SUNDAY NOTEBOOK - SUNSHINE RETURNS FOR SUNDAY
HE'S RUNNING AGAIN - Some might say Top Fuel owner-driver Bob Vandergriff's trademark is winning a race, then running back up the racetrack.
He did that Sunday again at Baytown, Texas' Royal Purple Raceway after running away from tire-smoking Al-Anabi Racing final-round opponent Shawn Langdon at the O'Reilly Spring Nationals. ('After qualifying, that was probably the furthest thing from my mind. We struggled with all of our cars," he said.)
But maybe Vandergriff's defining trait is self-confidence.
For example, it mattered not a whit to him that Langdon statistically is the class' best on the Christmas Tree, that Langdon has left the starting line before his opponent 75 percent of the time in the season's first five race, even better than his class-best 72 percent record last year. Vandergriff launched first and left Langdon sitting in his own tire smoke, winning with a 3.904-second, 316.38-mph blast in the C&J Energy Services Dragster.
Vandergriff's self-assurance trumps statistics. Langdon was 6 - 0 against him in prior meetings, although this was their first final-round pairing.
Consider, too, that Vandergriff wasn't the least bit intimidated by the fact Langdon represented Al-Anabi Racing's third final-round presence in three of the past four years at Houston. In 2010, Larry Dixon won for the Alan Johnson-managed team, and in 2011, Del Worsham beat Al-Anabi teammate Dixon to win. Vandergriff beat three-time series champion Dixon in Round 2 (after taking out the reigning champ, Antron Brown) and beat Langdon. Moreover, he made the finals by eliminating last year's event winner, Morgan Lucas.
"We kept letting everybody beat themselves," Vandergriff said. Meanwhile, he said, 'We kept pecking away at it and pecking away at it. They gave us enough chances to get it straightened out, and we made a really good run in the final for the conditions."
Calling the tricky track "the great equalizer," he said, "When you get on a racetrack like this, where you kind of got to finesse your way down the racetrack, that kind of fits more into where we are now. I thought, 'Man, we've got a great chance, if we can just keep going down the racetrack."
As for squaring off against an Al-Anabi racer, he said, "We made the most successful changes [to reflect the conditions]. We made enough changes to get the car to the finish line under power. They've have had to make real good run to beat us, and they didn't. Either way, it was going to be a tough round for 'em."
His desire to win in front of C&J founder and CEO Josh Comstock, with daughter Ashley and the rest of his family surrounding him, for the first time this season, for the first time with all three of his dragsters on the track this weekend gave him that extra incentive to win his third Wally trophy.
"You couldn't script that. Normally you’d win in New York or Seattle or somewhere where it has no relevance to your sponsor," Vandergriff said. "But we had 700 guests out here from our sponsor's company -- their employees and their customers, really big customers who do hundreds of thousands of dollars of business with them out here, cheering us on like this is this is the greatest thing ever. It's unbelievable to win in front of all those people and having them cheering for you."
Maybe his strong suit is perseverance. He reached 13 final rounds in his first 14 years of drag racing before he won at Dallas in September 2011. This first victory since last October at Las Vegas, more special because he and his team celebrated alone there, came under the pressure of quick between-round servicing to accommodate a live TV broadcast.
Christened "the smallest big-team owner in drag racing," Vandergriff said he used every bit of his resources from unqualified Clay Millican's group to eliminated part-time driver JR Todd's crew to hasten the process.
"It was a huge advantage to have everybody here," he said. We've got a great bunch of guys we bring in on a part-time basis with a third car. These guys have got more Wallys on their mantels than I have at home, from other teams they've worked with and 20 years of experience. All those guys know their way around the race car. I've got a lot of confidence in those guys. We've got great leadership. We very rarely have any issues regarding maintenance."
He cited crew chief Rob Flynn, Millican crew chief Kurt Elliott, and Mike Guger among those who orchestrated the effort that made his team the first to warm up his car before the final round -- even after an engine change.
"We came back after the semifinals, and there were 15-18 people flying around that car. There were elbows and legs -- everybody was working together," he said. "For us, with three teams, everybody pitched in. I can see where small teams would have some trouble."
He hasn't had a chance to see the full effects of a live ESPN2 telecast, but Vandergriff said, "The excitement level was high. It was intense for everybody. Fans were into it. Our customers were into it. From the interactive aspect, it was awesome."
In 80-degree heat, on a racing surface that registered 114 degrees, Vandergriff jogged up the racetrack to meet his team, fist-pumping for the crowd, veering over to high-five friends along the way, and finally hopping the guard wall to embrace his crew and other well-wishers.
"About halfway down there, I realized, 'They have a couple more rounds to run' [because of the rain-related schedule changes]," he said. "But I looked over and my guys were coming up the return road. So I jumped over the wall to meet them. As long as I keep winning, I'm going to keep running back to those guys, because without them I wouldn't be able to do it."
Vandergriff improved four places in the standings, to eighth, as the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series shifts to Vandergriff's home area of Atlanta for the May 3-5 Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway at Commerce, Ga.
Associates from his own family businesses will be there, and Vandergriff said it will be motivation to keep the momentum going.
"We got off to a slow start this year -- not that we were running bad. We just made good runs against people who made a-little-bit-better runs. It wasn't like we were struggling. We just couldn't get a round-win [until last weekend at Charlotte]."
Langdon's chance to shine before a live ESPN2 TV audience ended with a disappointing 8.485-second, 74.90-mph effort after he beat two-time 2013 winner Tony Schumacher, overachieving underdog Terry McMillen, and resurgent Al-Anabi teammate Khalid Al Balooshi to reach his third final round in six races this year. The Winternationals winner improved from fourth to third in the standings.
"We just basically overpowered the race track, but we've learned from it. We've raced in the last two final rounds, and if we keep doing that, we'll win one of them soon," Langdon said.
"We are definitely disappointed not to get the win today, especially with how hard the guys worked today on the first day with live TV," he said. "Having that 55-minute turn-around for the live broadcast was pretty hard on the Al-Anabi crew guys. But 35 minutes after the semifinal, they had the car disassembled, put back together, warmed up, and ready to go to the final round. Hat's off to them because they did a fantastic job today."
CRUZIN' TO THE WIN - Cruz Pedregon capped his fantastic weekend off in fitting fashion Sunday.
Pedregon became the first NHRA nitro Funny Car repeat winner this season when he beat Tim Wilkerson in the final round of the Spring Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas.
Pedregon clocked a 4.246-second elapsed time at 296.96 mph to defeat Wilkerson who smoked the tires and slowed to 6.914 seconds.
“I actually enjoy tracks like this,” said Pedregon, who drives the Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry. “You can’t go up there with the horsepower level and the clutch coming at it for a record run. I like that we made some good moves right after first round and we had the car pretty steady. It was a very gratifying win.”
Pedregon beat Terry Haddock in a pedalfest in the first round and then disposed of Bob Tasca III and Alexis DeJoria before meeting Wilkerson.
This was a superb weekend for Pedregon, who was the No. 1 qualifier (4.088) and had the top speed of the event at 310.41 mph. Pedregon also snared his win while operating on a reduced turnaround time in the pits so the race could be broadcast live on ESPN2.
“Big kudos to the team,” Pedregon said.”We love live TV, that’s great and we are glad NHRA is doing it, but it made for some tense moments. I would like to see more live drag racing. I’m putting my owner hat on and I think for sponsors and getting TV time and all that it is important. You just still had to make good sound decisions (in the quicker turnaround time). The track was challenging and you had to pull it back. To run 4.20s or 4.18s like we did, takes a different setup and a different mindset. We were doing things I have not done ever with this car. We just had to realize that the track was going to have some limitations and we made some good calls.”
Pedregon, who won at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway April 7, now has 32 career wins. Pedregon won NHRA nitro Funny Car world titles in 1992 and 2008. This was his third career win at Baytown to go along with his victories in 1992 and ’98.
Pedregon’s team was thrashing in the pits prior to the final round and there were plenty of nervous moments getting to the staging lanes on time.
“Everything was going on a record pace as far as servicing the car,” Pedregon said. “Then we had a spark plug wire that wouldn’t go on to the plug. So we had to take all the magneto caps and take all 16 wires off, not individually, but we had to change that. I didn’t even know Tim (Wilkerson) was even up to the starting line. We pulled around the corner and I thought hey we have a couple of Pro Stock cars to go. Tim was sitting there ready to start like ‘What are you guys doing?’ I’m glad NHRA held out a minute or two for us. We still hopefully put on a good show for the fans. This feels good two out of three for us and this is huge for us.”
Pedregon is now first in the season point standings at 470 followed by Matt Hagan (433).
“That is just a by-product of what we are doing,” said Pedregon about being atop the points. “It is an honor and a nice feather in the cap, and we will take it. It is a credit to the team and what we have been able to accomplish thus far. We have a little bit of momentum on our side.”
DRAGGING THE LINE - This was far from Jason Line’s most dominating performance, but it was still good enough for another NHRA Pro Stock national event win.
Line used a holeshot to defeat Shane Gray in the finals Sunday to claim the title at the NHRA Spring Nationals in Baytown, Texas, near Houston.
Both Line and Gray clocked identical 6.589-second elapsed times, but the difference came at the starting line. Line’s reaction time was .007 compared to Gray’s .055.
“I wasn’t going to be late (on the starting line), that was definitely not in my plan because they (Gray’s team) have been running good,” said Line, who pilots the Summit Racing Camaro. “I felt like I needed to leave first. I was trying to and I was fortunate enough to do that. It also was cool to do it on live TV.”
When Line met Gray, he admitted he was thinking about Richard Freeman.
“It is terrible when you are getting ready to go and you are thinking about Richard Freeman,” Line said. “That’s really a bad thing. He definitely motivated me (Sunday). He told me before the weekend started he wanted to race me in the final. He is the guy who is renting the engines to Shane Gray. He told me they were going to beat me in the finals. So unfortunately I’m up there thinking about Richard Freeman and he is one of a kind. He’s a character and it felt good to beat him. You should never have to win with the same ET, but it is what it is. We were fortunate to get the Wally and we are working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen in the future. You can’t count on me, I’m definitely fickle. I’m just being honest.”
Line, who qualified No. 4, was nearly upset by Matt Hartford after an .093 reaction time in round one, but rebounded to defeat Erica Enders-Stevens and Jeg Coughlin before meeting Gray.
“The truth is we have not run good and I’m not sure we did (Sunday) either, but we got better,” Line said. “We made it down the race track six times in a row, which is something we have not done all year. We have definitely struggled and it has been a fight. After a while you start to wonder if you are ever going to get to the winners circle. It feels good for us and good for Summit and good for Ken Black and for all the guys who work on the team.”
This was Line’s 30th career NHRA national event victory and first since Sept. 16, 2012, at Charlotte, N.C.
Line, who won NHRA Pro Stock world championships in 2006 and 2011, is now fifth in the point standings at 419. Mike Edwards is atop the points at 532.
Line’s achievement Sunday was more impressive because Saturday’s racing was washed out because of rain.
“It always tough, especially right now because we are a little lost,” Line said. “I was telling the guys you should never have to drive that good to win the race. You should be able to do it with mediocre driving. (Sunday) we had to drive good and I’m just real happy we made it down the race track six times in a row. It was a good weekend.”
THE KID IS HOT TODAY - Hector Arana Sr. officially declared it Sunday at the Royal Purple Raceway starting line after his son, Hector Jr., dusted off final-round opponent Scotty Pollacheck, his closest rival on the starting grid at the O'Reilly Spring Nationals and in the standings.
"He's hot!" Arana Sr. said with a proud laugh.
Indeed, Hector Arana Jr. esta en fuego. He's hot. He's on fire in National Hot Rod Association Pro Stock Motorcycle competition.
Less than a year ago, he was calling himself and his crew "peasants," saying they worked like slaves while the Harley-Davidson rich got richer, piling up wins like drag-racing kings. The team even wore makeshift peasant garb (made from Wal-Mart-purchased bed sheets) as a visual gag at the races.
But the sanctioning body handed down a rules change that has hampered the Harleys, at least for now, and Arana Jr. is taking full advantage as young lord of the motorcycle manor through three bike-class appearances on the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.
The Lucas Oil Buell phenom has six victories in his young career, and three of them have come in as many races this season.
In defeating Sovereign Star Racing Buell racer Pollacheck by more than 20 feet on the Baytown, Texas, quarter-mile Sunday (6.912 second at 194.74 mph to 6.985, 188.54), Arana moved into some excellent company. He became the first since Matt Hines in 1998 to win at least the first three races of a season. Hines won at Gainesville, Atlanta, and Richmond. The late Dave Schultz won the first four races of the 1991 season.
So as he heads to the next bike race, the May 31-June 2 Toyota Summernationals at Englishtown, N.J., with a 119-point lead on Pollacheck, Arana is at once humbled and confident.
"It's pretty exciting to be up there in good company with those guys," he said of Hines and Schultz. "Those guys were all excellent riders and they're well-known in the sport. To be there with those guys is pretty amazing."
But really, he didn't talk like he is all that amazed. This qualifying No. 1 and winning and reaching milestones seems to be a pattern for the 24-year-old from Milltown, Ind.
"Our bike hasn't been the fastest every run on Sunday," Arana Jr. said., "but we've been the most consistent. That's what wins races. Myself, as a rider, I feel like I've been pretty consistent, too. That combination right there, that's lethal. We've been able to keep doing it."
He was top qualifier for the second straight event, second in consecutive weekends, and he advanced past Shawn Gann, his own father, and John Hall.
"It was very exciting to seal the deal," he said after making the most of his second straight final-round appearance at the suburban Houston racetrack. "It feels great.
"This is the most nervous I've been, I guess trying to keep up that reputation and all the pressure. I'm handling it well," Arana Jr. said. "I've got to thank my crew. They're doing an awesome job. It's pretty exciting to be able to do this."
Pollacheck is finding out quickly how Arana felt for the past year or so, racing the Vance & Hines Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson duo of Eddie Krawiec and Andre Hines and their stingy approach to race victories. Asked about his task of stopping Arana Jr., Pollacheck said, "Somebody's got to do it."
But nobody could, although Pollacheck took a noble run at it after beating Chip Ellis, Angie Smith, and teammate Michael Ray -- and clocking a perfect (.000-second) reaction time in the semifinal. It was his second straight race with a perfect light.
But Arana Jr. launched first and led wire to wire Sunday for a clean sweep -- or in drag-racing parlance, "to run the table" with the victory, No. 1 start, and low elapsed time and top speed of the meet (his 6.876-second, 195.39-mph qualifying performance).
Pollacheck posted on his Facebook page, "Well, we didn't get the win, but two finals in a row makes me pretty happy. Looking forward to Englishtown in a few weeks!"
That's the race at which 2012 champion and Old Bridge Township Raceway Park winner Krawiec predicted the re-engineered Harley-Davidson engine might be ready to flex its muscles.
But Arana Jr. has about a month to enjoy the spoils he longed for last year -- and try to hold off another "peasant" uprising.
SPORTSMAN CLASSES CANCELLED - Sportsman categories from Competition eliminator and down have been cancelled at the O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals. The likely reason is due to extreme flooding in the pits caused by overnight rain.
GETTING READY FOR THE BIG DANCE -
Light felt like a football coach whose team had experienced a tough first half of the game, through no fault of their own. The pep talk was crucial, he felt, to maintaining morale for the second half of the contest.
There was one problem with Light’s timing. Members of the “football team” of Safety Safari and track workers were too busy for a meeting. Sunday morning had been consumed with fighting drainage problems and weepers which threatened the Sunday schedule.
“They’ve been at it since 5:30 this morning,” said Light Sunday morning while directing operations from the Royal Purple Raceway race control room. “We’ve been fighting to dry the track and fighting some drainage problems. Our initial plan was to get everyone together, but we are already well into Plan B. It was important to ‘rah-rah’ the troops prior to putting our plan in motion. Guess we’ll be confined to the radio for this.”
The most important lesson for Light is in understanding his and the team’s limitations.
“The frustrating part about the weather is there’s nothing you can do about it,” said Light. “It is what it is. We just try to make the decisions which are the fairest for the majority. For the live television, Sunday is the most critical day.”
Sunday will also be a fun challenge.
“It really is fun,” said Light. “We’ve never done the semifinals and finals, but we have done the finals a few times.”
Light and his team have actually been preparing for this day for the last couple of seasons.
“They elevated their game, so we got with our guys, from the staging lanes to the starters to the trackside observers to the guys in turnaround. We know it’s going to take a concentrated effort from every one of our guys. Everybody’s job is important in completing the race. Every thirty seconds you can save adds up.”
Their biggest test came two years ago at the traditionally oildown-challenged Las Vegas-2 event, when on race day they created a self-imposed challenge. The goal was to create a safe, but quicker staged event.
“We simply challenged ourselves to pick up 30 seconds on each pairing,” Light explained. “We wanted to pick up time but not at the cost of compromising safety. But, we knew we could do it. We knew if we could pick up thirty seconds on every pair, we could pick up as much as two hours on the program’s elapsed time. Sometimes the two hours can make the difference when you have weather or curfew, in finishing on the scheduled day instead of the next.”
Light said his team set an unpublished deadline of 4:00 p.m. at this particular event.
“We put the plan in motion and stressed to everyone to put a little extra hustle in their step all day long,” Light said. “We needed to make smart decisions quickly. We came together and made it work. It was really encouraging listening to the team over the radio, working together to make it happen.”
The team succeeded with minutes to spare, and Light, a former drag racer, confirmed what he always knew about his team. Staging safe, but fast-paced entertainment is as important to his team as winning a race is to a driver.
“When you look at it, our people are no different than those race teams out there in the pits,” Light said. “The racers want to win the race and we wanted to make our race smoother and more time efficient. We were determined to make our race safe, efficient and entertaining. Success for us on this particular day was measured in whether we could meet our self-imposed deadline. If we didn’t make it, we lost. If we did, we patted one another on the back.
“This particular day showed how important everyone’s job was in the grand scheme of the day. It was real interesting and encouraging to see the teamwork executed toward the goal. They were beat at the end of the day but it was a fun challenge for everyone.
“We may attack it differently but our NHRA team and the racers are under the same umbrella in that we want to achieve success in what we do,” Light said. “We all want to win. The race teams who reach the finals have the same goals we do, and this is to make this weekend a success.”
Light confirmed there will be no speeding up of the first two rounds for the live show.
“The teams all realize that live television will be a major shot in the arm for our sport,” said Light. “In today’s social media environment, the results of these races are transmitted throughout the world just a few seconds after they happen.”
SPECIAL GUESTS -
College of the North Atlantic is one of the largest post-secondary educational and skills training centers in Atlantic Canada with 17 campus locations throughout Newfoundland and Labrador as well as one in Doha, Qatar. The Qatari campus is the premier technical college in the State of Qatar but also offers courses in business, health science, engineering, information technology and academics which includes multiple areas of study.
Last September, College of North Atlantic-Qatar instructors Jimmy Mason and Permjit Soora offered a new experience to their technician preparatory program and engineering students by creating a racing club in conjunction with the Qatar Race Club in Doha. The club was divided into a drag racing section and a street racing section. In an effort to take racing off the streets of Qatar, students in the street-racing section of the club focus on allowing people to race their street cars on the race track in a safe, controlled atmosphere.
Those in the drag racing portion of the club work with the school’s Arabian Drag Racing League team in the 480-index dragster category. The team recruited a Qatari driver named Faisal alMohammed and ran the five-race ADRL schedule in January and February of this year. Modest team goals were greatly exceeded when alMohammed won the fifth and final race of the ADRL season.
“Most of us had never been around drag racing, but it was a great experience,” Soora said. “We learned each week as things went on, and the pinnacle for us was winning the fifth and final race of the ADRL season. It was a fantastic way to finish the first season. The whole team spirit and motivation was just magic to see.”
Following the ADRL season, Soora and Mason met with the school’s dean to report on the team’s success and plans for next year. The dean suggested that since the NHRA season was underway in the United States, it would be worth the effort to further the experience for the students by traveling to attend a race. The Qatar Race Club, in conjunction with the Qatar Al-Anabi Racing Top Fuel Team, made plans for the students to attend this weekend’s race in Texas.
“We are here to show these students how, in a minimal way, we are involved in drag racing,” Soora said. “We thought that if we could get these students to one of these U.S. events, they could see how it’s done in a professional manner and a mature setting like we have here, it would just be awesome to have these students involved. They will take this excitement back to Qatar with them, and that will help with promoting our college team.
“This trip is a huge experience for our students. The goal was to show them what racing is all about. It’s more than the driver and down the track he goes. Look at the number of people here at the Al-Anabi team. You have two cars with eight or nine mechanics on each car, you have all the sports structure that’s around it. The driver will get in the car and enjoy the glory of the run, but without all these people here, nothing would be possible. We want to illustrate the team aspect of racing and really of life itself in general. When you’re working, or doing anything, there aren’t many one-person activities. It about the team.”
“It was a crazy experience with a real big learning curve,” said Kieran Soora, son of Permjit and a member of the club that formed the race team. “I’ve never done anything like that before. I had worked on cars, but I hadn’t don’t anything that had to do with racing. It was a really fun experience, and I learned a lot. Being here in the United States and spending time with the Al-Anabi team is really overwhelming; I wasn’t expecting anything close to what we have seen and done since we got here on Friday. It’s cool to see how these professionals do it; it’s nice to see the real guys do it because I had never watched proper drag racing before so seeing it here has been great.”
With the team’s inaugural season complete, plans are underway for next season, but the program will expand in the future. One of the goals is to spin off other academics-related programs from the drag racing club. When the team resumes operation in September, the program will create some student projects related to other academic areas from the race team so the car will be racing, yet also providing data and other projects with which the wider community in the college can get involved..
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - RAIN INTERRUPTS THE SATURDAY PARTY IN HOUSTON
LIVE TV IMPORTANT TO DRAG RACING - Unless the National Hot Rod Association races in some location such as Death Valley, it always will face the possibility of a rain delay.
Wet weather moved in at Baytown, Texas, near Houston, late Saturday morning, spoiling a perfect launch for the first live drag-racing broadcast in years. The Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle teams were ready. The ESPN2 cast and crew were ready. The fans in front of their TV sets certainly were ready.
And then they had to wait for forces beyond their control.
Just the same, the concept is exciting -- even to folks, including Kalitta Motorsports Vice-President Jim Oberhofer, whose routine is accelerated because of it.
"I think for our sport, having live TV is going to be huge," he said. "There's always going to be pros and cons with it."
The seasoned team manager and crew chief --who sent his driver, Doug Kalitta, down the racetrack Friday night to the provisional No. 1 qualifying position -- understands how all the moving parts of the drag-racing puzzle will be affected by the move.
"If it means we've got to shorten up our turnaround time, that's going to affect the smaller teams, for sure," Oberhofer said, adding that the added stress should benefit the sport's big-picture gains in the long run.
That, he said, had a direct boost in terms of courting potential new sponsors, the lifeblood of the entire endeavor.
"What I hope is that live TV brings more exposure to the sport, more people get to see it, and most of all our TV times are more consistent," he said. "When you get bumped for what we feel are inferior sports -- no matter what it is, we feel it's inferior to drag racing -- that's tough.
"What do you tell a prospective sponsor? 'We're supposed to be on at this time,' and they go turn the TV on and it's not on and they see something else on. Then they're kind of wondering, 'Why would they put this on instead of drag racing?' That's kind of a tough thing."
Tentative No. 1 Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifier Hector Arana Jr. said Friday night that a consistent TV slot for NHRA broadcast definitely would cultivate more fans. He said his friends ask him if his races are on TV but their enthusiasm wanes a bit when they learn the telecast begins at 2 a.m.
"Having it there early is really going to help," Arana said.
KALITTA TO LEAD TOP FUEL FIELD FOR THIRD TIME THIS YEAR - Doug Kalitta's bold late-Friday move paid dividends Saturday at Baytown, Texas, as rain washed out an entire day of qualifying for the Top Fuel class for the second straight Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event in as many weekends.
He used the last pairing of Friday qualifying for the O'Reilly Spring Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway to seize the No. 1 spot in the order with a 3.791-second elapsed time at 321.65 mph on the 1,000-foot course in his Mac Tools Dragster.
Although he didn't get at least one more look at the track, Kalitta said the weather likely wouldn’t be a game-changer for his team.
"I don't think so," he said, anticipating Friday-like conditions for eliminations that are set to begin at 11 a.m. Sunday.
Referring to crew chief Jim Oberhofer, Kalitta said, "Jim and my whole Mac team have that thing running real good. We're proud we got our third low qualifier."
He's seeking his first victory since the July 2010 Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Denver.
"It's been a little while, so it’s definitely on our radar of things to do here lately," Kalitta said. "I think we've got what it takes to get it done. We've got to go do it. Now we can see if we can hopefully get to the final and deliver a win. We've got a good car -- we'll see what we can do on Sunday."
He said he's expecting the track to be smooth and clean for eliminations but said not to look for him and No. 16 qualifier Troy Buff to be the first pair at the starting line Sunday.
"The track will definitely be clean after all this ran," he said.
But he said he isn't that eager to find out: "I probably won't pick the first pair, I can tell you that." He said he has faith the Safety Safari will have it prepped correctly, and it will help to have sportsman cars running ahead of the official starting ceremonies Sunday, as well.
"It'll be fun," he said with a smile.
RAIN WINS TODAY - Cruz Pedregon raced his Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry to his third No. 1 qualifying position on the strength of his 4.086 second pass at 310.41 mph on Friday. Pedregon has two career wins and nine No. 1 qualifying positions at Royal Purple Raceway. He will face Terry Haddock in the first round of eliminations.
"When I heard them say nine number ones in Houston, that stands out,” Pedregon said. “ I just wish we had that many wins here. When I got up in the morning and saw that the forecast was for about 30 to 40 percent, I thought that this would be no big deal. But it ended up being 100 percent later in the day, and that was it. Running under the cloud cover would have been ideal for us. I think you would have seen a 4.06 or a 4.07.”
Notable first round matchups include Don Schumacher Racing teammates Matt Hagan and Ron Capps squaring off in their Dodge Chargers. Hagan currently leads the Funny Car points with Capps lurking in fifth. Courtney Force and Alexis DeJoria will go head-to-head for the third time in their careers, while No. 2 qualifier Tim Wilkerson will meet versatile Del Worsham in another pivotal opening round matchup.
HOPING FOR REBOUND - Ron Capps has lost in the opening round of eliminations at the last three races, and races Matt Hagan in the first round.
THE CHAMPION IS SOLID - During Friday's evening session,defending series champion Jack Beckman clocked a 4.117-second pass for the fourth qualifying position.
STILL THE ONE - Rains washed out most of Pro Stock qualifying on Saturday at the NHRA SpringNationals leaving Jeg Coughlin Jr. at the top of the qualifying list headed into final eliminations at the O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals outside of Houston.
The No. 1 seeding marked Coughlin's first since 2010 and held despite not getting to run on Saturday. His 6.569 seconds at 211.20 mph held up from Friday qualifying.
The No. 1 is the 18th of Coughlin's career in Pro Stock and the second at Houston. He squares off against Steve Kent in the first round of eliminations. Kent's lap of record was in 17.392 seconds at 57.71 mph, however on Friday Kent had a pass of 6.648 seconds at 209.49 mph, but it was wiped away because he was outside the top 12 in qualifying at the end of the day.
Coughlin confirmed his JEGS.com Avenger suffered no real ill effects from the wild, bumpy ride it took in the shutdown area on Friday after his parachutes didn't deploy correctly and he had to use the brakes to get the car slowed down after his second round qualifying run on Friday.
PRO STOCK BIKE
HE'S GOT SUNCHINE ON A CLOUDY DAY - Hector Arana Jr. said he was disappointed that he couldn't get one more chance to improve his elapsed time for the O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals.
But the Lucas Oil Buell rider wasn't complaining after rain cut short one qualifying session for the Pro Stock Motorcycle class Saturday at Royal Purple Raceway.
His 6.876-second, 195.39-mph performance on the quarter-mile at Baytown, Texas, near Houston, held up as quickest and fastest to give him his second straight No. 1 qualifying position of this season, his 12th overall, and first here.
Arana Jr. even said he welcomed the rain for its effect on the racing surface for Sunday's eliminations.
"It makes the track better, because the track is hot and greasy," he said. "When that rain and cool weather came, everything tightened up. So now we have a really good racetrack."
The Milltown, Ind., racer also has an exceptionally strong motorcycle. He said that's what gives him his extra self-assurance -- after he was kidded a bit about looking ahead to possible late-round scenarios for Sunday.
"I was just curious," Arana said of how the ladder lined up. But he did concede that "I definitely do have some confidence, just because of the two race wins."
He has won both of the previous Pro Stock Motorcycle appearances on the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule this season.
"When you're on [a roll]," Arana Jr. said, "you don't feel as tense. There are not as many knots in your stomach. You're more relaxed and ready to go ride. It's easier."
He said his team missed the tune-up a bit for what he had hoped to accomplish Saturday morning. But he shrugged it off.
"You've got to pay attention to the weather and make your tune-up adjustments accordingly," he said. "We were off a little bit.
"From the time we left the trailer to the time we put our final tune-up for the first session today, the weather changed a little bit on us and we missed it. That's why we were hoping to get this second run today. Tomorrow's supposed to be similar."
He said he thinks he'll be going some rounds on race day.
"We're good enough, though, I think," Arana Jr. said. "We'll be able to get by first round and then make our adjustments according to [conditions]."
BATTLING BACK - Scotty Pollacheck, the second-year Sovereign Star Racing rider, regained his No. 2 position Saturday morning. He shaved .015 of a second from his time for a 6.896-second elapsed time. He and Arana Jr. were the only bike racers to register 6.8-second runs.
HUGE MOVE - Andrew Hines moved up into the No. 3 slot Saturday morning with a 6.904-second effort-- a jump of 12 places. He had been 15th overnight as the once-dominant Harley-Davidsons continue to struggle with newly designed engines following a rules change aimed at class parity. Hines' Harley-Davidson teammate, three-time and current champion Eddie Krawiec, will start 14th Sunday.
MISSED OUT - Mike Berry, Freddie Camarena, Michael Phillips, Joe DeSantis, Redell Harris, James Surber, and David Barron missed the cut for the 16-bike field. Berry was five-thousandths of a second behind final qualifier Shawn Gann.
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK -
SPECIAL DELIVERY - National Hot Rod Association Top Fuel driver Doug Kalitta has orders -- "strict orders," he said -- this weekend at the O'Reilly Spring Nationals.
They're simple: Win a Wally.
The assignment comes not from Kalitta Motorsports team owner Connie Kalitta, Doug's uncle. It comes from Tammy Oberhofer, the racing organization's finance officer and wife of team Vice-President Jim Oberhofer, Doug Kalitta's crew chief.
And Doug Kalitta delivered the most any driver could for her Friday at Royal Purple Raceway.
He drove his Mac Tools Dragster to the provisional No. 1 qualifying position. With a 3.791-second elapsed time on the 1,000-foot Baytown, Texas, course, near Houston, Kalitta edged out the Al-Anabi duo of Khalid al-Balooshi and Shawn Langdon, who had identical 3.794-second runs.
"We're under strict orders from Jim's wife to get us a Wally. She said, 'Bring that thing home for me.' She's been struggling with her health," Kalitta said. ".So we're hoping to do some good here for her."
He said, "Obviously, we've been trying every race up till here, so I’m real proud of my guys. And we'll see what tomorrow brings. We're definitely proud of the effort. Should put us in a good spot for the weekend so far."
Kalitta has led the Top Fuel field twice this season already. And at both Phoenix and Gainesville, he came up to the line at the end of the session and blasted his way to the top of the order. He did it again Friday night at Houston.
"Conditions were right out there tonight," Kalitta said. "A couple pairs ahead of me were ripping off quick times there. Had a lot of confidence in Jim and my guys there to come up with something that could do it.
"I think he was trying to run something like a (3.)77!" Kalitta said with a laugh. "It was pretty fortunate to get the 79."
Kalitta indicated that the quality of Top Fuel competition this year definitely has kept him on his toes. So it was no surprise to him that the drivers who ran in front of his kept trumping each other.
"You kind of expect that with the competition out here in this class. We were fortunate we came up with the combination that got us quick time for Friday. See how it goes."
The class has two more qualifying sessions scheduled for Saturday, with the final session broadcast live on ESPN2.
And just when Kalitta started to think his E.T. will hold up through Saturday, he hedged his bet.
"It's probably going to warm up. Chances are good. Maybe the first session might get a little dicey. You never know with these guys, for sure," he said.
Kalitta is going for his first victory since the July 2010 Denver race.
"We're trying," he said. "My car's getting a lot more consistent. I've definitely got to step my game up. I've got a great team and we're all in it together. We're definitely trying to make it happen."
Fans have a special treat from ESPN2 Saturday and Sunday. The network will broadcast the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series live. The final session of qualifying Saturday will be aired live. Sunday's last two rounds of eliminations -- the semifinals and the final -- also will be shown live. Be sure to tune in to ESPN2 for the historic broadcast -- the first time in years for a live telecast. And check in with Competition Plus for more details.
IT'S THAT TIME AGAIN - It's Houston, so it must be time for JR Todd to be back at the racetrack.
The six-time Top Fuel winner and recipient of the 2006 Auto Club Road to the Future Award as the National Hot Rod Association's top rookie is reprising his role with Bob Vandergriff Racing for the O'Reilly Spring Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway at Baytown, Texas.
It was at this race last year that Todd ended his three-year hiatus from the sport. The Spring Nationals takes place at C&J Energy Services' "home track."
Todd is driving the team's third dragster, with all three dragsters sponsored by companies under the C&J Energy Services umbrella. He's teammate to the boss in his C&J Energy Services entry and Clay Millican in the Casedhole Solutions car with Parts Plus associate sponsorship. Sponsoring Todd are Total Equipment and Service, as well as Valvoline.
Being a spectator is not Todd's strong suit, the 31-year-old Lawrenceburg, Ind., racer said.
"I'm a terrible fan. I'd almost rather be somewhere else than at the track, watching," he said. “Wish we didn't miss any races. It's tough getting sponsorship dollars."
Keeping his competitive edge is no problem, Todd said.
"It gets me geared up more if I'm not out here fulltime," he said. "I'd better prove to everybody that I'm capable of being out here fulltime and get the job done."
Last season Todd competed in seven events for Bob Vandergriff Racing, qualifying at each of those and clocking career-bests for elapsed time (3.799, at the Finals at Pomona) and speed (324.12 mph at Topeka).
Todd said not getting to race on a regular basis could be worth at least a pout.
"Bob says he sees me with my lip poked out, so I guess I do [pout]," he said with a chuckle but no apologies. "You probably wouldn't take a baseball player to a baseball game if he wasn't playin'. You always want to be out there, competing with the best and proving you can run with the best."
And Todd means it: "In my mind there's no reason we can't come out here and run competitive with these guys. We're not here just to make runs. We're here to stick this thing in the show.
"This set-up we have here," he said, referring to his Total Equipment and Service Dragster, "is pretty much a clone to Clay Millican's car, which is the same car I drove last year.
Millican was runner-up to Antron Brown at Gainesville and was No. 2 qualifier at Las Vegas. So to have a car like the six-time International Hot Rod Association champion -- not to mention Vandergriff's car that has qualified for every event this year -- gives Todd an edge another part-time racer wouldn't have.
"Having three cars will give us more information, making BVR more competitive," Vandergriff said. "We hope to bring home a win for C&J Services and Valvoline in Houston."
Besides, he said, "Our goal has been to get JR back on the track. We've been consistently working to secure sponsorship for our third team."
Todd said, "Hopefully we can turn this into more than a one-race deal. And get the ball rolling to get more races under our belt."
Valvoline's John Noal, vice-president of the company's international and commercial business, said he's excited for his firm's opportunities as the name debuts this weekend on all three dragsters.
"The Valvoline team is excited to become a sponsor of Bob Vandergriff Racing. They have a proven track record of providing great benefits to their sponsors, making it a great partnership," Noal said. "We are looking forward to a long business relationship with Bob Vandergriff and his teams both on and off the track. This includes providing quality lubricants to their primary sponsor, C&J Energy Services, and its subsidiaries, Total Equipment and Service and Casedhole Solutions." - Susan Wade
LIVING SEMI-LUCKY - Kilgore, Texas, native Steve Torrence said before Top Fuel qualifying opened Friday at Baytown's Royal Purple Raceway -- one of his two "home tracks" -- that "we want to be living lucky."
Call it luck. Call it talent and preparation. Whichever it is, Torrence stormed to the early No. 1 position with a 3.833-second, 317.62-mph clocking. He and Al-Anabi's Khalid alBalooshi were the only two Top Fuel racers to run quicker than 8.4 seconds in that first session.
The owner-driver of the Torrence Racing/Capco Contractors Inc. Dragster had a sense of urgency in this sixth race of the year: "This season is going by in a hurry and we aren't even in the top 10 yet. We have been struggling as a team, but I know we have a car and a team that can win races and turn things around. We will keep working until we get everything figured out."
In the second session, Torrence ended up eighth, losing traction and shutting off the engine early. He has two more chances Saturday to improve. "We were trying too hard on the last run, but we still made it into the top eight with one more day to go," he said. "We have a good race car. We will improve." This venue, he said, is "where I grew up racing and it always has been a special track to me. We are going to have a lot of friends and fans there. It would be very satisfying if we do get that win in Texas."
LEARNING PATIENCE - Morgan Lucas, in the GEICO/Lucas Oil Dragster, was No. 3 in first session, looking like he might be on his way to meeting one of his goals. "It'd be real nice to win the same race back-to-back because we've never done that before, and that would be one of those cool things to check off the list," the 2012 winner of this event said.
But with several other competitors making strong runs in the day's last session, Lucas slid down to ninth on the list. He has two chances Saturday to climb back up in the order.
And perhaps his disappointment from his second-round finish last weekend at Charlotte has taught him resilience. "Sometimes, when we don't win a race we probably should have won, we have to be able to get up, dust ourselves off and go to the next one and win it. That's what we're trying to build here, the thought that we can win any race at any time, so when we go into a long stretch of events we don't need to get ourselves into a mental rut and mess ourselves up. Big picture, it's consistency, working hard, and being able to keep persevering."
That goes for making progress in the same weekend, as well.
CRUIZIN - Cruz Pedregon continued his strong start to the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season as he powered to the qualifying lead in Funny Car Friday at the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway.
The two-time Funny Car world champion has one win this season along with one No. 1 qualifying position and is second in points. On Friday he raced to the top of the qualifying order in his Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry Funny Car with a leading performance of 4.086 seconds at 310.41 mph.
“This run was really good for us because we broke a couple of rods [on a 4.70 176.76 mph pass] in the first session,” Pedregon said. “It was a flawless pass that really set me back in the seat right at the hit of the throttle. It really pulled hard all the way through, and I knew it was a good pass. But we weren’t trying to knock it out of the park, and or goal was just to keep all eight cylinders lit all the way to the finish line. I honestly would have been happy with a 4.12 or a 4.13. So we were really thrilled with the 4.08.”
Pedregon has eight career No. 1 qualifying positions at the track, but knows that keeping it for eliminations on Sunday could be a tall order.
“Houston has always been a fast track, but our cars are making a lot more power than they used to, and we’re also getting used to some new parts and new tune-up ideas that we’re trying,” Pedregon continued. “And as good as the 4.08 run was, I think that if we have a cloud cover tomorrow, some of the other drivers like Johnny Gray or Courtney (Force) could pop a 4.07. So we have our work cut out for us on Saturday.”
FIRST-TIME FINALIST PREPARES HOPEFULLY FOR SECOND - Forgive Blake Alexander if he has a dazed look headed into this weekend’s O’Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals outside of Houston.
The 24-year-old driver of Paul Smith’s Dodge Charger had never won a round in competition, much less win a race. Last week he almost pulled it off as he won two rounds in the four-wide format and was declared runner-up.
After such a joyous day the driver of only ten races must try to contain the emotion of a career-best performance and put it behind him as he tries to do it all again this weekend.
“I have not had it sink in,” admitted Alexander. “I’m focused on going to Houston and not losing any of the momentum we gained. I do realize this was a large accomplishment and I do not want to undermine that at all, but at the same time we always pull up there trying to win. It is easy to get discouraged, (by not winning a round), but we just went up there and did what we do.”
This weekend, Alexander is hoping for the best and willing to let the chips fall where they may. He does like his chances when figuring crew chief Paul Smith’s expertise on hot tracks since this weekend’s event is supposed to provide some of the warmest conditions the tour has seen in 2013.
“We have a car that can make it down a hot track,” said Alexander. “I think we already have a better handle on this kind of track compared to what we were racing on last weekend. We were trying to run 4.0s last weekend but just couldn’t get the combination together. This weekend I think if you can run 4.11 to 4.14, you’ll be sitting pretty. There will be a couple of high 4.0s, but it all depends on the weather,” Alexander said.
Alexander says he plans to run 12 events this season as well as the popular Night Under Fire in August at Summit Raceway Park in Norwalk, Ohio.
“I would like to have the opportunity to race in another final round and see if we can come up with a victory sometime this year,” Alexander said. “I do not want to be unrealistic and I want to still take everything in stride and I do think at other events we will be very competitive. Paul definitely knows what to do with the car and it is showing. We just need to put everything together. This is my dream to drive a nitro Funny Car.”
And, hopefully, he can stop pinching himself.
HIGHT RUNS STRONG – Robert Hight smoked the tires in the first session and was first up in the second session. The AAA Texas Ford Mustang launched hard and stayed hooked up for the entire 1000 feet. At the top end Hight posted the quickest run of the day, 4.117 seconds, and that run held up for most of the session, only being bested by Tim Wilkerson and provisional No. 1 Cruz Pedregon.
“The first run was slow and it shook. We changed clutch discs coming in here and our program was weak in the first session. We adjusted for it and we were conservative because you have to make sure you go on the night runs,” said Hight. “You don’t want to go into Saturday not qualified. I am surprised that a 4.11 stayed No. 3. It was plenty soft and we could have run quicker but we weren’t in a position to. Good job to my team and we’ll get a race day set-up tomorrow. That will be important tomorrow. We’ll need to go down the track both runs and get two runs that will give us info for Sunday. You don’t want to be behind the eight-ball.”
Hight was optimistic that the conditions would not give teams the chance to challenge the top spots. The forecast calls for warmer conditions and the qualifying times will be earlier in the day.
“I don’t think people will run better than that (4.11 seconds) tomorrow in the heat. Tomorrow a top run could be 4.13 seconds. Hopefully we can do that,” said Hight.
WHOAH NELLY - There was almost no slowing down Jeg Coughlin, Jr., on Friday evening, literally.
On the heels of his No. 1 qualifying effort at the O’Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals, a 6.509-second elapsed time at 211.20 miles per hour, the multi-time NHRA champion was on and off of the brakes in his Jegs-sponsored Dodge Avenger when the parachutes failed to blossom.
Coughlin left a line of black marks on the track as he feverishly worked the brakes, coming to a stop just one foot shy of the top-end run-off area.
“You have to really be ready for anything,” Coughlin said. “But I honestly wasn’t ready for that one. Our parachutes always work and work well, and this run was really fantastic but my attention was quickly stolen. Fortunately this is a long shutdown area. It also is a seasoned shutdown area and has a lot of bumps.
“I had to be careful and not lock it up. I didn’t want to slide too much in slowing from 211 to 180 to 160 to 150. Once it gets slower you can slide a bit but you always have to be mindful you have someone in the lane next to you. The last thing I wanted to do was tangle up two of these things.”
Coughlin said any damage to his car was minimal and as a precautionary measure will change the front tires.
Coughlin pushed his car to the edge of the envelope and worked in at least derailing the No. 1 ranked Mike Edwards’ momentum for one qualifying day.
“It doesn’t hurt,” Coughlin admitted, when asked how important it was to slow down the point leader’s momentum. “Mike has had the pole at the first five events and I’m sure if he has anything to say about it, he’s coming for this No. 1 position tomorrow. And to be honest, he has a good chance of doing it.”
Friday’s provisional No. 1 marked the first time Coughlin at least held the top spot provisionally since joining forces with Allen Johnson this season.
“It feels pretty nice to be up here,” he said. “We’re going to do our best to peck away at this tomorrow so we can have a good race car on Sunday. I sincerely hope I’m standing here [in the media center] for having the No. 1 spot.”
KEEPING UP THE STREAK - Up until last weekend, Mike Edwards was having the kind of banner season any aspiring Pro Stock driver could hope for. In the first five races of the season he had qualified No. 1 and set the record twice. No one could touch Edwards in the days leading up to these events; they couldn’t even come close.
Race day was another story.
Five days ago Edwards made a major move to change his race day fortunes. He won the Dollar General NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway outside of Charlotte, NC.
"For the team as a whole that was a huge weekend,” Edwards said. “We made really good runs every pass down the track and that resulted in us taking home the NHRA Wally. After the first four races having a really fast car and not getting a win, it was beginning to make you think that it might not be in the cards for a victory this year. But the win builds the morale of the team, which a few of the guys had never reached, and it gives you that taste and it makes you work harder to get back for some more."
Edwards, while readily acknowledging his car is running stronger than ever, admits he’s taken aback by the overwhelming 2013 performance.
"It has been an amazing start to the 2013 Pro Stock season,” said Edwards. “I never thought that this Interstate Batteries/I Am Second/Penhall/K&N team would have enjoyed this much success in qualifying. Pro Stock is such a competitive field and nearly every car that pulls to the starting line each qualifying session is capable of going to the pole and to be able to do it five straight times.”
Edwards says there’s no rocket science involved in regards to the amazing streak his team has enjoyed thus far in 2013.
"To hopefully keep it going this weekend, we are going to go at qualifying the same way we have the first five stops and that is to make sure we get from point A to point B on every run and continue to improve and move forward and make better and better laps,” said Edwards. “It sounds easy when you say it, but actually making it work on the quarter-mile is tough. My guys are amazing and are doing their jobs at a top level and that allows us to make the right moves and be in the No. 1 qualifying position come Sunday."
PRO STOCK BIKE
THE LEADER OF THE PACK - Even running slower in Friday's second qualifying session than he did in the first didn't hurt Hector Arana Jr. at the O'Reilly Spring Nationals at Baytown, Texas.
That's what happens when a Pro Stock Motorcycle is on a roll.
Building on his points-leader status from back-to-back victories, the Lucas Oil Buell racer claimed the tentative No. 1 qualifying spot for the third bike appearance and sixth NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event of the season.
He covered the Royal Purple Raceway quarter-mile in 6.876 seconds at 195.39 mph.
"When you're doing so well, you have that extra confidence. You have that momentum," the Purdue University engineering student from Southern Indiana said. "It's like a big wave. I'm trying to stay on top of that wave and ride it as long as I can."
As for faring worse in his second qualifying attempt, Arana Jr. -- with the maximum six bonus points for the day in hand -- said, "We still ran a good number. We're still fastest of the session.
"This bike has been consistent since the beginning of the year. We plan on keeping this up," he said.
Not one to be overconfident, Arana Jr. said, "We're No. 1 today. But tomorrow's another day. We'll see what happens. I hope to improve that number [6.876]. I think there'll be some guys who get close to that. Hopefully I can improve as well as the other guys."
As Arana Jr. seeks his 12th top-qualifying position and a sixth victory in 35 races, he was the lone bike racer in the 6.8-second range, more than three-hundredths of a second quicker than Nos. 2 and 3, L.E. Tonglet and Scotty Pollacheck, who had identical 6.911-second elapsed times.
Arana Jr. has qualified fifth or better at 23 consecutive races en route to a 64-28 eliminations record.
Arana Jr. made his professional debut here in 2011 and defeated his father in the first round of the O'Reilly Spring Nationals. He went on that year to receive the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award as NHRA's top rookie that season.
"It's been a good track to me," the Lucas Oil Buell rider said. "That first race was really intimidating, because I knew what my dad could run and I knew the motor in my bike wasn't up to speed yet. I knew he wasn't going to take it easy on me, because he still wanted to show me, 'Look, I'm still top dog. And I'm not going to give this one to you.' His bike messed up and I was able to get the round-win."
Arana Jr., like his 2009 champion father, has not won at this track.
"I got to the finals in my second year here," he said, remembering his runner-up finish to Andrew Hines last year. "Maybe this time I can seal the deal."
He said he's "pumped up" about live television coverage starting Saturday. ESPN2 will show the fourth and final qualifying session live and will broadcast Sunday's semifinals and finals live, as well.
"I think it's going to be a big step forward for the NHRA and all of us," Arana Jr. said. "I think it's going to help out a lot. I think it's going to get more people watching. Hopefully the ratings will go up and we start going places."
'WHAT, ME WORRY?' THAT'S DAD'S JOB IN ARANA SHOP - The Lucas Oil Buell Pro Stock Motorcycle youngsters, Hector Jr. and Adam Arana, are going with the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series flow.
It's dad Hector Sr. who's worrying about everything.
Arana Sr. could be singing that "Gloom, despair, and agony on me!" song from TV's old "Hee-Haw" program.
"I need some luck. If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have any luck," he said. "Overall everything has gone great. The kids have done great, they've qualified, and (son) Hector has won twice, so I'm happy and pleased."
But he has expressed concern about the team's inventory when racing on back-to-back weekends. He worries about motors and parts and not being prepared. This past week, the Puerto Rico native and former Miami resident even has been wary of the Houston weather, with its low-80-degree temperatures: "I'm not too crazy about the hot, hot weather. I've been in Indiana for almost 10 years now, so 60, 70 degrees is awesome."
He said that despite the team's momentum and actually enjoying the go-go-go pace, "it still puts a little bit of stress on our team. Since we haven't gotten all the parts we need, we don't have the complete bullets ready to run. It's scary because anything can happen and we don't want to be in that situation."
It's understandable he might be anxious about every detail. He's the dad, and he pays the bills.
He can relax. At Houston last year he was the No. 1 qualifier for the second time in three years. And twice at Royal Purple Raceway he has advanced to the finals of the O'Reilly Spring Nationals, in 1997 and 2010. So he ought to feel comfortable this weekend.
Meanwhile, Hector Jr. has no reason to feel uncomfortable. He has won both Pro Stock Motorcycle races this year, Charlotte from the top-qualifying spot and Gainesville from the No. 2 starting position.
"I feel pretty good, considering the rules are even now and the bikes are running well," Arana Jr. said. "They ran really good in Gainesville and Charlotte, and we've been doing some tweaking here and there and hopefully can find a little more. We'll be ready to come out fighting and go for that victory."
With his victory last week at zMAX Dragway, Arana Jr. became the first since Angelle Sampey, in 2006, to open the season with two victories. "That's pretty cool," he said.
But this hungry 24-year-old wants at least to join Matt Hines (Gainesville, Atlanta, Richmond 1998) and the late Dave Schultz as the only riders to win the first three races of a season. Schultz won the first four races of the 1991 season.
"It would be pretty sweet to win three in a row, but I'm not going to count my chickens until they hatch," Arana Jr. said, adding that he's eager to be "carrying this awesome momentum that we have now" to Royal Purple Raceway.
"Momentum helps on race day and gives you extra confidence," he said. "Once you get on a roll and start going rounds, it is easier to compete. I know it's hard when you're not going rounds, but when you get into a rhythm it's almost easy. I plan on staying on that rhythm and keeping it going as long as I can. Hopefully we can three-peat."
His rookie brother, Adam, who actually rides the ProtectTheHarvest.com Buell, said he's more comfortable, especially because everyone is racing this weekend in the traditional two-lane format.
"Everything's going a little bit slower now," he said. "I'm noticing things I didn't notice before. I feel like I'm waiting on the shift points, where before I was anxious and hitting them early. My first time out I was nervous, and taking time off the bike made my nerves get back up there. I started questioning myself, thinking about everything that was different in Charlotte. It was a four-wide race, so I had other things to worry about."
Heading into this weekend, Adam Arana said he wasn't even concerned about yet another racetrack to learn.
"They say it's a good track, pretty quick," he said. "We'll probably run in the .80s again. They haven't told me much. They'll tell me whenever I get there," he said before leaving home at Milltown, Ind.
Hector Sr. indicated Adam has no real reason to worry. "I know he's getting more comfortable," Dad said. "We're seeing how he's improving with each run he makes. Once he becomes more comfortable, he'll believe in himself and he'll focus on his reaction times. Then watch out, because he's going to be on. I know he can do it."
After this weekend, the Pro Stock Motorcycle class will be idle until May 31, when the Summernationals opens at Englishtown, N.J.
Said Arana Sr., "Hopefully after the big break following Houston we can have two good motors as backups, so when we start the Western Swing we don't have to worry about anything."
Surely between now and then he can find something to fret about. -- Susan Wade
JUST THAT CLOSE -- AGAIN - Sovereign/Star Racing Buell rider Scotty Pollacheck is fresh off a really encouraging performance at Charlotte. There he qualified at a team-best No. 2, set low elapsed time of the meet, raced in his first final round, and headed to Houston No. 2 in the standings. The Medford, Ore., resident had a perfect reaction time (.000 seconds) in that final quartet at the Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway but missed a runner-up finish by less than an inch at the finish line. In a bit of deja-vu, he came oh-so-close to leading the pack and even closer to being No. 2 Friday. Pollacheck was No. 2 in the opening session Friday with a 6.911-second, 191.65-mph pass but dropped to No. 3 when L.E. Tonglet posted an identical 6.911 E.T. at a faster 193.24 mph. Pollacheck is starting his second season with George and Jackie Bryce. He has improved his career-best runs at each of the past three races.
CASTELLANA JUMPS TO FRONT OF HOUSTON PRO MOD QUALIFYING
Mike Castellana powered his Al-Anabi Racing ’68 Camaro to the No. 1 qualifying position in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series portion of the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals Friday at Royal Purple Raceway. His pass of 5.880 seconds at 244.56 mph paced the 16-car field in the popular 250-mph doorslammer touring series.
Danny Rowe is currently qualified second at 5.930 at 246.53 in his Agave Underground Tequila Pro Mod. Mike Janis raced his K100 Fuel Treatment Camaro to the third position with a pass of 5.960 seconds at 244.25, while points leader Von Smith qualified eighth at 5.979 at 248.71.
The final qualifying session for the NHRA Pro Mod Series is Saturday at 1:45 p.m. First round of eliminations begin at 4 p.m. and will continue on Sunday at approximately 2:30 p.m.
THE ORDER - Friday's results after the first two of three rounds of qualifying for the 26th annual O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries at Royal Purple Raceway, third of 10 events in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series. Qualifying will continue Saturday for Saturday's round one of eliminations.
1. Mike Castellana, Chevy Camaro, 5.880, 244.56; 2. Danny Rowe, Camaro, 5.930, 246.53; 3. Mike Janis, Camaro, 5.960, 244.25; 4. Mike Knowles, Camaro, 5.964, 244.34; 5. Rickie Smith, Camaro, 5.964, 242.71; 6. Pete Farber, Dodge Daytona, 5.966, 246.12; 7. Troy Coughlin, Chevy Corvette, 5.979, 248.71; 8. Von Smith, Camaro, 5.979, 244.65; 9. Kenny Lang, Corvette, 5.983, 245.99; 10. Steve Matusek, Ford Mustang, 6.060, 246.48; 11. Clint Satterfield, Camaro, 6.208, 237.30; 12. Chris Juliano, Mustang, 6.246, 220.15; 13. Chip King, Daytona, 6.499, 236.55; 14. Jeffrey Cummins Jr., Camaro, 9.786, 93.08.
ROWE SEEKING THREE - Pro Mod driver Danny Rowe has had his share of successes in the Pro Mod Drag Racing Series over the years, but the Southern California-based driver seems to have a special knack for visiting the winner's circle at Royal Purple Raceway.
As the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series rolls into the ultra-quick dragstrip located just east of downtown Houston, April 26-28, for the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals presented by Super Start Batteries, Rowe wants nothing more than to have history repeat itself. Rowe will seek his third win at Royal Purple Raceway with a new sponsor on the side of his famed black supercharged '67 Chevy Camaro: Agave Underground Tequila.
“We have a good handle on the racing,” Rowe said. “We have won twice in Houston (2012 and 2010). So this weekend we would like to see a repeat win especially with our new sponsor Agave Underground coming out this weekend. They are new to the sport and are enjoying every bit of the racing excitement. There’s definitely added pressure when the sponsor is in town, but we’ll be ready to bring some great racing to Houston.”
Rowe is focused on race No. 3 in the 10-race series after qualifying No. 2 at the season-opener in Gainesville and No. 1 in Charlotte. This momentum has Rowe feeling positive that his team is ready to grab its first win of the season and improve on its current seventh place points position.
“We’re focused and ready to head into Houston,” Rowe said. “Royal Purple Raceway has a great racing facility and we love the people at Houston. Can’t wait to get out there and bring them some great side-by-side drag racing.”
EVENT PREVIEW - THE TOUR ROLLS INTO HOUSTON