NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle team-owner-rider Hector Arana Sr. insisted Monday that he and key crew member Dan Gonzalez tried to walk away from trouble last weekend at Englishtown, N.J., only to be sucked into it nevertheless.
Arana Sr. said Matt Smith came to speak with him in the Lucas Oil Buell pit after Friday qualifying for the Toyota Summernationals about a business transaction regarding a bike seat. Both he and Gonzalez said Smith became belligerent, and then refused to leave the Arana pit after being asked to do so several times.
A toe-to-toe shouting match erupted between Smith and Gonzalez. Smith told Competition Plus' Bobby Bennett that Gonzalez hit him three times. Although Gonzalez told an NHRA official he did not hit Smith, Gonzalez was escorted from the Raceway Park property ("They did -- all the way out," Gonzalez said) and banned him from the remainder of the event.
Jerry Archambeault, NHRA vice-president of public relations and communications, said the New Jersey State Police conducted an on-site investigation that "included testimony by onlookers and individuals not affiliated with either party." NHRA worked in cooperation with the New Jersey State Police."
Gonzalez told Competition Plus he neither hit Smith nor received a punch from Smith.
"But we got into a heated argument. His crew ran over and my crew came over and started separating us. I was upset and I was trying to get out of the grasp. My crew guys were holding me. No punches or contact was made in any way," Gonzalez said. "Maybe there was some bumping or stuff like that. There were no physical punches. It was not a fistfight.”
Smith also charged that Arana Sr. swore at his wife, bike competitor Angie Smith.
Arana was adamant that he did no such thing. "I did NOT, did NOT, speak to a lady like that or curse her out -- nothing like that. I'll take that to the grave," he said.
Moreover, Smith told the NHRA and said on the ESPN2 race telecast that he saw Gonzalez on the Raceway Park property in defiance of the ban.
Arana said when the NHRA informed him of Smith's allegation, "I said, 'Come on, let's go into the motor home or trailer,' to show him he's not here. But the NHRA official said, 'Oh, no, we don't have to do that.' He came with this other fellow in a car." Arana said Gonzalez knew not to come to the track and didn't.
Said Gonzalez, "I must have a twin brother I don't know about. I'll have to talk to my dad about that. I went to the hotel and listened to the race on the Internet."
Arana questioned why Smith said repeatedly that he saw Gonzalez but never offered proof. "Why didn't he take an NHRA official and show him where Gonzalez was instead of just saying, 'I saw him here. I saw him there'?"
Arana Sr. said he had become upset with Smith's antagonism and walked away from him more than once during Smith's visit to the Lucas Oil Buell pit. "I told him what I wanted to say. And that's all. I told him 'I'm done. You can leave. I don't want to talk to you,' and I walked away. I left and went back inside my trailer," he said.
Then, Arana Sr. said, "I heard a commotion. I heard some screaming. When I see people running, I think, 'Oh, man, something's happening.' What I saw was they were holding Matt Smith back, and they were holding Dan back. That's all I know."
The reason for the disagreement started months ago, when Matt Smith Racing rider John Hall asked Arana Sr. to build him a particular seat for his motorcycle. Arana had made a seat for Hall previously, when Hall rode for Sovereign-Star Racing owner George Bryce, but when Hall left that team the Arana-deigned seat stayed with Bryce's operation. So Hall had requested another one like it.
Arana complied. He said Angie Smith repeatedly asked him to make one for her, too, and he did. He said he shipped both seats to the Smith race shop in the same box, making sure they received them in time to do pre-season testing with the new seat on their bikes.
At Englishtown, Hall inquired about when he was going to receive his seat. Arana Sr. said he was confused about what Hall was saying, as he had shipped the seats months ago. Hall, whom Arana Sr. described as "polite," approached Arana after they made their qualifying passes Friday and said he was "stopping by to get my seat."
After discovering that Hall was indicating he never received the seat he had asked Arana to make and that Arana had shipped to him, Arana reiterated that he had sent the seats. He said Hall showed him the seat on his bike. He said Hall told him, "Well, this is what I got, and I like yours better." Arana said he looked at the seat on Hall's bike and said it definitely was not the seat he had crafted: "That's not mine. I didn't send that seat. I've got nothing to do with that."
Arana said he noticed that Angie Smith had the seat he had shipped and because the two seats arrived in the same box, he assumed the other seat also arrived.
"John was real polite," Arana said. "It was like John didn't know what was going on. Angie has her seat. I sent them in the same box." Arana said he saw Angie Smith and asked her the whereabouts of the other seat, and she referred him to her husband.
Their next encounter was when Smith went to Arana's trailer Friday night.
"He went to my trailer. He wanted to talk to me. I stopped what I was doing," Arana said. "He said, 'I didn't copy your seat. I just made some modifications.' I say, 'You copy a seat, no big deal. You do what you want. I don't want to talk to you.' I turned around. I walked away."
Smith then accused him of treating his wife disrespectfully. "No, I didn't," Arana replied. He then told Smith to leave -- "Go back to your trailer and leave us alone," Arana said he told Matt Smith before again walking away from him.
"He kept saying something," Arana said.
That's when Gonzalez, who was on the pit floor, working on points leader Hector Arana Jr.'s bike, told Smith, "You need to leave now."
Gonzalez said, "Matt's a guy who gets in a lot of altercations with people. When he came over and started arguing, I said, 'Don't come over here and bring any problems. Just leave.' And he kept arguing and getting real loud. And I said, 'Listen, I told you -- get out of here. We're trying to work.' "
Smith reportedly told Gonzalez that his argument was not with Gonzalez but that the argument he had was between himself and Arana Sr. Gonzalez repeated his order for Smith to go away, and Smith reportedly yelled, 'What the f--- are you going to do about it?'
He said that's when he and Smith "got in each other's faces."
Said Gonzalez, "Matt's a little hard-headed. Matt's the kind of guy who, if he can, tries to get you in trouble. Because you're the competition, he'll try to do that. He's the type of guys who likes that. He's confrontational. He kept saying, 'I'm going to get you kicked out! I'm going to get you kicked out!' We were working. We told him to leave, and he continued to argue."
Gonzalez said he told the investigating officer, "Sir, I did not put my hands on that guy. I did not put my hands on him." Gonzalez said he told the officer he did not hit Smith and Smith did not hit him.
Smith said otherwise, but Arana Sr. discredited Smith’s allegation. Said Arana, "[Gonzalez] did not sucker-punch him, because you don’t see any bruises -- no black eye, no broken lip. If he had really hit him, he would've had a black eye or cut lip or something."
Referring to the matter of the unaccounted-for bike seat, Gonzalez said of Smith, "He's not truthful with his own teammates. That's the way he operates his operation. What do you expect from a guy like that?"
He acknowledged that he thinks the handling of the case was unfair and that Smith is using social media and Internet websites to push his agenda and that his side of the story -- and Arana's side of the story are not being heard.
"Matt gets ion social media, talking about us, giving us a bad reputation," Gonzalez said. "He's trying to paint a picture of Hector -- and we're not what he's trying to paint. The NHRA knows who Matt is. He has been involved in several altercations." He said anyone who knows Arana would not believe the tales Smith is spinning.
Besides, Gonzalez said, "My focus is my team. My racer has won three races in a row and is leading the points. This is a distraction for us. It throws us off our game. I feel like I let my team down because I wasn't there."
Arana Sr. said, "It screwed up our program a little bit there, but we'll get back on track and we'll be competing at the top of our game again. It hurts team morale. And we don’t have a large team. We have three riders, and we help each other out. We were a man down [for Saturday and Sunday at Englishtown].
"I'm a little disappointed, but I respect NHRA's decisions," he said.
He did say, "This is not the first time" even this year the Smith camp has initiated trouble between the two teams. He said Angie Smith, who on a number of occasions has expressed her complaints or opinions to Arana through Arana's wife rather than directly to him or anyone with his team, grumbled at Gainesville in March that the Aranas had left the generator on their motor home running all night and that the noise kept her husband, Matt Smith, from sleeping.
He said it turned out the generator that was left running overnight was Smith’s own generator, that theirs never had been turned on. Moreover, Arana Sr. said he hears generators running during race weekend and often they're loud but that he shrugs that off. "We're at the races," he said. "We know people have to run their generators."
He said Monday he had not spoken with sponsor Forrest Lucas about this latest incident.
"I just want to put all this behind me," Arana Sr. said. "We need to stay focused on our program. We have limited people here, and we don't need any bashing."
Arana indicated he is not interested in carry on a feud but rather letting any drama involving him be on the racetrack.
"Right now, how I feel about him [Smith] . . . I have no animosity, nothing. I have no hard feelings for him. I really don't wish bad things on him or nothing like that. That's not me," he said. "If I have to say something, I say it. And that's it."
One thing, though, he has no intention of saying is that he's sorry for anything he said or did last Friday.
"I can't say, 'I'm sorry' when I didn't do anything wrong," Arana Sr. said.
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