NHRA Full Throttle Series Mac Tools US Nationals, Indianapolis, IN, Sept. 2-5, 2011
Arana Jr takes his first at Indy
Charlotte Lucas, a drag racer herself, sits on Hector Jr's Buell at Indy. We hear that the team has a third bike...
story and photos by Tim Hailey
With two rookies in the Pro Stock Motorcycle final at the NHRA Mac Tools US Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway Park in Indianapolis, someone was going to get their first win at the most prestigious race of them all. Hector Arana Jr on the Lucas Oil Buell and Jerry Savoie on the White Alligator Racing Suzuki both fought their way through a wild and entertaining day of racing. On my way to the PSM pits between the semis and the final I pulled my phone out of my pocket and looked at it—the first time of the day! You know you're having a great time in 2011 when you go all day without looking at your phone.
Back at the starting line, the finals synced up perfectly with live TV. The two first year racers staged their bikes, causing a slight controversy while doing so. One of Arana Jr's crew stepped through the beams and fluttered the bulbs (can we still say bulbs at an NHRA race?) while Savoie was pre-staged. Savoie would tell Arana Jr about this in no uncertain terms at the end of the track, which later sent that crewman to the WAR trailer offering his well-received apology. Hugs were all around.
Savoie's 'Busa leaves first and hikes the wheel but Arana's Buell powered around for the win
But as the bikes staged Savoie was on a knife edge, dancing all over the bare carbon fiber '08 Hayabusa body in the left lane and I was sure he would redlight. But snap—he popped a .006 light on Jr instead. Hector Jr went into the final with a decided 6.929 to 7.005 performance advantage, so he was in no big rush to leave. Still, his .023 was safe and respectable, and all he needed when he nailed a 6.86 on Savoie's 7.00. "I dropped the clutch and afterwards I got scared," said 22 year old Arana Jr. "I looked up at the liights to make sure I didn't redlight."
A very proud Hector Arana Sr. gazes at the winners circle
A beaming Hector Sr soaked it all in from the outer edges of the winners circle. "How long did it atke you to win one of these?" I asked the old man. "19, 20 years?" Arana Sr said.
"That kid owes you big time!" I said. "Remind him when you're old."
Back at the White Alligator trailer, Savoie was circumspect, knowing that he'd done what he could with that Better-than-Bond .006 light. Savoie, builder/tuner Mark Peiser and the WAR crew did a remarkable job debuting a new bike and burning through two motors at the most stressful time of the year. "There was no way we were gonna beat an .86," said Savoie's builder/tuner Mark Peiser. He and Savoie were both concerned that an Arana Jr that had grown comfortable and consistent on a bike that makes the kind of power that the Larry Morgan massaged Lucas Oil Buell makes might be unstoppable in the Countdown.
But Hector Jr didn't want to think about that right now. His grin was unstoppable, the win not fully sunk in yet, and he was heading back to hang out at the trailer with the best sound system in the bike pits and what Naptown restaurant was gonna serve him a meal fit for a US Nationals champion.
Does Frank Manzo ever lose? He beat Frank Tigges in the Indy Top Alcohol Funny Car final
Classic turbo/nitrous, Ford/Chevy Pro Mod battle saw Eric Dillard's turbo Mustang beat Mike Castellana's nitrous Camaro
Full-on Indy PSM photo gallery
Indy NHRA car gallery
NHRA Indy results
Wild Rounds at Indy!
The fact that the top 3 Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifiers for the NHRA Mac Tools US Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway Park in Indianapolis packed up after round 1 of eliminations doesn't even begin to describe what a wild round it truly was. I was talking to #16 qualifier Shawn Gann alongside the track as the last 2 pairs of Pro Stock Cars went down the track. "What are you gonna throw at him (#1 qualifier Andrew Hines) today Shawn?" I asked.
"I think I'll just let him make a mistake, especially at this place," said Gann. Indeed, 3-time-champ-but-never-an-Indy-winner Hines is known to shoot himself in the foot at Indy, and yes, Pomona. But this time around it was the bike that let Hines down. The transmission locked up coming out of the burnout. Gann ignored starter Rick Stewart's first command to stage but followed orders on the second. Nothing Hines could do but unhook the kill cord and walk away.
Rick Stewart waves Shawn Gann in for the second time
#1 qualifier Andrew Hines is done in round 1
Matt Smith led two long days of qualifying before relinquishing the top spot on Sunday. Monday saw Smih facing Jimmy Underdahl in round 1 with dramatically cooler weather and a stiff headwind. "I probably should have added a tooth but took a tooth off," Smith said about his adjustments. "I think the wind will offset the cooler conditions and everybody will run abou the same."
Haltech tuner Steve Nichols added "It's a poker game. Tuning the engine for weather is easy, but the clutch and gearing is a guess." And indeed t'was the clucth that did Smith's Haltech Buell in as it stumbled badly out of the gate, went way out of the groove, and lost badly to Underdahl's Suzuki.
Number 3 qualifier Karen Stoffer rose boldy through the field in Sunday's sessions. She faced Jerry Savoie in round 1. Savoie's smiles in the staging lanes seemed contrary to the difficult weekend the alligator farmer was having. The White Alligator team came to the track rolling the dice with their practically untested '08 Hayabusa and motors making 5-6 more horsepower. But builder/tuner Mark Peiser's having trouble getting the parts he needs to make that kind of power and some of those parts (valvetrain) gave way on Saturday, leaving the team with one allegedly slower bullet for the rest of the weekend.
But there was rookie Savoie, loose as a goose in the lanes. Jerry had an OK .036 light against Stoffer's .094. Jerry's holeshot winning .94 was his first 6 of the weekend while Karen lost with low ET of the round.
Chip Ellis and Michael Phillips put on a throttle blipping staging duel reminiscent of their upersport grudge match in this video clip from Gainesville in 2007. When the bikes finally staged it was Ellis that got the better end of the deal, taking a .0008 margin of victory win over Phillips as both bikes ran mid 6.90s.
Eddie Krawiec and David Hope also put on a staging duel, a pre-staging duel even. Hope left way first but strayed out of the groove while Krawiec clicked off another mid-6.90 for the win.
Steve Johnson and Angie McBride-Smith both had spectacular lights but lost none-the-less to LE Tonglet and Hector Arana 3 respectively. Hector Sr. got a free pass when Mike Berry broke in the water box.
Angie's loss was the end of a busy and ultimately frustrating weekend for her tuner/husband Matt. Two first round losses, a DNQ for the Pro Mod, and a DNQ for customer Micheal Ray, whose Buell suffered from tranny woes all through qualifying.
Round 2 started off with Gann redlighting against Ellis. Krawiec again opted for a staging duel, this time against rookie Savoie. But Jerry nailed Eddie to the tree for his second straight holeshot win, sending Peiser and crew into another wild celebration. The round was bittersweet for the Arana family, as H3 took a holeshot win over defending champion Tonglet but his dad lost to Underdahl, sending Jimmy's crew into a frenzy.
Jimmy Underdahl's going to the Countdown
Underdahl faced Savoie in the semi and it was the White Alligator team that kept the party going. H3, who says Hector Jr is fine as well, outran Chip Ellis in the other semi to set up an all-rookie final round, with about 30 years between these two gentlemen. Underdahl just made the cut into the Countdown, Ellis just missed it.
Western Beef King Mike Castellana and JE Dillard will meet in the Pro Mod final.
P-Nut and Peiser get Big Air after their man Jerry took the semifinal win
Hines qualified #1 for US Nationals
Andrew Hines saved his best for last, running 6.909 at 193.90 to finish five rounds of Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying on top for the NHRA Mac Tools US Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway Park in Indianapolis. The round was interrupted twice by spritzes of rain, and the final bunch to run had cooling and quickening conditions in their favor.
Hines and the Screamin' Eagle/Vance&Hines team tested at Indy recently, with Drew making 13 passes and feeling fully prepped for this event. It shows. The team went backwards with their tuning at Englishtown in changing conditions but this weekend has seen them up to the task. Raceday, of course, will present a different challenge for Hines, who's never won Indy.
The most important moment of Hines' day might have been a quip he made during an online radio interview. Andrew's 13 month old son Deckland was romping around the press room, inspiring the interviewer to ask "So is that a future Pro Stock Motorcycle racer there?"
"No, baseball," replied Hines. "He's going to be a switch pitcher." Funniest thing I heard all day.
The bike Eatmyink readers wanna see most: Jerry Savoie's '08 'Busa. This bike was originally built by DSR for the failed McLaren/Suzuki engine.
Karen Stoffer (near lane) and Steve Johnson (far lane) both moved up on Sunday, Karen to 3rd and Steve to 13th
Eddie Krawiec sure does love Pro Mods. Don't be surprised to see him doing Matt Smith-style double duty
The track is on fire! Shawn Gann sqeaked into the field in 16th spot.
The devil on Justin Finley's shoulder's name is Red. Finley failed to qualify.
Hines leads heading into final round
Andrew Hines nudged his way past Matt Smith for the number 1 Pro Stock Motorcycle spot heading into qualifying for the NHRA Mac Tools US Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway Park in Indianapolis. On a round where everyone expected to improve, few did, and Hines and Chip Ellis were among them.
The weather was expected to change drastically from yesterday's hellfire oven and it did. Today my phone showed an expected high of 79, a full 20 degrees lower than yesterday's prediction. But the air was still pretty humid for today's opening round and very few bikes dipped below 7 seconds.
Smith leads after 3 at Indy
Matt Smith leans hard to the left on his Q2 pass
After 2 days and 3 rounds of Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying for the NHRA Mac Tools US Nationals, Matt Smith's first round 6.95 is still at the top of the charts. But the oppressive heat and humidity that's shrouded Lucas Oil Raceway Park in Indianapolis is expected to lift on Sunday and Smith expects low .90s and high .80s to be the result.
This was early in the day when Jerry Savoie could smile
Jerry Savoie's White Alligator Racing team came to the Big Go prepared to make a Big Move. Builder/tuner Mark Peiser found an additional 5-6 horsepower in his Suzuki motors and after only one test pass, the team elected to park their TL1000 and enter their previously unseen '08 Hayabusa. Savoie ran a 7.06 on Friday that still holds up for 9th, but on Saturday's Q2 the motor broke, leaving the team with only one motor left. The issue was valve springs, which the team has had a hard time procurring as crunch time moves in. They sat Q3 out to save equipment.
Hector 3 Loves the Indy Heat
Hector Arana III
While everyone stepped back in a blazing hot session on a 134 degree Lucas Oil Raceway Park track, Hector Arana the third (apparently not Hector Jr as we've all been calling him) actually stepped up with a 6.978 at 193.65 mph. That was the only 6 second pass of this second session for the NHRA Mac Tools US Nationals, and with only a 1.11 60 foot, H3 left plenty on the table.
Round 1 leader Matt Smith was lucky to run 7.09 in Q2, leaning pretty far to the left to keep his Haltech Buell going straight. Smith is qualified 11th in Pro Mod Car.
The leading 60 of the session belonged to Chip Ellis, who was paired with H3. While Chip owned the bottom end, he was over 4 mph slower than Hector on the top and ran 7.02 at 189.
Defending US Nationals winner LE Tonglet's showing some of the best consistency so far, running 7.04 and .06. That's good enough for 8th in the order, holding his own in the heat.
Michael Ray made a huge jump from 23rd to 11th with a 7.066
earlier, now with photos
Racing the Weather at Indy
My phone says it's gonna be 99 degrees today (Saturday) in Indianapolis. That's pretty damn hot for September. Yesterday was about the same, but tomorrow is iffy. Almost assuredly we will get rain when a cold front moves over Lucas Oil Raceway Park and the Mac Tools US Nationals. If it washes out the day, those that thrive in the heat will enjoy the spoils of their hot weather passes. If it clears up and we have a cool session, those who adapt best will post dramatically better times and two previous days of qualifying will be in the trash.
Thriving best in the heat amongst the Pro Stock Motorcyclists so far is Matt Smith, who always does well at Indy and is #1 after Friday's session with a 6.954 at 190.97 mph. "Matt’s got a good clutch tune-up, and once you have that for a track you just stick with it," said Steve Rominski of S&S.
Smith had a 1.07 60 foot with a new tire on a day when 60 foots were hard to find on a 134 degree track. "I guess I just do well in the heat," said Matt, doing double this weekend and preparing to don a firesuit and step into Pro Mod Car oven. "My motors (in the Buell) have a lot of compression, so maybe that’s why we do well in these conditions.
"But now I gotta go get in that hot car." Matt thrives when he’s busy, so look for him to continue to do well with the bike this weekend.
Andrew Hines had a 1.08 60 foot on the Vance & Hines Screaming Eagle V-Rod and stands #2 with a 6.969 at 192.49. Where do you want to improve this round Andrew? “Everywhere," said Hines, busily preparing his bike for the round. "But it was a decent first pass.”
His teammate Eddie Krawiec stands 6th with a relatively quick 1.07 60 foot.“I’ll do better,” Krawiec promised, also busily preparing his mount.
Indy resident Chip Ellis is third and credits the performance of his Kuriyaken Buell to local knowledge. Ellis and tuner Blake Ritter both work at Vance & Hines and have one of the tightest rider/tuner relationships in the bike pits.
Mike Phillips is fourth with a 6.994 at 193.29. "Now if I can just get it to leave the line," said Phillips, who had a 1.11 60 foot. "I should pick up 3/100ths."
It's been one year since Michael's brother Jerome was shot in a Baton Rouge hospital. “He’s been to a couple of races this year and was supposed to be here this weekend, but it doesn’t look like he’s coming up,” Phillips reported about his brother.
Angie McBride-Smith rolled the beam on her pass and had a 1.20 60 foot. "I guess I didn’t have a hold of the clutch tight enough," said Angie. "If I get a 1.10-even I should run a 6.90 something."
Pitting under the same tent as the Smiths, Michael Ray had the same thing happen when he went on the 2-step in round 1. “He was on a string after that until the bike didn’t shift,” said Michael's dad Paul.
"I think if we can run a 7 flat this round it would be pretty good, because that will be our first full pass of the weekend," said Michael. "Basically, I just want to get into 6th gear.”
Michael Ray with the man who's no myth, Uncle Hal Gottsacker
Ray's Buell is sponsored by Hal Gottsacker’s Guene and Javelina, Texas Harley-Davidson dealerships. “We’ve got San Antonio surrounded,” said Hal, cutting large slabs of beef on a cutting board. I think I know where I'll be spending most of my time this weekend...