it over with his dad, Pro Mod #6 qualifier Rickie Smith

Two young guys who recently secured sponsorship—LE Tonglet and Jimmy Underdahl MORE PHOTOS

Antron Brown toasts Clay Millican in the Top Fuel final. MORE CAR PHOTOS

Antron Brown raced to the Top Fuel victory, giving Don Schumacher Racing its 200th team win. One month after walking away from a spectacular high-speed crash at the season-opening race at Pomona, Calif., Brown powered his Matco Tools dragster to a 3.761 second run at 318.77 mph to finish in front of Clay Millican, who posted a 3.813 at 319.67 in his Parts-Plus dragster. It was defending world champion Brown’s 38th career victory and his first of the season. “It’s a great team effort,” Brown said. “It felt good to bring that win home and hopefully we can put Pomona behind us and keep moving forward.”

Brown outran Larry Dixon, Steve Torrence and Spencer Massey in the first three rounds to advance to the final. He moved into the points lead, four up on second place Tony Schumacher, who lost in the opening round. “To win you have to have every piece of the pie,” Brown said. “It was important to be consistent and as fast and quick as you can be. Every round was tough. It’s a great win for this team. It gives you great confidence as a driver to see the car running like this and come out and win after what happened in Pomona.”


Don Schumacher enjoys a stogie and soaks in his 200th at the Gville winners circle. MORE CANDID PHOTOS

Schumacher earned five of his victories as a driver and 195 have come over the years from a variety of drivers in all four NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series categories. Only John Force Racing has more team victories in NHRA history, with 218, all earned in the Funny Car category. “It’s incredible,” Don Schumacher said. “It started in 1970 in Indianapolis when I won the U.S. Nationals. I am not someone who ever counts things like that. I never thought it would happen or even considered it. Thanks to all of my drivers. They do an incredible job day in and day out.”

Johnny Gray is all in for the Funny Car final against Del Worsham. MORE CAR PHOTOS

Prior to Brown claiming the 200th DSR win, Johnny Gray earned his fourth career victory in Funny Car and the 199th team win for Schumacher as he held off Del Worsham at the finish. Gray covered the distance in 4.053 at 315.49 in his Pitch Energy Dodge Charger while Worsham trailed in his DHL Toyota Camry with a 4.100 at 303.50.

Gray, who was runner-up at this race one year ago, defeated early round opponents Jeff Arend, Alexis DeJoria and defending world champ Jack Beckman to get back to the final round here. “The Gatornationals is such a prestigious race and to win it is just a great feeling,” Gray said. “I was disappointed last year we had a great race car and should’ve won it, but it wasn’t our day.”

Gray, who says he will retire from full-time driving at the end of the season, was also thrilled to play a key role in his team owner’s special day. “Don has been great to me and to be a part of that it’s an awesome feeling for everybody down the line who has contributed to this, which started with Don winning the first one,” Gray said. “To be a part of his organization is unbelievable.”

Allen Johnson takes a holeshot win over Jeg Coughlin in the Pro Stock final. MORE CAR PHOTOS

In Pro Stock, Allen Johnson used a quicker reaction time to defeat teammate Jeg Coughlin in the final round for his first victory of the season and the 17th of his career. The defending world champion finished in 6.535 at 212.59 in his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger, just in front of the quicker, but losing, JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Avenger of Coughlin, which posted a 6.514 at 212.25.

“Everyone asks me why I would hire two assassins,” Johnson said about his teammates Coughlin and Vincent Nobile. “They make me better. Vincent challenges me and it’s the same with Jeggie; I knew I would have to do my ultimate best to beat him. I hope we have to go head-to-head like that a bunch more.”

"We made an engine swap going into the final," Coughlin said. "I saw the number on the engine; it was the engine we ran at Pomona, and I knew it was more than capable of running a high .40 or low .50. I was shooting to be high teen to .020 (on reaction time) and run a .49. I felt like if he could get on that, then God love him. Turned out, I went .51 to his .53, and he just got me at the start there, .005 to my .031. That's the way the game goes sometimes."It was a great race."

It is the first Gatornationals victory for Johnson and his first final round in The Swamp. To advance to the final, Johnson drove around Matt Hartford, Erica Enders-Stevens and Jason Line. “I think we’re one of the premier teams in Pro Stock now,” said Johnson, who moved to third place in the points standings. “We have a great team that makes great decisions based on scientific methods and data and we keep improving those decision making tools. We aren’t the fastest car right now, but we are consistent and we can win some races like that.”

You know how those turbo cars are...Chip King lurched through the beams, giving Von Smith a quick and easy win in the Pro Mod final. MORE CAR PHOTOS

Von Smith raced to the season-opening victory in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series. Smith, the 2010 world champion in the 250-mph doorslammer category, powered his ’68 Camaro to the win over Chip King in the final round. Smith covered the distance in 5.931 seconds at 244.60 mph to take his fourth career win in the class, while King fouled at the start in his ’69 Dodge Daytona in his first career final round appearance.

Smith, who qualified seventh, advanced to his fourth career final round by outrunning defending world champ Troy Coughlin, No. 2 qualifier Danny Rowe and Pete Farber in the first three rounds. With the victory, Smith opens a 22-point lead over second place King in the series standings.

EARLIER: Pro Stock bikes Get Rolling at the Gators

Matt Smith and his S&S powered Buell lead after Day 1 in Gainesville

What is sure to be the most interesting NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Pro Stock Motorcycle season in years got under way Friday under cloudless, perfect skies at the Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville. 2007 champ Matt Smith was quickest with a 6.804 at 197.28 on his Viper Motorcycle Company Buell. All three Matt Smith Racing Buells made the top 12 cut-off, with John Hall and the Text “Newtown” to 80888 Buell 5th (6.842) and Angie Smith 12th (6.91).

“It feels good,” said Matt, who expects all three bikes to be in the top 8 for raceday. “We worked hard all winter long and made a big gain at the end of last year in the last two races. We thought we were in the right direction and proved it in testing.

“I think we are going to be a strong team all year long. It’s going to be a fun year and I think the class is very, very equal. It will be like Pro Stock car, where you will live and die by the starting line.”

A pair of Lucas Oil Buells were second and third, as Hector Arana Sr. clocked a 6.817 at 195.22 and Hector Arana Jr. was third with a 6.831 at 194.55. Defending world champ Eddie Krawiec, who has won this event the last three seasons, sits 16th on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson with a 6.986 at 185.72. His time will not carry over to Saturday’s two sessions.

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