The Hector Arana father-son Lucas Oil Buell team have come closer than anyone to dealing a knockout punch to the Vance & Hines Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson dominators of the National Hot Rod Association's Pro Stock Motorcycle class.
They have been to the finals against either points leader Eddie Krawiec or Andrew Hines at four of the bike class' nine races. The Aranas have combined for five No. 1 qualifying positions. But they can't land the finishing blow.
Their frustration continued Sunday at Brainerd, Minn., in the Lucas Oil Nationals -- the one race they especially wanted to win because it is sponsored by their own team sponsor and boss away from the track at the Lucas Oil production plant at Corydon, Ind.
This time Hector Arana Jr. threw away his chance to beat Krawiec for the $10,000 victory and the satisfaction of breaking the Harley-Davidson streak. By .020 of a second, Arana Jr. left the starting line too early for a disqualification that wasted a 6.904-second, 192.52-mph effort.
It was a $6,000 mistake, for he wound up with just $4,000 and a renewed vow between him and his father to upstage their upstate rivals at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis during Labor Day weekend.
While Arana Jr. might have stewed about his missed chance, Krawiec celebrated the one he seized -- again.
Krawiec's victory preserved the perfect record this season for the Brownsburg, Ind.-headquartered team with his 6.896-second elapsed time at 192.47 mph on the
Brainerd International Raceway quarter-mile.
He has won all five of his final-round appearances, and teammate Andrew Hines has won the other three (and lost three times to Krawiec, as well).
"We know it's going to come to an end eventually," Krawiec, the reigning champion, said of the remarkable string of success his team has enjoyed.
"There's seven more races left, and who really knows what can happen within those races? The key thing is to have good lights and make consistent, smooth runs," he said.
"We've had some awesome 60-foots [incremental times] here this weekend," Krawiec said. "You can't be all over the board. You've got to manage the track. Our crew chief, matt Hines, is doing an awesome job with that. Obviously it shows. He's on top of his game. He's making all the correct judgment calls."
He didn't go so far as to say he was leaving the door open wide for his rivals, but Krawiec did say that "we struggled a little bit with my bike downtrack. Andrew's bike was the opposite. It struggled getting off the starting line and downtrack it was running good.
"That all came together for first and second round. We started really figuring it out," he said. "I think the weather came to us, honestly, on the tune-up on my bike, because we didn't even mess with it."
He said the fear was that with any tinkering "you might go backwards."
"Fortunate enough for me, I did my job on the starting line most of the race," he said, "although the guys were out there hitting the tree pretty hard, going teens and double-0s. So it's just one of those thing -- eventually they're going to get you."
Krawiec hemmed slightly at the notion but said that he thought he and Hines might be affecting the psyches of the competition.
"I think some people are taking stabs at it. You've got to be there. You've got to have a green light and you've got to have a good run down the track in order to get the win light," he said. "There's going to be times when we're going to bobble and make mistakes or be late."
He acknowledged that Arana had put a little pressure on him to cut a decent light: "I know Junior was on it. He was on it all weekend. I didn't want to be the one to give him his win light, so I just had to go after it.
"He had good lights all weekend. He had .030s. And if he's going .030s and he gets a little amped up, you've got to figure could go a teen. I saw him go double-0 in the semis and take out Andrew, so you know he's capable. The question was 'Is he going to try to stay in that window and go double-0?' I thought he was going to 'lax up' and maybe be in the .040 or .050 range," Krawiec said.
Moreover, he said, "I knew this being a Lucas Oil race, Hector Jr. had a little extra pressure to perform. And he wanted to."
Arana's eager-to-win father, after qualifying No. 1, also red-lit. He did it in the opening round against Michael Phillips by .043 of a second.
"We saw Hector Senior lose, and I was pretty shocked, to tell you the truth," Krawiec said. "I really didn't think that was going to happen." But he didn't think that meant he would have it easy -- he said facing Karen Stoffer no easy assignment. Then John Hall beat him off the line in the semifinals.
He said he wasn't sure at first if he had been late on the Christmas Tree against Arana Jr. and said he saw his win light flash on and "went, 'Oof. I dodged a bullet.' "
If Eddie Krawiec is going to race like Superman, he needs to be prepared to dodge bullets now and again.
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