Aranas bite back, take Smith down in final

NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway, Sonoma, California USA, July 26-28, 2013

story and photos by Tim Hailey (except where noted) compiled from releases from NHRA and others

Arana Jr. (shown at Gainesville in the near lane above) claimed his fourth Pro Stock Motorcycle win of the season at the NHRA Sonoma Nationals, riding his Lucas Oil Buell to a performance of 6.878 at 195.45 to beat event top qualifier and Viper Motorcycle Company Buell rider Matt Smith on a holeshot in the final round. It is Arana Jr.’s seventh career victory and first at Sonoma. “It was nice to have a little momentum to get back to the top,” Arana Jr. said. “It had been a while for us. After I won those three races, I started to think about winning the race before winning the first round. Not anymore.”

Arana increased his points lead to 149 over Smith with one race remaining before the Countdown to the Championship begins. But for now, Arana will simply enjoy the spoils of the Sonoma win. He started the season by winning the first three races, becoming only the third Pro Stock Motorcycle rider to accomplish that feat.

But he damaged an engine in Englishtown, bringing the streak to an end, and then he struggled with redlights. Arana lost in the semifinals in Chicago on a redlight, then in the first round in Norwalk, Ohio. He bounced back with a final-round appearance in Denver but lost when a mechanical malfunction caused the bike to hesitate on the starting line. “I wanted to get back really bad,” Arana said. “That wasn’t a mental malfunction; we had a mechanical error. We adjusted the two-step switch on the bike, and for Denver it’s really finicky. It just got away from us over there. It looked like I had a horrible light, but it just spun the tire in place. When I popped the clutch, it felt like I was in neutral.”

Arana wanted redemption in Sonoma, and he earned it with four round-wins on Sunday. He started by topping Scotty Pollacheck with a pass of 6.842 seconds at 194.83 mph, edging Pollacheck’s 6.854-second pass at 193.79 mph. Arana then won another close race with a run of 6.851 seconds at 196.64 mph to slip past Jerry Savoie’s 6.872 at 195.11 mph in the second round. In the semifinals, Arana took out upstart Katie Sullivan with a lap of 6.856 seconds at 195.25 mph to beat Sullivan’s run of 6.904 at 190.89 mph. That put Arana against Smith, who had beaten Hector Arana Sr. in the other semifinal. “That’s one of our goals, to be in the final together as father and son,” Arana said. “It didn’t happen, but everything happens for a reason. I was able to come back and get the win for our team. That felt really good and gratifying.”

Arana left first with a .009-second reaction time to Smith’s .045 light, and Arana hung on with a pass of 6.878 seconds at 195.45 mph, beating Smith’s quicker 6.877 at 195.45 mph. “It was the motivation to get back on top and to hoist one of these Wallys up again,” Arana said. “I knew (good friend) Vincent (Nobile) was in the (Pro Stock) final. I knew I had to get the win because I had a good feeling he was going to win.”

Nobile did win, and the two got to celebrate together. Arana is dating Nobile’s sister Nicole.

The Pro Stock Motorcycle class now gets a break before racing at the U.S. Nationals on Aug. 28-Sept. 2 at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis. The Arana Racing team hopes to have a new engine configuration in all three Buells for Indy. “We’re going to work hard this month off and go over everything,” Arana said. “We’re going to put everything on the dyno and see what happens. Dad’s motor shows some promising numbers, and we’re looking forward to longevity. Hopefully we’ll all have those engines for the Countdown.”

Arana Sr., riding the bike that carried him to the 2009 championship, won the first round over John Hall and posted the lowest elapsed time of the round, 6.805 seconds, with a damned high speed of 198.15 mph. “The bike left straight as an arrow, and I didn’t have to fight it,” Arana said. “I knew I was on a good run. I was able to stay tucked, and to my surprise 198 mph. That’s the fastest I’ve ever gone.”

But he went even faster in the second round against L.E. Tonglet, beating the 2010 champion with a pass of 6.816 seconds at 198.44 mph that was again low of the round. The 198.44-mph speed was the seventh-fastest ever in the class and the fastest for a Buell.

That performance dipped in the semifinals, though, as Arana slowed to a pass of 6.891 seconds at 196.07 mph. Most of the ET was lost early in the run. “The bike left and it spun the tire so bad,” Arana said. “There could’ve been something on the track. It spun it in second gear, so from there on everything went downhill. On top of it, I had to fight the bike. That bike can make one or two good runs and then the other run it shoots to the right. There’s something there, and I just don’t know what’s going on with it yet.”

But Arana leaves Sonoma in a good position, moving up to fourth in the Pro Stock Motorcycle points standings. “Overall performance-wise and what we have found, yes I am happy, especially going back home,” Arana said. “We have time to freshen up all these engines.”

Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Vincent Nobile (Pro Stock) and Ron Capps (Funny Car) also were winners of the Sonoma NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event, the 15th of 24 in the 2013 season.

Capps powered his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger to his fourth win at the scenic Bay Area track with a holeshot performance of 4.085 seconds at 307.79 mph to hold off the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang of 15-time world champion John Force in the final round. It marked the 40th career win for the California native. “You’re not just racing any car in the final – you’re racing John Force,” said Capps, who has won at Sonoma Raceway three of the last four seasons. “It can be intimidating to a lot of people.”

“I have no complaints,” said Force. “(Crew chief) Jimmy Prock brought this Prock Rocket back. I wasn’t where I should have been today on the tree. I thought I could get there. We’ll go to Seattle. I’ll work that gym harder and get up again. Ron Capps is a good driver but I had the best race car.”

Force has seven wins at Sonoma Raceway and this was his twelfth final round at the Northern California race track. His career record versus Capps stands at 44-26 and his final round record is 8-7 now. The most amazing stat for the winningest driver in HRA history came to fruition when Force reached his 220th final round at today’s NHRA Sonoma Nationals which was the 800th NHRA national event. It is even more incredible when you consider that Funny Car has only been contested at about 60% of those 800 races.

Force started the day beating former teammate Tony Pedregon in the opening round then he took out Johnny Gray with a 4.057 second run in the second round. The semi-finals Force had a tough match-up against Alexis DeJoria and the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang stepped up posting a 4.086 second pass to DeJoria’s equally strong 4.095 seconds.

Capps outran Del Worsham, Jeff Arend, and Courtney Force to reach the final round. He leaves the event No. 2 in the Mello Yello points standings, his highest ranking since he left the Gainesville event tied for first in mid-March. Event top qualifier Matt Hagan, who was upset in the opening round by Alexis DeJoria, continues to lead the series standings by 27 points over Capps.

“This place has a lot of great memories,” Capps added. “We have a big NAPA presence here and were the only Don Schumacher Racing car in the final. No pressure, right? I try to stay humble. I have a lot of great people behind me to keep me focused. I think we can accomplish that goal of getting to the top.”

In Top Fuel, points leader Langdon claimed his fourth win of the season and fifth of his career by defeating former high school classmate Morgan Lucas in the final round. Langdon powered his Al-Anabi Racing dragster to a performance of 3.920 at 240.47 to hold off Lucas’ GEICO/Lucas Oil dragster, which slowed near mid-track. “This is a dream season,” Langdon said. “To get four wins at this point in the season feels like we have a strong car. Racing Morgan was pretty cool because we grew up together and went to high school together. A lot of memories racing with friends.”

With the win, his first at Sonoma, Langdon extends his series points lead to 102 over second place Spencer Massey. Langdon outran Houston winner Bob Vandergriff, veteran Doug Kalitta and defending world champion Antron Brown to advance to the final round.

In Pro Stock, Nobile and his Mountain View Tire Dodge Avenger team picked up their second win of the season. In the final round, Nobile drove to victory with a performance of 6.572 seconds at 208.58 mph against four-time world champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. whose Avenger shook the tires and shut off. “This was an interesting day for sure but we were long overdue for a win,” Nobile said. “In the final, our engine was hurt in the water box and I thought I was a sitting duck. That’s a helpless feeling. Jeg is someone I’ve always looked up to when I was little. He is still one of the best, if not the best driver out here.”

The victory is Nobile’s second of the season and seventh of his career, moving him to fifth in points. Nobile defeated Jason Line, points leader and event top qualifier Mike Edwards and Greg Anderson to reach the final round.Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Vincent Nobile (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were winners of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event, the 15th of 24 in the 2013 season.

Smith, field Knock the Aranas Down

Matt Smith (above) powered his Viper Motorcycle Company Buell to the No. 1 Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying position at the NHRA Sonoma Nationals with a 6.838 at 195.73. Friday’s qualifying was topped by all three members of the Arana family, but Saturday saw the Aranas kncked off the top and spread around the field.

“Our Viper Motorsports team has really jelled together,” Smith said. “The last four races we have had three final rounds, two wins, couple of No. 1 qualifiers and we are running good. That was some new pieces on the bike and I didn’t want to throw it on but I did because we had a headwind when we had Q 3 and sitting number two. That is what our new stuff is going to look like for the Countdown [to the Championship], and I have to get a few laps on it and get it all tuned up but we should be really fast come countdown time.”

This is his third No. 1 qualifying position of the season and 21st of his career. The 2007 Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion will face Denver winner Shawn Gann in the opening round. Points lead Hector Arana Jr. qualified second and will face Scott Pollacheck in the first round of eliminations. Arana Jr. was knocked off the top spot by Smith in the last pair.

“That we were able to improve on every run means that we have something to look forward to on Sunday,” Arana Jr. said. “We had the No. 1 spot for about six seconds, but, hey, we’re close. He didn’t surpass us by a mile. We’ll look at all our data and see if maybe there’s something else there. But the main thing is we went consistently quicker on each run. We didn’t go backwards, so the outlook for Sunday is really good.

“Scotty’s a great competitor and they were able to get qualified at the last minute, but you never know because they can always run a number. They’ve got a good team. They put a tune-up to get down the track, so you’ve got to be ready for them on Sunday because they’ll be there.”

Arana Sr. qualified No. 4 with an engine named “Forrest” after Lucas Oil founder Forrest Lucas, but he would like to wring a few more hundredths of a second out of his Pro Stock Motorcycle. “I definitely feel better going into eliminations tomorrow,” Arana said. “I know there’s more in the bike, so I feel like I can run those numbers or even better. Just give me time with that motor and we’ll get it.”

Arana led the class after Friday’s two sessions, and though he continued to go quicker in Saturday’s qualifying, he ended up No. 4. His best pass was 6.865 seconds at 195.05 in Q4, but his other runs were nearly as fast: 6.944 at 192.28 mph in Q1, 6.894 at 190.86 mph in Q2, and 6.879 at 195.87 mph in Q3.

“There was something going on with my other motor,” Arana said. “Now my clutch setup is different, and I also had an issue with the bike going straight. The new engine combination throws the whole tune-up off, and the chassis is not responding with the engine and the tune-up. We talked with the guy who built the frame, and we looked at a couple of things. We moved some stuff around. We might have to get a different frame.”

Arana will square off against No. 13 qualifier John Hall, whose best pass was 6.925 seconds at 191.87 mph.

Adam Arana and crew chief Charles Gordon discovered a minor problem with their engine, named “Abigail” after Arana’s sister. “The motor was not running right,” Arana said. “It just didn’t run. We’ve got to take it apart and see what’s up.”

The engine was not severely damaged, and “Abigail” will remain in Arana’s Buell. He posted a top lap of 6.902 seconds at 192.19 mph in Friday’s second qualifying session, which at the time was good enough for the No. 2 spot. But Saturday was a different day and Arana was unable to improve, though he made a nearly identical pass of 6.904 seconds at 194.63 mph in Q3, and that run wasn’t perfect.

“The bike was running good,” Arana said. “We had a bad bog in Q3. We lost four-hundredths because of a bog, and if we didn’t have that we would’ve gone a lot quicker. But shoulda, coulda, woulda; it doesn’t really mean anything right now. We need to get this motor running well and get ready for E1.”

Arana will face No. 7 qualifier Jerry Savoie in the first round of eliminations on Sunday. Savoie’s best pass was 6.898 seconds at 194.13 mph, run in the final session.

David Grubnic (Top Fuel), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Funny Car driver Matt Hagan also will lead their categories into Sunday’s 11 a.m. eliminations as the No. 1 qualifiers at the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event.

No one bettered Hagan’s track record performance of 3.986 seconds at 320.51 mph in his Magneti Marelli/Rocky Boots Dodge Charger from Friday and the Virginia driver earned his 13th No. 1 of his career. He will face Alexis DeJoria in the first round of eliminations as the 2011 world champ tries for his fourth win of the season and first ever at Sonoma Raceway. “We were pressing pretty hard in the first session today, and it felt good to lay down a 4.07 for the second-quickest run of the last session,” Hagan said. “Those bonus points all add up, so we’ll take every one of them that we can get. It’s great to be up here in Sonoma and get a No. 1 qualifier under our belt.

“Dickie [Venables, crew chief] and the Magneti Marelli/Rocky Boots guys put a great horse underneath me that I had the opportunity to ride without messing it up. This team has a lot of confidence after starting the year being thrown together at the last-minute. I knew Dickie was good, but I had no idea that he was this good.”

Cruz Pedregon, second in points and most recent Funny Car winner, qualified 10th and will face seventh place qualifier Courtney Force. Seven-time NHRA Sonoma Nationals winner John Force led the team as the No. 4 qualifier. His Castrol GTX Ford Mustang was the quickest Funny Car of both sessions today earning six valuable qualifying bonus points.

“We got a good ole hot rod, The Prock Rocket! Sometimes change is good. Mike Neff is doing great, ran 4.07 and Courtney ran 4.07, but they had a problem there in the final run. I’m going to go find out what happened. I ran for a couple of sessions, but tomorrow’s race day. I ran 4.06 today and an 4.02 last night. My biggest highlight is my daughter Brittany (Force) in that dragster. Pulling it out right there at the end in the Castrol EDGE dragster and making the show. I’m so excited about that,” said Force.

Force will race former teammate and protégé Tony Pedregon in the first round. Force has a career record of 59-26 against the two-time Mello Yello Funny Car champion and has never lost to him, 4-0, in the first round at Sonoma Raceway.

In Top Fuel, Grubnic in his Optima Batteries dragster, raced to his first No. 1 qualifying position of the season with his pass of 3.765 at 324.28. This is his first top qualifying position of the season and the 10th of his career. It is his first No. 1 qualifying position at Sonoma Raceway where he has two runner-up finishes. He will face Terry McMillen in the first round of eliminations.

“Being the No. 1 qualifier here is great,” Grubnic said. “This sport has its ups and downs, and you have to take the good with the bad. So far, we’ve been very fortunate to have one of our better weekends. We felt pretty good about making the best run on a 120-degree track in the first session today. Hopefully, we can carry that momentum tomorrow.”

Steve Torrence will start from the second qualifying position with his run of 3.766 at 323.27 and will face Tommy Johnson Jr. Top Fuel points leader Shawn Langdon in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster will race Bob Vandergriff in the first round of eliminations. Spencer Massey added his name to the Countdown to the Championship roster in Top Fuel by qualifying for the event.

In Pro Stock Edwards earned his 11th No. 1 qualifying position of the season and the 52nd in his career in his K&N Filters/I Am Second Chevy Camaro. This is his second No. 1 qualifying position at Sonoma Raceway, a track where he has yet to win. Edwards has three wins this season after qualifying No. 1.

“It’s about time to do something; I’ve been a bridesmaid here a couple of times,” Edwards said. “Tomorrow is another day but the K&N Camaro ran very well today. It was close this weekend so you have to make the right decisions and the driver will be the most important thing. My biggest concern is Mike Edwards. If I can pull up there and do my job, I’ll have a chance to win the race. Hopefully we’ll have a good long day tomorrow.”

Edwards’ nearest competitor in Pro Stock points, 2012 world champion Allen Johnson, qualified third and will race Chris McGaha. Shane Gray qualified second and will look for his first win of the season when he lines up against Deric Kramer.

EARLIER: Hector Sr leads Arana Sweep of Friday qualifying

Hector Arana Sr. (above) led a 1-2-3 Arana sweep of Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying after two sessions at the NHRA Sonoma Nationals on Friday, sliding ahead of sons Adam and Hector Jr., who stand second and third, respectively. “It’s definitely cool,” H1 said. “It’s something that I’ve wanted to see happen. We’ve just got to stay calm and collected and get the best data that we can so tomorrow we can keep the same pace and stay 1-2-3 because that’s my dream.”

All the Arana riders were thrilled they went 1-2-3. “It’s awesome,” Adam said. “We’ve been wanting to do it all year. We definitely have the performance to do it, but stuff just didn’t line up. Now everything’s clicking, everyone’s hitting their shift points, everyone’s doing an awesome job riding. I’m stoked.”

Said Hector Jr., “It’s definitely one of our goals (to go 1-2-3). It’s not over yet. We’re halfway there, but if we do it that’s one more thing we can check off the list for 2013.”

Arana holds the provisional No. 1 with a pass of 6.894 seconds at 190.86 mph, which was run in the final pair of the second qualifying session. With weather conditions improving, Pro Stock Motorcycles picked up over Q1, causing Arana to raise his eyebrow. He talked to Adam about staying calm for Q2, telling his 22-year-old son not to worry about the quicker elapsed times.

“I walked away and I kept seeing all those numbers dropping,” Arana said. “I said, ‘I’ve got to listen to myself, too.’

“I was surprised when I saw Adam run a .90. I was tickled to death. I didn’t think I ran that quick. I was struggling a little bit making the run, and to my surprise it was an .89. I was happy.”

His sons were all smiles, too, despite being knocked off the top spot. Adam was No. 3 after the first session but put down a 6.902-second lap at 192.19 mph in Q2. Hector Jr., 24, led Q1, and though he went quicker in Q2 with a pass of 6.906 seconds at 191.62 mph, he slipped to No. 3.

“He was bragging about it at the other end (in Q1),” Arana said of his oldest son. “When I heard I got that .89, I looked at him but he didn’t say anything. It feels good.”

Arana’s last No. 1 qualifier was in Brainerd, Minn., nearly one year ago. He doesn’t mind his sons grabbing the spotlight as they’ve done this year (Hector Jr. has three wins and leads the points standings and Adam has one No. 1 qualifier and one final-round appearance in his rookie season), but Arana wants to be successful, too.

“Like any dad, I give them the best; they have the best engines,” Arana said. “I’ve struggled with my engine a little bit. Suddenly we have another motor that shows a little bit more performance, so we put it in, and to my surprise we’re doing OK.”

Funny Car points leader Matt Hagan raced to the qualifying lead in dominating fashion. Hagan’s track record performance of 3.986 seconds at 320.51 mph in his Magneti Marelli/Rocky Boots Dodge Charger tied the second-quickest and sixth-fastest runs for a Funny Car in NHRA history and it capped an exciting and fast first day of qualifying where several track records were reset. Sonoma Raceway became the fifth NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series track to showcase four-second Funny Car runs. Jack Beckman drove his Valvoline/MTS Dodge Charger to a performance of 3.994 at 319.67 to join Hagan in the three-second zone.

“The only word to describe it is awesome,” Hagan said. “Dickie [Venables, crew chief] went back and put a new [fuel] pump on it and said, ‘Hey, kid. Hold on.’ Dickie was swinging for the fence, and it stuck. I wish everyone could feel how it feels to go that fast. It’s one of the coolest things on earth. As soon as the clutch went 1:1, it put me back in the seat and just kept climbing.”

In Top Fuel, David Grubnic powered his Optima Batteries dragster to the front of the order in Top Fuel with a track record time of 3.765 at 324.28. Native Australian Grubnic has yet to record a No. 1 position this season and has nine in his career.

“We’ve been No. 1 in the past, and it’s great to be No. 1 again,” Grubnic said. “It’s a great job by [owner/tuner] Connie Kalitta. I can’t thank him and the crew enough. For me to come here and represent Optima Batteries and longtime sponsor Red Line Oil at their home race is fantastic. I used that whole lane. We were getting every little bit of it that we could out there. I think it can hold up, but we’re not going to count our chickens before they hatch. It only takes a thousandth of a second to drop it.”

In Pro Stock, Mike Edwards continued his qualifying mastery by powering his K&N Filters/I Am Second Chevy Camaro to the qualifying lead with a run of 6.526 at 212.23. Edwards, who has never won at Sonoma, has 10 No. 1 qualifying positions this season and 51 in his career. “We made a lot better run the second time around,” Edwards said. “We had transmission problems there going into fourth gear and we need to look at that and see what’s going on. If not for that, I think I could have run a low 6.51. It does feel good to come here and run well. We’ve run good here before. We didn’t do so well in Denver, but that’s over and done with. Hopefully we can move on.”

Qualifying for the NHRA Sonoma Nationals continues on Saturday with two sessions starting at 12:15 p.m. PDT. Eliminations are at 11 a.m. on Sunday. ESPN will broadcast the qualifying show starting at 7 p.m. EDT on Saturday and ESPN2 will air the eliminations show at 8 p.m. on Sunday.