story and photos by Tim Hailey
Sovereign-Star Racing’s Michael Ray claimed his second career victory in his first final round appearance of 2013 at the Toyota NHRA Summernationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J., but will anyone remember?? It was, after all, the event forever linked with the Matt Smith Racing/Team Arana brawl (see below).
The win marks the 79th NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle Wally for Star Racing and the company’s first since 2008. It also marked the first victory for the Sovereign-Star Racing combination that was organized last season by Star Racing’s George Bryce and his Sovereign Racing partner Jenõ Rujp. Ray will now join the list of nine other professional racers who have claimed wins for Star Racing, including John Myers and Angelle Sampey who won a combined six NHRA Championships for the team.
“There are 78 of these Wally trophies at our shop, and they were getting lonely! We needed to bring home a new buddy for them,” Bryce said. “What really put this win into perspective for me was the fact that the last race we won was in 2008 at the Finals in Pomona with the Chris Rivas Drag Specialties team. When we came back from our three-year sabbatical of not racing during ‘09, ‘10 and ‘11, we didn’t realize it would take us 14 months to get back to the front of the pack.”
Ray won his first Wally at the 2012 AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals in Dallas, where he became the only non-Harley driver to win a 2012 NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle national event and broke the Harley-Davidson/Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle team’s streak of 13 consecutive wins. “Last year was such a roller coaster for the Sovereign-Star team to get everything going. So, to join them this year and to see that it’s all really starting to come together is awesome. Everyone at the Star Racing shop has just been working so hard, and it has all paid off,” Ray said.
After qualifying at No. 4, Ray’s road to victory on his S&S-powered Buell began as he faced No. 13 Mike Berry in round one eliminations on Sunday. Following his win against Berry, Ray was up against former Star/Sovereign racer John Hall for round two. In a close race, Ray’s quick reaction time of .021 seconds gave him the jump he needed to take the holeshot win.
With engine trouble after crossing the finish line in round two, the Sovereign-Star Racing crew came together to pour all of their efforts into completing a successful engine swap within the short, 45-minute break between rounds. In the semifinal round, Ray posted a 7.073 ET to take the win against Shawn Gann’s 7.121.
In the final round of eliminations, Ray faced Hector “Boom-Boom” Arana. Ray once again won on a holeshot with his quick .008-second reaction time. This huge lead at the start earned Ray the win as he pulled away at the finish line to post a 6.954 ET at 193 mph to Arana’s 6.952 ET at 191 mph. Ray’s win also broke the three-race winning streak of Arana’s son, Hector Jr., who has faced fellow Sovereign-Star Racing driver Scotty Pollacheck in the past two final rounds of competition at Charlotte and Houston.
“I’m just the jockey racing the horse. We won on a true team effort, because we won on two holeshots and then just went really fast the next time. It was destiny for us to come out and win one of the biggest races of the year other than Indy,” Ray said.
Ray’s teammate Pollacheck did not qualify due to technical problems during all four qualifying rounds Friday and Saturday. The motorcycle experienced a failed crank sensor and throttle position sensor, as well as issues with the clutch and an engine swap between sessions. “We made four runs and had four completely different problems every time. It was not really anything that was foreseeable or anybody’s fault. That’s just how it goes in racing sometimes,” Pollacheck said.
Despite the disappointment, Pollacheck and the rest of the crew gave their full support as Ray raced to a win for Sovereign-Star Racing on Sunday. “It was bittersweet because we weren’t qualified. It was great that Michael was doing so well; he rode phenomenal. To get to a team win and a trophy and all that stuff was pretty awesome,” Pollacheck said.
“Yesterday, I rode well because Scotty was there to be an awesome mentor for me,” Ray said. “He never showed any frustration all weekend. I made a point to tell him that he was just as instrumental as everyone else in helping me to win, because it was a true team effort. I’ve never felt more a part of a team and family than I do right now. I also want to thank Scotty’s wife, Susan, who really helped me out this weekend.”
Although Pollacheck earned only a few points toward the championship this past weekend, his prior strong lead over third place kept him at the No. 2 position going into the next race. Following his big win, Ray has moved up to No. 4 from the No. 8 spot in the overall NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series points standings. He is now only five points behind No. 3 Arana and six points from Pollacheck’s No. 2 position.
The Sovereign-Star Racing Team would like to thank the following sponsors: Sovereign, Star Racing, Americus Motorsports Complex, S&S Cycle, Daytona Sensors, Worldwide Bearings, CP Pistons, Cometic Gaskets, Quality Tire, and Uncle Hal Gottspeed Racing.
As for the brawl, the NHRA announced that it has fined Dan Gonzalez $7,500 as a result of the incident in the pits. “Gonzalez was involved in an altercation with Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Matt Smith in Hector Arana Jr.’s pit area, which involved both profanity and physical abuse. Such action is inappropriate behavior and in violation of participant conduct as outlined in Section 1, page 3, section 1.3.1, of the 2013 NHRA Rulebook. Gonzalez also is required to formally apologize to Smith for his unacceptable sportsmanship. Any further incidents will result in additional disciplinary action up to, and including, suspension of competition privileges.
The fine must be paid in full prior to Gonzalez being eligible to participate at any future NHRA events. The fine is appealable, as outlined in section 1, pages 16-23 of the 2013 NHRA Rulebook.”
In the semifinals, Arana Sr. faced Smith, the No. 3 qualifier. H1 got the better of Smith with a .022 light and ran quicker as well, going 6.999 seconds at 190.11 mph to Smith’s 7.005 at 190.00 mph. “You want to win every round, but yes that was sweeter,” Arana Sr. said. “I did celebrate on that one.”
EARLIER: MSR vs. The Aranas
“I’m qualified #1 and no one’s going to be talking about me at all!” fumed Steve Johnson, and he’s right, because a brouhaha erupted in the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle pits at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, Englishtown, N.J, and somebody called the cops! Apparently it was all about a seat, a design that Hector Arana thought was stolen from him by Matt Smith Racing. Hector had words with Angie Smith at the top end. Husband Matt confronted Hector and a long, fierce argument ensued. “Too long,” said a bystander. “The argument went on too long.” Long enough that Arana Racing crew chief Dan Gonzalez apparently punched Smith and it was on. Gonzalez has been suspended by the NHRA for the remainder of the event. Eatmyink will have more on this story when it’s available.
Johnson’s 6.931 held up throughout Sunday’s rounds and he will face Shawn Gann in round 1 of eliminations. The Hectors will have to race each other, as Senior bumped his way into only 15th. The Harleys wil also face each other, with Andrew Hines qualifying 7th and champion Eddie Krawiec 10th.
The brawl with the Aranas brought out the beast in Matt Smith, as he qualified third and will face Jerry Savoie—returning for his first race following off season neck surgery. Smith’s teammate John Hall faces Michael Phillips, who boasted in advance that he had something for the field this weekend. Matt’s wife Angie will race #6 Jimmy Underdahl, and rookie Adam Arana draws LE Tonglet.
Other than the fisticuffs, the biggest story of the weekend so far has to be #2 in points Scotty Pollacheck’s DNQ. “Didn’t qualify for the 1st time in 20 races,” said Pollacheck on Twitter. “4 runs/4 different issues=a seasons worth of problems out of the way in 1 race.” Pollacheck’s teammate Michael Ray has had a great weekend so far, qualifying 4th and facing Mike Berry in E1.
EARLIER: Day 1 results from E-town
Johnson raced to the qualifying lead aboard his Steve Johnson Racing Suzuki with a 6.931 at 192.22. He has not posted a No. 1 qualifying position since Norwalk in 2010, and if his time stays, it would be his third No. 1 qualifying position of his career. “I don’t know if it will hold up but it will be cool as heck if it does,” Johnson said. “There is so much attention on our series right now and so much publicity. We’re going to Epping in a couple of weeks for the inaugural race there and this is a good tune-up for that. We have a new engine and it was good to see what we can do in this kind of weather. The track was really hot, and we have not run on anything like that yet. We experimented a little on that second run and that’s why it was a little slow.”
Points leader Hector Arana Jr. made the quickest run in the second session of Friday’s qualifying on his Lucas Oil Buell with a 6.933 at 192.88, moving him to the second spot while Michael Ray holds on to the third position on his Soverign-Star Racing Buell with a 6.943 at 192.60, with MSR’s John Hall fourth and Jimmy Underdahl fifth.
Top Fuel driver Clay Millican raced to the qualifying lead Friday. Millican powered his Parts Plus dragster to a leading performance of 3.792 seconds at 321.27 mph during the second of two qualifying sessions. If the effort stands it will be Millican’s first No. 1 qualifying position in his 155-race career. “We hope this is just the initial start of good things to come,” Millican said. “We’ve had a great season and our car has run well everywhere we’ve run. It was a huge deal for me to keep the car nice and straight. What a great run. Some of our best numbers ever.”
Khalid alBalooshi was second in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster with a 3.770 at 324.98 and series points leader Tony Schumacher was third in his U.S. Army dragster, posting a 3.777 at 317.34. New Jersey native and defending world champion Antron Brown was 12th in his Matco Tools dragster, posting a 3.888 at 302.62.
The 2011 Mello Yello Funny Car world champion Matt Hagan made the quickest run on Friday’s second qualifying session with a performance of 4.050 at 315.64 in his Magneti Marelli/Rocky Footwear Dodge Charger. If the effort holds, this would be Hagan’s second No. 1 qualifying position of the season, first at Englishtown and the 12th of his career. “It’s all about setting up on Friday and we got to make a good run,” Hagan said. “[Crew chief] Dickie Venables has been knocking it out of the park. He’s been giving me a car that stays lit and is easy to drive, so all I really have to think about is my reaction time. He’s been a real leader for our team. He hasn’t had a real fair shake for the last couple years, and he’s impressed me with how motivated he is and how much he cares for this job.”
Del Worsham, a two-time Englishtown winner, was second with a 4.074 at 312.78 in his DHL Toyota Camry, and defending world champion Jack Beckman was third in his Valvoline/MTS Dodge Charger with a 4.074 at 308.35.
In Pro Stock, series points leader Mike Edwards continues to lead in the category by posting a leading performance of 6.545 at 210.73 in his Interstate Batteries/I Am Second Chevy Camaro. “We made two really nice runs and once again my guys have done a tremendous job,” Edwards said. “It’s been an awesome season for us and hopefully we can get better.”
If Edwards’ time stands, it will be his eighth No. 1 qualifying position of the season, 49th of his career and second at Englishtown.
Shane Gray was second in his Gray Motorsports Chevy Camaro with a 6.564 at 210.41 and Erica Enders-Stevens was third in her Black iGuana-backed Chevrolet Camaro with a 6.569 at 210.50. New York native Vincent Nobile was seventh in his Mountain View Tire Dodge Avenger, posting a 6.595 at 210.37 while defending world champion Allen Johnson was sixth with a performance of 6.590 at 211.06 in his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger.
Danny Rowe raced to the qualifying lead Friday in Pro Mod. Rowe, a two-time and defending Englishtown event winner, led the field with a top performance of 5.926 seconds at 247.57 mph in his supercharged Agave Underground Tequila ’68 Camaro. If his time stands, this would be his second No.1 qualifying position of the season and fifth of his career.
New York native Mike Castellana was second in his Al-Anabi Racing ’68 Camaro with a 5.935 at 244.03, while veteran driver Rickie Smith was third in his nitrous-powered late model IDG Chevy Camaro, posting a 5.964 at 243.11.
Series points leader Kenny Lang qualified fifth in his Summit Racing ’63 Corvette with a time of 6.042 at 241.63 while Von Smith, who is second in the points standings, qualified fourth with a time of 6.022 at 241.24 in his Dr. Moon’s Rage ’68 Camaro. Defending event winner and world champ Troy Coughlin was 10th in his JEGS.com Corvette with a 6.231 at 236.59.