For most of the 2018 season, Lucas Oil EBR’s Hector Arana Jr. has had the fastest bike in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Arana Jr. has set top speed at five of the first six events including the first 200-mph run in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class earlier this season in Gainesville. The one thing that Arana Jr. had not done was win an event, and he took care of that significant detail with a victory at the Dodge Mile-High Nationals in Denver, July 20-22. It was Arana’s first win since the 2015 Chicago round, a span of 42 NHRA events.
Hector Arana Jr. Gets Back To His Winning Ways In Denver
“We have had a fast bike all the time, just been working on consistency and then when the bike was good I was making little errors,” Arana Jr. said. “Dedication, hard work, and practicing to bring it all together. We finally got over some hurdles over here and now we should be back on track.”
Bandimere Speedway, the home of the Mile-High Nationals, sits more than 5600 feet above sea level, which makes it a nightmare for crew chiefs who are used to racing at sea-level tracks. For the most part, teams take their best guess at a qualifying and race-day setup and whoever makes the best guess is successful. Arana and his team, led by his father, Hector Sr., were solid from the start. Arana Jr. qualified second in the field with a 7.135, just behind Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson’s Eddie Krawiec, who set the track record with a 7.111 run.
On his way to the final, Arana turned in one of the best performances of his career in his wins against Ryan Oehler, Nitro Fish Suzuki’s LE Tonglet, and Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson’s Andrew Hines. Arana Jr. set the pace with three runs between 7.14 and 7.16 and few could match him.
“We had a little problem in qualifying and it took us a while to figure it out,” Arana Jr. said. “We were off a little bit, but my dad figured out what the issues were from then on, we were consistent. On Sunday, I didn’t touch anything all. The only thing we did was cool the bike down after each run. We didn’t have to touch it, otherwise.”
As good as Arana was, he didn’t win the final round without a bit of luck. Facing White Alligator Suzuki’s Jerry Savoie, Arana Jr. left the starting line 0.002 of a second before the green light. Normally, that would result in a foul start and a disqualification, but Savoie also left too soon, by 0.004 of second, so the red light shone in his lane first since NHRA has a “first or worst” policy in the event of a dual infraction.
“That was just one of those weird things where we were both going for it,” Arana Jr. said. “We both wanted to win and we both hit the tree really good in the final. I’m just fortunate that Jerry left a little bit ahead of me. I outran him, so I’d have been sick if I was the one who red-lighted first.
“The thing I’m more happy about is that my bike is running so good right now. We did well up here but I also think we have a great setup for sea level and that’s big because we go to Sonoma next week. It’s always fast there so I’m looking forward to making some career-best runs. If I can ride the way I did today I think we’ll have something to build on.”
As disappointed as he was to lose in the final, Savoie was encouraged by the progress of his White Alligator team, since he’s now been to the final round in three of the last six races and has a win and two runner-up finishes.
“We didn’t run our best up here so to get to the final round; I’ll take it,” Savoie said. “It’s really hard to race up here in this altitude. Tim [Kulungian, crew chief] did a great job but we were slower than Hector all weekend. I didn’t like red lighting in the final but I had to push it or he was going to outrun me. We’ll be okay, though. We’ve got a great bike and when we get back to sea-level I think you’ll see us run a lot closer to the front of the field.”
With three races left before the start of the Countdown to the Championship playoffs, Arana Jr. has moved to third place, within striking distance of leaders Hines and Krawiec. Savoie is fifth, behind his teammate, LE Tonglet. Scotty Pollacheck, Matt Smith, Angie Smith, Hector Arana Sr. and Angelle Sampey are also ranked in the top ten following the Denver round.
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