Photography by Matt Polito
Lucas Oil Buell’s Hector Arana Jr. won the opening round of the NHRA Mello Yello Pro Stock Series today at the Gatornationals at Auto-Plus Raceway, ending a winless drought and stopping the freight train that was the Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team in 2012.
For Arana Jr. it was his fourth career Pro Stock victory, and his first since Phoenix in October 2011, the former rookie of the year beating Suzuki-mounted Steve Johnson in the final round of the season opener.
"We took a step in the right direction today," Arana Jr. said in a team release. "My dad, when he won his championship, he won the Gatornationals the first race out. Eddie Krawiec won the Gatornationals and then won the championship [last year], so I'm looking forward to doing the same this year."
The Gatornationals was the first of 16 Pro Stock races this year, so there is plenty of racing left, but Arana Jr. and the three-bike Arana Racing team, which includes his father Hector Arana Sr. and brother, Adam, have yet to fully push the envelope on their Buell engines. The team's off-season was a busy one getting the three bikes prepared, so there was no time for engine development.
"All we did was take our motors apart, freshen them up, and put them back together," Arana Jr. said. "To be able to get all three bikes here was an accomplishment in itself. To be able to get all three qualified was amazing. Then to go on and go rounds and grab the win for Team Arana and Lucas Oil, it's a very big accomplishment. It shows that having a third bike isn't going to slow us down; it's just going to speed us up."
Arana Jr. qualified number two and beat Michael Phillips in the first round with a 6.829 at 195.00 mph to Phillips' slowing 9.170 at 93.15 mph. That put Arana Jr. against three-time champion Krawiec, who won a class-best nine races in 2012. Arana Jr. threw down a .006-second reaction time against Krawiec's .017 light and ran a 6.876 at 193.63 mph to beat Krawiec's 6.890 at 192.14 mph.
In the semifinals, Arana Jr. faced his dad, who had lane choice based on a better second-round elapsed time.
"My crew chief Dan Gonzalez and I said, 'You know what? If we lose, he's still going to the final,' so we took a swing and it worked out for the best," said Arana Jr. "We sped up, and I actually got a holeshot on my dad."
Arana Sr. had the better ET, 6.844 at 196.10 mph to Arana Jr.'s 6.849 at 194.97 mph, but Arana Jr. was better on the Christmas Tree, .022 to .034, and earned the win.
"He was very happy," Arana Jr. said. "It was a close race. I didn't know who was going to get it because he was right at the corner of my eye the whole time. I saw the win light come on and I was really excited. I didn't do any fist pumping because I didn't want to do it in front of him, but I wanted to real bad. It was really exciting."