story and photos by Tim Hailey
Sophomore Pro Stock Motorcycle racer John Hall (above) collected his first Wally—the coveted trophy for an NHRA national event win—at the inaugural Auto-Plus NHRA New England Nationals at New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire. “We picked a good race to win,” said Hall, who lives only 3 hours away in Connecticut. “It was crazy. I couldn’t believe how many people were here. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many people at a race. Fans were thanking us for coming here to race for them.”
Through most of qualifying, though, Hall wasn’t entirely sure he’d be able to race at all. Sitting 15th in a 16-bike field at end of the third qualifying session, Hall and the Matt Smith Racing team decided to swap out the V-Twin powerplant with one sporting the new S&S cam chest. The bike liked it, pushing Hall all the way to 6th in the qualifying order.
Hall’s first eliminations round lined him up against another rider who—like Hall—was hungry for his first win. Also like Hall, Jerry Savoie is a successful businessman fighting for respect in the world of NHRA professional drag racing. And the race was epic, with razor thin margins at the tree and finishline.
eliminations round 1
(W) John Hall .009 rt 6.910 at 192.52 mph
Jerry Savoie .018 rt 6.915 at 194.07 mph
“That was my closest race of the day,” said Hall, whose .009 reaction time help set him up for success in the round 2 match-up with his teammate and tuner, Matt Smith. “Matt saw my light in the first round and he was going for it,” said Hall. “And he knew I had a good tune-up…”
eliminations round 2
(W) John Hall .042 rt 6.907 at 193.46 mph
Matt Smith -.004(R) rt 6.915 at 194.38 mph
“No one can say Matt doesn’t give his teammates as good of a tune-up as he gives himself,” Hall said after the round, where Smith redlit then was slightly out run.
It was also the round win that got Hall thinking this might be his day, that a win might happen. “You always need that one round of luck. They were all tough races today, but I figured Matt would be tough and he was. He wasn’t too far off on the tree or the track.”
Smith is a former NHRA Mello Yello champion, and so was Hall’s next opponent—L.E. Tonglet. Hall slacked at the tree a bit against Smith’s redlight, but he was back on his game and then some against Tonglet, nailing a .004 and never looking back.
(W) John Hall .004 rt 6.927 at 193.46 mph
LE Tonglet .086 rt 6.952 at 192.71 mph
That set up a final round that had the ESPN commentators buzzing—John Hall and Matt Smith Racing vs. Adam Arana of Arana Racing. Last time out at Englishtown, there was conflict between these two camps—but not these two riders—that resulted in a suspension and fine levied against one of Arana’s crew. That’s the kind of drama that television feeds on and the ESPN team was over it. “They’re talking about it on TV, but we’re not,” said Hall. “It’s over.”
Adam Arana getting advice from dad Hector Sr.
The real story was two riders that had never been to an NHRA final before. Rookie Adam Arana is the most recent entry of the storied, Lucas Oil-backed Arana family. His dad Hector is a former Mello Yello champion. His brother Hector Jr. started the year off with three straight wins. Other than the 4-valve Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidsons, the Arana Buells have been the top performing machines over the last few years.
Hall is a veteran of the old AMA/Prostar motorcycle drag racing circuit, a weekend warrior who last year got serious and took the plunge into NHRA professional racing. He will be the first to admit he struggled to shed the skills honed over many years of racing no-bar streetbikes and make the transition to Pro Stock. In the off-season he switched teams to MSR, racing this year alongside Matt and his wife Angie Smith.
So it was a match between a veteran racer still learning the Pro Stock ropes vs. a true rookie on the highest performing team in the sport. Who would win?
Both teams nailed the tune-up, the bikes running identical ETs to the thousandth of a second. So it was a battle won at the tree, and the rookie crumbled.
(W) John Hall .067 rt 6.924 at 193.93 mph
Adam Arana -.070(R) rt 6.924 at 193.57 mph
“I thought I’d lost that race!” said Hall. “I looked over and saw his whole bike in front of me. So I looked up and saw my winlight. I didn’t hit a shiftpoint correctly after that.”
Last year, Hall missed the Countdown to One playoffs by one spot. After his Epping win, he’s now second in points to Hector Arana Jr. “Last year I felt comfortable on the bike at times, but not on every pass,” said Hall. “Everything was new to me. I was concentrating on everything at once and never really got into my groove. Now I feel like I can focus on what I’m told to concentrate on. I’m just comfortable this year.”
John Hall would like to thank Matt Smith Racing http://www.mattsmithracing.com/ , Viper Motorcycle Company http://vipermotorcycle.com/ , Rush Racing Products http://www.epiflex.com/ , Red Line Oil http://www.redlineoil.com/ , PJ1 , S&S Cycle http://www.sscycle.com/ , and Worldwide Bearings
EARLIER:Michael Ray Stings Epping Field for Pole
Michael Ray continued his recent hot streak in Pro Stock Motorcycle by racing to his first career No. 1 qualifying position Saturday at the Auto-Plus NHRA New England Nationals. Riding the momentum from a victory at the last event to feature the bikes in Englishtown, N.J. in early June, Ray powered his Sovereign Star Racing Buell to a 6.832 second run at 197.05 mph to take the top spot in the two-wheel category at New England Dragway. The New Braunfels, Texas rider will face Angie Smith in the opening round.
“There’s not a lot of people in NHRA history who have sat on the pole in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class and now I can add my name to that list,” an excited Ray said. “I have always been the underdog and I have loved that position. Now I don’t mind to be able to stick my chest out a little bit and know that we have a really fast bike and that we will have to be someone to contend with for the rest of the season.”
Ray, who defeated Hector Arana Sr. to win at legendary Raceway Park in New Jersey three weeks ago, joined forces with successful bike team owner George Bryce during the off-season and the duo has quickly produced results five events into the 16-race Pro Stock Motorcycle season. “We’ve really been going in the right direction and to come out of the truck and be this fast and earn our first No. 1 qualifying position at this inaugural event is a true testament to the progress the team has been making,” Ray said. “I just want to enjoy riding the wave because this is a humbling sport and you can be brought down in an instant.”
Arana Sr. qualified second on his Lucas Oil Buell with a 6.838 at 195.65 and will open against Shawn Gann, while yesterday’s top qualifier, Matt Smith, dropped to third in the order and will take on defending world champ Eddie Krawiec in a titan first round race. Ray’s teammate Scotty Pollacheck had qucikest ET of the final round to move up to 4th, ahead of surprising Adam Arana and New England native John Hall.
Hector Arana Jr.
Hector Arana Jr. secured the No. 8 position with a 6.902 at 194.69 mph during the fourth qualifying session. “We are getting down the track and are making decent runs,” Arana said. “We are definitely not where I would like to be. I have been kind of spoiled this year. This is my worst qualifying position since 2011, and I am kind of disappointed in that.”
Arana Jr. won the first three Pro Stock Motorcycle races of the seasons but broke his main engine nicknamed “Gracie” in Englishtown. “We had to put something else together, and we don’t have the same parts that we had earlier in the year.” Arana Jr. said. “I think we will be able to get by this weekend, and hopefully for the upcoming races we will have what we need and get back on top.”
Arana Jr, who leads the standings by a whopping 151 points, will line up against Mike Berry in the first round of eliminations Sunday. Berry qualified No. 9 with a pass of 6.920 seconds at 194.55 mph. “My bike is still fast enough to win. I think we still have one more trick in our hat for Sunday,” Arana said. “My reaction times and my elapsed times are consistent and that is most important. Consistency is what matters, especially on Sunday.”
Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), and Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock) also were No. 1 qualifiers based on their performances from Friday and will also lead their categories into Sunday’s 11 a.m. eliminations at the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event.
In Top Fuel, Kalitta scored his fourth No. 1 of the season and 35th of his career with a 3.795 at 323.97 in his Mac Tools dragster. He will face Canadian Ike Maier in the first round. “We struggled a little bit today getting down the track,” Kalitta said. “We tried this other blower that we have on that second run, and it definitely showed some sign there that it might be OK for us. All in all, I think we should be ready for tomorrow. We would have liked to have gotten down the track on that last qualifying run, but it will be alright. We’ll just go back to what we know, and go A to B.”
Shawn Langdon qualified second in the Al-Anabi Racing dragster with a 3.809 at 321.58 and he will open against Tim Boychuck. Australian David Grubnic qualified third in his Optima Batteries dragster and will face Terry McMillen.
J.R. Todd qualified sixth for Sunday’s eliminations with a 3.831 at 316.90 mph. However, it resulted in a first-round match with teammate Morgan Lucas, who qualified No. 11 with a 3.889 at 317.57 mph. “That part of it really stinks,” Todd said about racing Lucas in the first round. “The bright side is that we know one of us will be moving on to the second round and it improves our chances of winning the race. We’ll go up there, do our best, and the best team will move on.”
“That’s a sucky deal,” agreed Lucas. “But the silver lining is that one car is going to the second round. Both teams need it; we need the points, those guys need the lift. For me as a proud papa of this whole thing, I think it’s going to be a win-win situation.”
Todd’s team got only three hits at the track during qualifying because it missed Q1 with an ignition issue that couldn’t be resolved before it was time to line up. “To go out there and run a 3.83 in the night session was a great call by our crew chief Joe Barlam,” Todd said. “The huge run of the weekend came in Q3 when we ran another 3.83 in the heat of the day. This thing is going in the right direction. I’m excited for tomorrow.”
Force scored his 142nd No. 1 in Funny Car and second of the season with his Friday effort of 4.051 at 313.44 in a Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. Force, who posted the two quickest runs on Saturday, will meet Dave Richards in the opening round. Richards, who is making his first Funny Car start at this event, will be the 136th different driver Force has faced in his career. “I raced a kid last week that about whipped me Blake Alexander. I don’t know Dave Richards but I bet he is a young guy and that is the future. As long as he loves it as much as I did he will never quit,” said an energized Force.
“It was low every round and all I can say is Mike Neff, Mike Neff, Mike Neff,” Force said. “I’m excited. This is an important market for our sponsors so we’re happy to give them a No. 1 and it’s a good weekend so far.”
Force is thrilled with the massive turnout of New England area fans who have greeted him in his pit area during this inaugural event. “It has been packed all weekend,” Force said. “It makes you feel really good. This is awesome. This is a crowd that’s hungry for our sport and we need that. What excites me is to see the people. People have lots of options and up here they wanted a drag race. You can’t go anywhere around the area without getting approached from people. It’s been great to see. I just wish I was younger so I could be here forever. I love these cars and I love NHRA.”
Matt Hagan is second in his Magneti Marelli Dodge Charger with a 4.057 at 317.49 and he will meet fellow Virginian Blake Alexander in the first round. Last season’s rookie of the year, Courtney Force, will start third in her Traxxas Ford Mustang with a 4.083 at 313.37 and she will meet rival Alexis DeJoria in the opening round. “We got qualified in the No. 3 spot on Friday night so we went out there today to see how quick we could get the car to go down in the heat for tomorrow. We were on a good pass in the second session, but it was moving around on me so it spun the tires and we couldn’t quite get it down there,” said Courtney. “When we ran that 4.28 today we were actually on a run better than Friday night’s session. We were actually really excited about Q4 it just couldn’t get all the way down there. We’re hoping for some good weather tomorrow and we’ll just have to see what this Traxxas Ford Mustang can do.” Force is 2-1 to DeJoria in previous match-ups.
Robert Hight is excited to get to the track tomorrow even if he has to race his friendly rival Del Worsham. Last weekend it was Del who had the better qualified Funny Car when the pair matched up and Worsham outran Hight. Tomorrow Hight will bring an improved AAA Ford Mustang to the starting line. His No. 5 qualifying time of 4.088 seconds at 313.80 mph gives him some confidence. In the final qualifying session Hight posted the third quickest time picking up a qualifying bonus points and some momentum going into Sunday.
“We are racing Del (Worsham) again in the first round. He will be a tough car for sure but I like our chances. Last night we made a good run and we were right there on the edge today. It rattled pretty hard in the first session. Jimmy and Danny will look at the data and all the crew chiefs will get together. This track has been great and the fans have been unbelievable. I am looking forward to going rounds for AAA Northern New England,” said Hight.
Local Funny Car favorite Bob Tasca III, from Hope, R.I., qualified seventh in his Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Shelby Mustang with a 4.096 at 312.13 and he will race defending world champion Jack Beckman in round one.
In Pro Stock, Coughlin claimed his second No. 1 of the season and the 19th of his career with a 6.533 at 212.43 in his JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Avenger. “I owe a lot to the JEGS.com team and also to the J&J Racing/Mopar team,” Coughlin said. “They’ve done a great job of providing horsepower, and I feel fortunate to have such a great group in my corner. We’ve had a great season so far. Allen [Johnson, teammate] and I are second and third in the points [respectively], and there is only one team [Edwards] that is doing better than we are. We just need to take this momentum and carry it through the summer and hopefully keep the world championship in the J&J camp.”
Johnson will start second in his Team Mopar Avenger with a 6.549 at 212.79 and will race John Gaydosh, while series points leader Edwards is third and will race Kenny Delco in the opening round.