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NHRA’s Arana Is Privately Wheeling Way To the Top

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 26 2009
Hector Arana is on the rise in the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle division. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

Hector Arana is on the rise in the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle division. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Ennis, Texas – Hector Arana says he is riding a Pro Stock Motorcycle good enough to win the 2009 NHRA Countdown to 1 championship. And if the bike breaks, Arana is ready to run any quarter-mile from here to Pomona, Calif.

The drag racing definition of “privateer,” Arana tilted the PSM universe when he won the NHRA Carolinas Nationals at zMax Dragway at Concord last weekend. Arana and his Lucas Oil Buell also emerged as the points-leader over Vance & Hines championship twins Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines and their powerful Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson V-Rods.

As a rider who never has finished higher than fifth in the points standings, Arana has been enjoying the rarified air of No. 1 during this weekend’s 24th annual O’Reilly Super Start Batteries NHRA Fall Nationals.

“We feel good and we keep working hard to keep chasing the championship,” Arana said between third and fourth-round qualifying at Texas Motorplex,  Race No. 2 of the six-event Countdown and 20th of 24 in the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. “I think I have a great chance of winning, so I’m going to stay focused on that and doing whatever I need to do. Go over the whole engine every run. And after we finish this event, we’re going to tear it down and make sure that anything that could be questionable, that could go wrong, we’re going to replace it so we don’t have any problems qualifying or making runs.”

Arana is owner/rider/crew chief on the Buell that is on a two-race winning streak which began with a victory over Michael Phillips and his Suzuki in the prestigious Mac Tools U.S. Nationals earlier this month. Arana prevailed in the final last Sunday with a 7.004-second pass at 189.31 mph – a moot point because Karen Stoffer red-lighted on her Suzuki. That win moved Arana atop the points table for the first time since his season-opening victory against Matt Smith and his Suzuki at Gainesville, Fla.

Arana, who turned 51 on Sept. 17, makes due with a skeleton on-site crew that includes longtime helpers Louie Lubliner and Dan Gonzalez and Hector Arana Jr., a 20-year-old aspiring PSM rider. The engines in Arana’s 2009 Buell XB9R are maintained by Pro Stock racer Larry Morgan, who basically refreshes parts as necessary.

It’s a combination that has produced a career-best four victories for Arana in 2009, matching the total put up by Krawiec, the reigning PSM champion. Competing in his second full season, Krawiec captured the 2008 championship without winning a race on his H-D. Arana, who made his NHRA debut with a single race in 1990, went 19 years before posting his first PSM victory at Norwalk, Ohio, in 2008.

Arana did not advance to his first semifinal round until 1993. He reached his first final in 1997. What kept him going all those years?

“I knew I could do it. And the love for this sport,” said Arana, a native of Miami of Puerto Rican heritage. “I couldn’t give up because what message would I have sent to my kids if I would have given up? That I worked so hard and not accomplish what I wanted to do? So, my biggest accomplishment now that I’ve won a race _ my boys (Hector Jr. and Adam) were with me. And now I know in back of their minds, when they get going on their lives and their careers, if you work at it and keep going it will happen. They can get what they want.”

Arana and wife Grace also are the parents of daughters Amy and Abigail. Although born in Miami, Arana said his family moved to Puerto Rico when he was 8-years-old.

“My memories as a kid…the first time I saw a drag car was in Puerto Rico,” Arana said. “I heard the car start and I got on my bicycle and chased it and fell in love with racing. I came back to the States when I was ready to turn 15. I always loved mechanics. I went to school and focused on the auto mechanic industry. That was something I always had a passion for. I love to tinker with things.”

Right now, Arana would like to think he is tinkering with the mindsets of Krawiec and Hines – the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle champion in 2004, 2005 and 2006.

“You know, I don’t know if I caught them by surprise,” said Arana, referring to last Sunday’s eliminations. “Andrew made a mistake – he red-lighted (in a first-round upset against Junior Pippin and his Buell). And then I got Eddie in the semifinals.” Arana won that matchup with a pass in 6.997-seconds and 190.14 mph to Krawiec’s 6.991-seconds and 187.99 mph. Arana exited the Carolinas with a nine-point advantage over Krawiec and a 69-point pad over Hines.

“At this event, the heat is on and they turned it up,” said Arana, who split No. 1 qualifier Krawiec and No. 3 Hines at the conclusion of Saturday’s fourth qualifying session down The Plex’s all-concrete quarter-mile. “I don’t know if I’m in their heads, but I know they’re not going to give me a chance to run away with the points. I feel they stepped it up. But I still got the points lead and I’m going to fight for it. I’m not going to just give it up to them.  This (revised) qualifying points system…it’s going to make it tough. I’ve got to deal with what we have. But I know they’ve stepped it up. Even in the heat, they keep running fast.”

Krawiec earned pole with his numbers of 6.908-seconds and 192.55 mph.  He will be paired against Redell Harris, who qualified 16th at 7.179-seconds and 182.87 mph.

“It doesn’t really matter where you qualify,” said Krawiec , who won the championship last year by five points. “I don’t take any competitor out here lightly. They all have to get tuned into the track conditions and weather conditions and anybody out there can shine. There’s a lot of quick motorcycles, not just Hector. Hector’s doing a very good job on the tuneup and everything, but it’s not just him. You don’t take any competitor lightly because somebody might stumble onto something in the second round against you. And if you happen to think they’re not going to find what they’re looking for, then you’re going to beat that round. Best thing is to go out there and race your own race.”

Arana secured the No. 2 spot at 6.912-seconds and 189.44 mph. He will be paired against Joe Desantis, who qualified 15th at 7.127-seconds and 188.81 mph on his 1998 Suzuki GSXR.

Arana smiled when asked to compare his budget with that of the factory-backed Harley-Davidson juggernaut featuring team co-founder Byron Hines and crew chief Matt Hines, NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle champion in 1997, 1998 and 1999.

“I honestly don’t know (the dollar figures). I just work,” said Arana, who is based out of Milltown, Ind. “I get my sponsor’s money and whatever I make goes into this. If I were to sit down and figure out everything, I’d be afraid…I don’t want to know. I know I could use more, I could have more people help me. They’ve got a big shop, Vance & Hines. They deal with a bigger budget. When they send a motor back to the shop they’ve got someone doing the maintenance, trying to find more horsepower. I’m here.  I go to the next races. I don’t go home. We drive, we go over the engine and hopefully we have everything we need to fix it.”

Arana’s career largely has been supported by Forrest Lucas, president of Lucas Oil Products and owner of the Top Fuel dragster driven by son Morgan.

“My budget, if I’m falling short, Forrest already told me anything I need, come and talk to him,” Arana said.  “The sponsorship started in 1994. What’s amazing is that they weren’t a household name yet. One thing that Forrest told me was, ‘Hector, as we grow, you will grow with us.’ And as you can see, this big trailer and motor home and everything…so my dream has come true.”

As focused as he is on living in the moment, Arana admitted he has dared to dream of winning this championship.

“Sounds almost like a fairy tale, you know?” Arana said. “I remember the story with the small train…’I can do it, I can do it, yes I can.’ That’s what I’ve been doing. I know I can. I can ride. I know the engines. And it’s coming around for me.

“There’s times when you stop and think…and I remember my first finals race against Matt Hines in Richmond, Va. (in 1997). And I ran quicker than he did, so I had lane choice. And I know that was going to be my first win there…and the chain broke. I left the starting line and the chain broke and all I could do was look up and I can see Matt Hines start wobbling. And I go, ‘OK, I’m going to keep an eye on him. If he stops, I’m getting off this bike and I’m going to run down the track!’

“You go, ‘Man, why I didn’t win? Why?’ And people say, ‘Well, the Lord has something bigger for you. Don’t worry, there’s something bigger for you later on.’ I still have the bike to win. I’m consistent. If I win the championship, I’ll have it all.”

John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 26 2009
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