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Arana, Nobile Fighting For Wins And Awards

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 28 2011

Rookie Pro Stock driver Vincent Nobile has been putting on a show this season. (Photos Courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Having separated themselves from their Class of 2011 peers, Hector Arana Jr. and Vincent Nobile are poised to settle the Automobile Club Road to the Future Award as NHRA’s top rookie.

And they’ll have to do so quickly. Two races remain in the six-event Countdown to the Championship playoffs, beginning with the opening two rounds of qualifications today for Sunday’s 11th annual Big O Tires NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The season-ending 47th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals is set for Nov. 10-13 at Pomona, Calif.

But the deadline for national media representatives voting for the rookie award is Nov. 7, meaning this weekend’s event in Vegas will be the last chance for Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) and Nobile (Pro Stock) to embellish their already impressive resumes.

Both posted their third victories of the season during the 27th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals at Firebird International Raceway on Oct. 2 – wins that landed them on the cover of the latest issue of National Dragster hoisting their 60th anniversary NHRA pewter Wally’s. It marked the first time two NHRA Professional rookies had won at the same event since Gary Scelzi (Top Fuel) and Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) did so at the fall race at Royal Purple Raceway (formerly Houston Raceway Park) in 1997.

Arana Jr. rates as the rookie award favorite, as he trails 2008 PSM world champion Eddie Krawiec

Hector Arana Jr. shooting for top rookie award.

and his Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson by only 10 points at the start of qualifications in Vegas. Arana Jr. has been hot since the Countdown began, advancing to five final rounds in the last six races and posting his three victories, including a win at the prestigious Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil in Indianapolis. He also has qualified No. 1 at the last three events.

Nobile is third in Pro Stock, 193 points behind leader and 2006 world champion Jason Line but only five points behind runnerup/four-time champion Greg Anderson.

The rookie award carries a $20,000 bonus and traditional trophy, which will be presented during NHRA’s annual championship ceremony on Nov. 14 at the Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, Calif.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” said Arana Jr., 22, rider of the Lucas Oil Buell. “It makes for a real tough battle between me and Vincent. I’ve seen where there has been a tie before, and we’ve both got five finals and three wins.” Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Matt Hines (PSM) shared the rookie award in 1996.

Nobile said he wouldn’t have a problem splitting the money with Arana Jr. “It’s not about the money for me,” said Nobile, 20, driver of the Mountain View Tire Dodge Avenger. “It’s about being on that list of people who have won that award. It’s just so prestigious to me as well for Hector. If we were both on that list, it would mean the world to both of us.”

Past award winners feature some of NHRA’s most popular drivers, including Tony Pedregon (1996, Funny Car); Ron Capps (1997, Funny Car); Antron Brown (1999, Top Fuel); Melanie Troxel (2000, Top Fuel); Brandon Bernstein (2003, Top Fuel); Line (2004, Pro Stock); Robert Hight (2005, Funny Car); Ashley Force Hood (2007, Funny Car); Spencer Massey (2009, Top Fuel) and LE Tonglet (2010, PSM).

The other 2011 rookie contenders are Justin Finley, 31, (PSM); Steve Kent, 56, (Pro Stock); Dominick Lagana,26, (Top Fuel); Buddy Perkinson, 20, (Pro Stock); Michael Ray, 27, (PSM); Jerry Savoie, 52, (PSM) and Brian Thiel, 36, (Funny Car).

More than 150 of the nation’s leading motorsports journalists will select the winner via a voting system based upon number of events participated in, performance on and off the racetrack, participation in NHRA promotions and relationships with fans, sponsors and media.

“Fast Jack” Beckman re-introduced himself as a championship contender in Funny Car at Firebird International Raceway, trailering Don Schumacher Racing teammate Johnny Gray in the

Jack Beckman on top in Funny Car. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

final.

A first-round loss at Reading, Pa., in Round 3 of the Countdown relegated Beckman to fifth in the standings in early October – an afterthought in the chase between DSR teammate Matt Hagan and Mike Neff of John Force Racing. But early-round losses by that pair in Chandler, Ariz., cleared the way for Beckman to vault four spots in the standings and take the lead by five points over Hagan. Neff is third, 22 points back with eight rounds of racing remaining.

“I said before the race (in Arizona) we were three rounds back with 12 rounds left – and we really needed to win to put us in a good position in the Countdown,” said Beckman, driver of the Aaron’s/Valvoline Dodge Charger. “Obviously, we did our part and our main competitors had their issues, so we did even better than just improving our position. I’m not so gratified that I’m the points- leader; I’m gratified that we got ourselves back into the championship hunt. It’s going to be interesting.”

“You always hear, ‘A round win is a round win’; they’re all equal, but that’s not true in the Countdown. When you race someone you’re fighting with, like we raced Robert (Hight) in the second round, it’s really a potential 40-point swing – the 20 you get for winning and the 20 you deny him. Those are must wins.””

Owner/driver Cruz Pedregon, a two-time world champion, is lurking in fourth place and 2009 champion Hight of JFR is less than three rounds back.

“I’ve always said I wanted to be able to control our destiny,” said Beckman, who won the 2003 Super Comp world championship in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series. “I’m happy to be the point-leader, it’s a testament to the excellence of my crew led by Rahn Tobler (crew chief) and John Collins (assistant crew chief). But the reality is with two races left and the points so tight we are definitely back in the hunt.”

Top Fuel contender Spencer Massey will be racing in Las Vegas with a case of amnesia, courtesy of his DNQ at Firebird International Raceway. Massey was forced to watch from the pits as the 65-point lead he had built via three consecutive final-round appearances to open the Countdown evaporated in the Arizona heat during four frustrating qualification runs.

Three-time/reigning world champion Larry Dixon of Al-Anabi Racing won the event and now sits 20 points behind leader Antron Brown, Massey’s Don Schumacher Racing teammate. Massey is third, 25 points behind Brown.

“We’re putting it behind us, like it didn’t even happen,” said Massey, driver of the FRAM/Prestone dragster. “It was a fluke. It was terrible, but not devastating as we’re still less than two rounds from first place.

“We think we might have one-upped everyone else for Vegas because we came right here and spent last Monday testing. We’ve got a bunch of extra runs on this track under conditions we believe will be just like race day, so we might just have a slight advantage.

“In addition, and more importantly, we found the issue that hampered us in Phoenix and fixed it. I knew Todd and Phil (Okuhara and Shuler, co-crew chiefs) and the rest of the guys would sort things out, so we’re ready to return to the type of performance which put us in the lead heading into the Arizona race.”

Al-Anabi Racing will help promote international awareness for breast cancer with special “pink out” paint schemes this weekend in Vegas. With National Breast Cancer Awareness Month ending on Monday, the Top Fuel dragsters driven by Larry Dixon and Del Worsham will sport pink paint schemes with pink spill plates and the familiar pink ribbon representing the cause. Spill plates are the end caps on both the front and rear wings. In addition, Al-Anabi Racing autograph handout cards will be pink this weekend.

Al-Anabi’s team efforts are in addition to those of The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where the starting-line area has received a coat of bright pink paint for the event. All drivers and riders participating in the NHRA Big O Tires Nationals will be invited to affix a pink ribbon breast cancer awareness decal to their helmets and well as their cars and motorcycles.

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States, other than skin cancer. It is the second-leading cause of cancer death in women, after lung cancer. The disease has hit close to home with the Al-Anabi team and team manager Alan Johnson. His sister, Pam, was treated for breast cancer in 2007 and currently is fighting a recurrence of the disease. Pam will attend this weekend’s event to take part in breast cancer awareness activities.

Defending event champions this weekend are Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle). … Jason Line is a healthy 188 points ahead of Summit Racing Equipment teammate Greg Anderson in Pro Stock. Line will clinch his second world championship if he can leave Vegas with at least a 151-point lead. … ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 10:30 p.m. (EDT) on Saturday. ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise a three-hour eliminations show at 7 p.m. (EDT) on Sunday.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 28 2011
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