story and photos by Tim Hailey (except where noted, and with material from press releases)
Hector Arana Jr raced to the Pro Stock Motorcycle victory Sunday at the Dollar General NHRA Four-Wide Nationals fueled by Full Throttle at zMAX Dragway. Arana Jr. claimed his second straight victory of the season and fifth of his career with a final round performance of 6.896 at 190.73 to defeat defending world champ Eddie Krawiec, who rode his Harley-Davidson to a 6.924 at 190.65. The semifinalists in the four-wide final were Scotty Pollacheck and Jim Underdahl.
Arana Jr. became the first rider since 2006 to win the first two races of the season, when Angelle Sampey won in Gainesville and Houston. He also became the first rider to win the four-lane format since 2010, when NHRA last contested Pro Stock Motorcycle at this race.
“This feels excellent,” said Arana Jr., who finished second in the opening round and was first in the second round. “I have a feeling it’s going to be one of those years. Everything so far has fallen into place for me. This just goes to show that we really wanted to get wins, and after last year, we’re making up for lost time. To win the four wide my first time, I love this race. It was crazy. There were a couple of guys I had to beat more than once. I had to race Eddie Krawiec all day. All three rounds I ran him and I beat him all three times.
“My bike was fast. Since last year it has been super-fast and very consistent. We do our routine maintenance, and we stay on top of our parts a little better this year.”
Arana Jr. increased his series lead to 93 over second place Pollacheck in points standings. The start to the season was especially sweet for Arana Jr. and his team because the Harley-Davidson team of Krawiec and Andrew Hines won all but one race in 2012. “We’re showing them that we’ve had this all along,” Arana Jr. said. “Now that the playing field is even, it’s our time to shine. It’s not just those guys, though. The whole Pro Stock Motorcycle class has stepped up. Everybody’s going fast, Suzukis, Buells. It’s going to be stiff competition.”
Scotty Pollacheck MORE PHOTOS
Although it was Star Racing’s and their drivers’ first time at the Four-Wide event, the Sovereign-Star Racing team earned their best qualifying spot yet with Pollacheck at the No. 2 position going into Sunday’s race. “I feel like the whole team made a lot of progress. Two or three times, we were low of the round, and we don’t normally do that,” Pollacheck said. “I think if you’re comfortable staging under normal circumstances then you’ll be fine with Four-Wide, but if you’re uncomfortable normally then you’ll struggle with it. If you focus on the lights and the tree – and not the fact that there are four people out there – you’ll be fine.”
Teammate Michael Ray, the No. 6 qualifier, also went into eliminations at a better qualifying position than his previous race with the team. “We are achieving goals. You have to have little goals to achieve before the big goals and we are achieving our little goals,” Ray said.
Pollacheck improved upon his career best and the team’s best ET with a 6.834 during qualifying but later posted an even better 6.818/194 mph during round 1 of eliminations to set the low ET of the event and a new record for himself and Star Racing. “Scotty had the right idea and the right attitude all week in preparing for the Four-Wide, and at the race and it was obvious that it paid off for him,” Star Racing owner George Bryce said. “The low ET was a new, small victory for us. We deal with our mistakes and we embrace our little victories. I hope he gets many more career firsts this year.”
After being the first to leave the line in round one, Pollacheck led the rest of the way to not only take the win against LE Tonglet and Mike Berry but to also post the low ET of the weekend. “I think we had good conditions as far as the air pressure and weather, but one thing that wasn’t good was that we did that into a headwind. I think everything was right for that run; it just all really came together on that one pass. It was pretty cool having low ET of the meet for the first time ever,” Pollacheck said.
Pollacheck moved into the final round after Shawn Gann redlit and Matt Smith had to shut down during round two. The third and final round of Four-Wide Pro Stock Motorcycle included No. 1 qualifier Hector Arana Jr., No. 2 Pollacheck, No. 7 Jim Underdahl and No. 16 Eddie Krawiec. As with the Four-Wide rules, drivers placed first through fourth for the event based on the order in which they crossed the finish line.
Pollacheck had a perfect .000 light off the line, but Arana Jr. pulled around to take the win with a 6.896. Pollacheck and Krawiec both crossed the finish line .024 seconds after Arana Jr. and within less than an inch from each other. Second place was awarded to Krawiec based on his fraction of a second lead over Pollacheck, who took third for the weekend. “That was kind of tough to take. I just felt like we had such a good weekend the whole time we were there, and it seemed like we deserved more than third place. And to have it that close at the end kind of adds insult to injury,” Pollacheck said of the final round.
As he adapts to his new Sovereign-Star Racing team, Ray is assured that a few more runs with this crew will bring him similar results as his teammate. “I felt like I drove the bike really well this weekend and allowed us to grow. With George, Chuck (Kennedy) and Scotty – they’re running really well right now, but they’ve got 18 months together as a crew and lots of runs on that bike together. I think as long as we keep growing, I’ll get to that point. I’m still No. 11 in the points; I’m one round out of the top 10. I say let’s get all these growing pains out of the way now,” Ray said.
Bryce is also confident that Ray will find his rhythm within his new team. “This past weekend, Michael was the fourth quickest in the last round of qualifying, and he and Scotty tied on ‘back half’ performance. He’s doing well adapting to the Star Racing style of racing and he has yet to peak,” Bryce said.
Although the special circumstances of the Four-Wide Nationals challenged all of the PSM teams and drivers, the Sovereign-Star Racing team was pleasantly surprised by the many small victories that resulted from this event. “I asked Michael and Scotty to focus on making their own run instead of racing and to try their best to just make them like test runs at Valdosta. That’s really hard to do, though, when there are eight stage lights on the Christmas tree,” Bryce said. “And it’s also important for everyone to remember that this was the first time that anyone from our team had ever run Four-Wide.”
Southwest Virginia cattle rancher Matt Hagan ended a 17-month winless drought by racing to the Funny Car victory. Hagan powered his Magneti Marelli/Rocky Boots Dodge Charger to the final round win over fellow Virginian Blake Alexander, veteran driver Tim Wilkerson, and rookie Chad Head to take his sixth career victory.
Hagan covered the distance in 4.071 seconds at 315.34 mph and finished in front of Alexander’s Auto Service Plus Charger, which ran 4.156 at 294.56 in his first ever runner-up finish. Wilkerson and event top qualifier Head both lost traction in their machines early in the four-wide final. “This was a big win for us,” Hagan said. “It’s been a year since we won, or longer; I don’t know. It’s been too long, and that feeling is just great to have back.
Hagan moved through eliminations as the quickest in each of his first two rounds and it was a great turnaround at this track for the 2011 world champ who has endured several spectacular explosions here in the past. “We finally put some gremlins to rest here at the racetrack at zMAX,” Hagan said. “I love this track. It’s home for me, three hours away from home. It’s one of those deals where it’s a great track. Bruton Smith does a great job with it, and it’s a fast facility. Our car just ran phenomenal in lane 2 all day long, and that says a lot for [crew chief] Dickie Venables. He’s kind of been passed over and looked over the past couple of years as a crew chief. It’s one of those deals where he’s got two rings on his fingers, and he just hadn’t found a home yet. Don Schumacher gave him an opportunity to go out here and do his own thing. The guy came in and is doing his own thing, and he’s taking notes home and doing what he’s supposed to be doing, and that drives me to do what I’m supposed to do and step up to the plate.”
With the victory, Hagan moved into the series lead, 50 ahead of second place Cruz Pedregon. It is the first time Hagan has led the points since winning the 2011 world championship title. “We took over the points lead, but it’s too early to start counting that stuff,” Hagan said. “But anybody who tells you they don’t count it is foolish; everybody’s counting points.”
In Top Fuel, Spencer Massey earned his first victory in nearly a year and won his second consecutive title at this event by holding off Tony Schumacher at the finish line. Top qualifier Shawn Langdon and Brandon Bernstein finished third and fourth. Massey’s Schumacher Electric dragster led all the way with a 3.771 at 325.45, while Schumacher was just behind in his U.S. Army dragster, finishing in 3.778 at 320.81.
“The last two years we’ve taken home the Wally, but if you think about it, [crew chiefs] Todd [Okuhara] and Phil [Shuler] have had an awesome car and an awesome team for a number of years,” said Massey, also the winner of his first two rounds. “Back when Cory McClenathan drove that FRAM car, Cory owned this racetrack. The first four wide was won by my crew, so it bleeds over from the old team, which is my team now. Whenever there’s a racetrack that you do well at, you just seem to do well at it. It doesn’t seem to make sense, but you just seem to do well. When you have confidence, it really seems to help, and when I roll up here, I know that we can win. We’ve won here before, so we just get out there and do what we know how to do and have fun.”
With his 11th career victory, Massey moves up to third in the points standings, trailing leader Schumacher and second place Antron Brown.
Pro Stock top qualifier Mike Edwards led wire-to-wire to also put an end to a mini-slump, powering his I Am Second Chevy Camaro to a 6.495 at 213.67. Erica Enders-Stevens finished second in her GK Motorsports Camaro with a 6.521 at 211.76, while Greg Anderson and Shane Gray were third and fourth in their respective Camaros.
It is the 35th career victory for Edwards, who opened up an 84-point lead on defending world champ Allen Johnson in the series standings. The Oklahoma native picked up an additional 20 points during the weekend for setting the national elapsed time record at 6.471 seconds during qualifying.
“It does feel satisfying to close the deal,” said Edwards, who finished first in each of the first two rounds of eliminations. “We’ve had numerous opportunities, and anytime you can run really good and win, it’s a phenomenal day. We ran good but we were really conservative. I’ve been shooting myself in the foot, but today, I thought if we get beat it’s not going to be because we squared the tires up and not because of the lame-brained driver we have. I’m off to a better start than my championship season. Our team is coming together, and it’s a long season, but another [title] would be great.”
Troy Coughlin raced to the NHRA Pro Mod Series victory Sunday at the Dollar General NHRA Four-Wide Nationals fueled by Full Throttle at zMAX Dragway. The NHRA Pro Mod Series portion of the event was contested in the traditional two-lane configuration. “Charlotte’s such a great place to race,” Coughlin said. “The JEGS.com car was rocking and rolling. I’ve got my family with me, and I couldn’t be more excited.”
Defending world champion Coughlin powered his JEGS.com Corvette to his third career victory in the popular 250-mph doorslammer touring series with a final round performance of 5.893 seconds at 242.19 mph. Runner-up Kenny Lang trailed Coughlin with a 5.898 at 246.98 in his Summit Racing ’63 Corvette. “I’m not sure what the reaction times were there in the final, but it was a tight race,” Coughlin said. “I could sense that he was there. I could hear that thing humming. But we got him. Thank God. What a day.”
To advance to the final round, Coughlin raced past Chip King, Mike Castellana and Mike Knowles in earlier rounds. “(Crew chief) Steve (Petty) and all the guys did a fabulous job of putting this car together for raceday,” Coughlin said. “It’s been a dream to drive.”
With the win, Coughlin moved into second place in the series standings, 19 points behind leader Von Smith. Smith lost in the second round to eventual runner-up Lang. The NHRA Pro Mod Series continues with the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals presented by Super Start Batteries, April 26-28 at Royal Purple Raceway near Houston.
EARLIER: Arana Jr leads 4-Wide Field at zMax
Hector Arana Jr. earned his first No. 1 of the season and 11th of his career with a performance of 6.826 at 195.19 on his Lucas Oil Buell to lead In Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying at the Dollar General NHRA Four-Wide Nationals fueled by Full Throttle in Charlotte. Arana Jr., who won the season-opening bike race in Gainesville a few weeks ago, will try to make it two in a row when he meets a tough set of first round challengers in brother Adam Arana and the Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson duo of Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec.
“We had all the ingredients today for fast racing,” Arana Jr. said. “Thankfully, I was able to get the No. 1 spot. It’s pretty cool to be able to do this at the four-wide. The [four-wide format] is different, but in reality, it’s the same as two-wide racing. You just have to focus on what you’re doing. It’s not that hard once you get the [staging] lights down pat. I try not to worry about anything else; I just focus on my bike and on my set of lights.”
Scotty Pollacheck was second with a 6.834 at 193.88 on his Sovereign-Star Racing Buell and the 2010 winner of this event, local favorite Matt Smith from nearby King, N.C., was third with a 6.837 at 194.63, on his Viper Motorcycle Company Buell.
Rookie Funny Car driver Chad Head raced to his first career No. 1 qualifying position Saturday. The second generation racer powered his Head Racing Toyota Camry to a career-best performance of 4.014 seconds at 315.19 mph to top the 16-car field. Head is the son of longtime NHRA nitro racer Jim Head, who has earned multiple wins in both Funny Car and Top Fuel as a driver.
“To go 4.01, it’s unbelievable,” Head said. “It’s just credit to Dad, Johnny Davis, and the whole crew. We did a really good job in testing, then we really struggled hard in Gainesville and Vegas, so to come here and rebound and do that, that’s pretty awesome. It lifts everybody’s spirits.”
Head, who has long worked behind the scenes in the sport in a variety of management roles with several different race teams, will meet Alexis DeJoria, Jeff Arend and Robert Hight in the opening round of eliminations as he goes for his first career victory at the controls of an 8,000-horsepower Funny Car. “I expected success with my father being crew chief,” Head said. “He’s very talented, and he does a great job, and that just shows you how great of a job he’s doing because I’ve got a long way to go. I’m just hanging on. I’m just lucky that the car went straight because it has nothing to do with me. It has nothing to do with my ability. It has to do with how those guys set the car up and how they do the stagger and all of that. It’s 100 percent on those guys because there’s no way in 25 runs that I have the ability to go 4.01. It just shows you how good that team is.”
John Force qualified No. 2 in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang with a run of 4.039 at 316.08 and defending world champ Jack Beckman took third in his Valvoline/MTS Dodge Charger with a 4.071 at 311.99.
Top Fuel driver Shawn Langdon, who won his first career race here last September, claimed his first No. 1 qualifying position of the season and seventh of his career with a performance of 3.751 at 327.90 in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster. “We feel pretty confident at this track,” said Langdon, whose first round opponents include seven-time world champ Tony Schumacher and rookies Brittany Force and Sideni Frigo. “The Al-Anabi car has run really good here in the past. It’s the site of my first victory, and we definitely came in this weekend with a lot of confidence and high hopes for the weekend.”
Defending event winner Spencer Massey qualified second with a 3.774 at 326.24 in his Schumacher Electric dragster, while Morgan Lucas was third in his GEICO/Lucas Oil dragster with a 3.788 at 324.90. Top Fuel points leader Schumacher entered the final qualifying session not in the field but was able to cover the distance in 3.823 at 321.19 in his U.S. Army dragster to grab the seventh spot in the order and increase his consecutive race qualifying streak to 228, currently second to Greg Anderson among active drivers.
Mike Edwards raced to his fifth consecutive No. 1 position of the season in Pro Stock, powering his I Am Second Chevy Camaro to a national elapsed time record of 6.471 seconds at 213.64 mph. It is Edward’s 46th career No. 1 position and he will open eliminations against Vincent Nobile, V Gaines and Frank Gugliotta. “Today was an awesome day,” Edwards said. “I never would have believed that we could be No. 1 at the first five races. That’s so hard to do. So far, qualifying has been great, but I need to work on race day. Hopefully we can run good tomorrow.”
Jeg Coughlin will start second in Pro Stock with a 6.495 at 213.47 in his JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Avenger, while Shane Gray qualified third in his Gray Motorsports Chevy Camaro with a 6.498 at 213.03.
Thankfully, this race at zMAX Dragway is the only NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event that features racing in a four-wide configuration.
EARLIER: John Hall(!) Leads 4-Wide Qualifying!
In a race against expected rain, Pro Stock Motorcycle was the only Pro class to complete a round of qualifying Friday at the Dollar General NHRA 4-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway near Charlotte, North Carolina. John Hall and the Text “Newtown” to 80888 Buell finished the round at the top of the charts.
Hall’s current teammate Matt Smith was the only racer in the top 5 that can be reliably counted on to be there.
Chip Eliis does his best Larry “Spiderman” McBride impersonation on Jerry Savoie’s TL1000 bodied Suzuki
Shawn Gann showed up with a “Batman” logo of sorts on his face…did he have the “mushroom” omlette?
North Carolina native Gann greeting his public before placing third in the qualifying order. MORE PHOTOS
Angie Smith cocks her Buell to the side off the starting line. MORE PHOTOS
The PSM field ready to qualify just before a short shower delayed them. MORE PHOTOS
Pro Mod did get a round in as well, with defending NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series world champion Troy Coughlin taking the lead. The race, which fortunately for Pro Modders is being contested in the traditional two-lane configuration, is the second of 10 races in 2013 for NHRA’s popular 250-mph doorslammer touring series.
Coughlin powered his JEGS.com Corvette to a leading time of 5.963 seconds at 243.72 mph. Danny Rowe was second in his ’67 Camaro with a 5.966 at 244.07 and local favorite Rickie Smith, from King, N.C., was fourth in his IDG Camaro with a 5.977 at 242.41. Series points leader and 2010 champ Von Smith was seventh in his vintage Dr. Moon Camaro with a performance of 6.033 at 236.92.
The final qualifying session for the Pro Mod Series is Saturday at 2 p.m. and will be followed by the first round of eliminations at 4 p.m. Pro Mod eliminations will continue Sunday beginning at approximately 3:30 p.m.
In Pro Stock, Shane Gray was quickest of the 10 cars that ran before the rain fell.
Pre-Race: PSM gets their 4-Wide on in Charlotte
The Aranas—and everyone—will have to get used to having more than one opponent. MORE PHOTOS
With his Gainesville win, Hector Arana Jr. leads Pro Stock Motorcycle points as the two wheel jockeys resume their season at this weekend’s Dollar General NHRA 4-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway near Charlotte, North Carolina. “Any time you get a win, it brings confidence,” said Arana Jr., who’s never led points until now. “It’s a big motivation. It’s going to really help morale inside our team and in the shop. It makes everybody amped up and excited and gives you that confidence going into race day.
“Drag racing is all mental, and when you get a win, it helps mentally. I’m going to try to use that to my advantage and hopefully keep doing well and keep that No. 1 ranking all year.”
Well that seems a little—no, a lot—overly optimistic in what promises to be the most competitive PSM season in years.
Steve Johnson against Arana Jr in the Gville final. MORE PHOTOS
With his stunning Gators runner-up, Steve Johnson rolls into Charlotte second in points—on a Suzuki, no less. Behind Arana Jr in third is his dad, Hector Sr, and no doubt H1 has no interest in seeing even his own son stay ahead of him in points. Arana Sr. finished as runner-up in the last 4-Wide Pro Stock Motorcycle race in 2010. He made seven out of a maximum seven passes that weekend, gaining valuable seat time racing against three other riders, rather than the standard (and preferable) one.
With the four-wide setup, all four racers must stage their vehicles simultaneously, requiring each to be aware of the other three competitors’ actions on the starting line. Once all four racers are pre-staged, the first driver to turn on their stage light begins the seven-second clock for the other three to stage their vehicles before the start sequence begins.
In addition to the different staging lights and procedures, the 4-Wide Nationals event also modifies the structure of the elimination brackets for Sunday, since four competitors run at one time. During the first two rounds of eliminations, the first and second racers to cross the finishline on each run will advance to the next round. The third, final round of eliminations will include the final four competitors from the previous rounds, with the drivers winning first through fourth place in the order they cross the finish line, barring any redlight starts.
Hector Arana Sr MORE PHOTOS
“That was my first experience,” Arana Sr. said of racing four-wide in 2010. “That was (also) the first time we’d seen the new blue staging bulb. That was the most confusing part for me, trying to concentrate on that. All those years I have raced, it was always amber. That was the hardest thing. But since then, they’ve implemented that everywhere.”
Arana Sr. qualified fourth and advanced all the way to the final round in 2010, where he beat two riders but couldn’t out-run No. 1 qualifier Matt Smith.
Matt Smith MORE PHOTOS
Charlotte will be a home race for Smith, his wife Angie, and their Viper Motorcycles team. Matt also qualified No. 1 last time out at the Gators, but lost in round 1 when his Buell didn’t shift. That early out puts Matt 9th going into Charlotte—three spots behind his other teammate John Hall and the Text “Newtown” to 80888 Buell. Ahead of Hall is 5th place Andrew Hines and Sovereign/Star Racing’s Scotty Pollacheck in 4th.
Scotty Pollacheck MORE PHOTOS
“I’m really excited about the four-wide event. It’s new and different for us,” Pollacheck said. “I’ve also been trying to anticipate some of the differences with the four-wide setup. There are more things to think about at the starting line so it will be harder, but for the most part you’re still doing the same thing. You just have to be a little more aware.”
“This will be our team’s first four-wide race,” Star Racing owner George Bryce said. “We’re just going to look at it as an opportunity because it’s unusual and historically our team does pretty well with unusual events. We have several special trophies around our showroom from winning unique events. So, we’re going to watch, learn, adapt, and have fun with the new opportunity, and go as fast as we can.”
Michael Ray MORE PHOTOS
“The starting line procedure at ZMAX, from what I’ve read and heard, is a little different,” said Pollacheck’s teammate Michael Ray. “But I’m focusing on just making the best pass I can and executing what we’ve been practicing with riding the bikes really well.”
“This will be the second time, so I know what to expect,” Arana Sr. said. “I’m OK with it. It’ll probably take one or two runs to get back into the rhythm, but it should be interesting and fun to do it again.”
Eddie Krawiec MORE PHOTOS
Well if 3X national champ Eddie Krawiec is to “do it again,” he will have to move up from his current 7th place in points. You can bet that his and Hines’ Vance&Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson team will have made great strides with their new engines since Gainesville.
Chip Ellis on Jerry Savoie’s White Alligator Racing ‘Busa. MORE PHOTOS
And my choice for dark horse this week? Look out for Chip Ellis getting back into the Suzuki groove on Jerry Savoie ’s White Alligator Racing ‘Busa bodied bike.
Qualifying for the Dollar General NHRA 4-Wide Nationals get under way at 2:30 p.m. on Friday. On Saturday, qualifying will continue at 12:15 p.m. Sunday’s eliminations get under way at noon. ESPN2 will broadcast the qualifying show at 5 p.m. EDT on Saturday and the eliminations show at 7 p.m. Sunday.