NHRA Honors Champs, Arana Jr.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, November 15 2011

2011 Funny Car champion Matt Hagan was among those honored at the NHRA's award banquet on Monday. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Hector Arana Jr., newly crowned as the National Hot Rod Association’s Rookie of the Year, intends to show his peers “who’s boss” in the two-wheel class during 2012.

Arana Jr., son of the 2009 PSM world champion, received a $20,000 check as winner of the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award during the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series ceremony Monday night in Hollywood, Calif.

Del Worsham and Matt Hagan – first-time world champions in Top Fuel and Funny Car, respectively – headlined drivers crowned at the Grand Ballroom at the Hollywood and Highland Center. Additionally, Jason Line and Eddie Krawiec – repeat champs in Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, respectively – also were presented checks and trophies for their season-long accomplishments.

Arana Jr. finished second to Krawiec by 90 points, or four-plus rounds of racing, after the 22-event season topped by the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Arana Jr., who got hot on his Lucas Oil Buell after winning the prestigious Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil at Indianapolis over Labor Day Weekend, raced to two victories during the Countdown.

Both Aranas reached the semifinals of the 47th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway

Biker Hector Arana Jr. was named top rookie.

on Sunday and finished in the top five of the points standings, with Arana Sr. landing in fifth place. Arana Jr. fell to Krawiec and his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rod in the semifinals when the engine on his family-owned Buell went sour in high gear. Still, Arana Jr. finished with three wins, two runner-up results and six quarterfinal appearances. He also posted a class-leading seven No. 1 qualifiers.

After joining the eight other drivers eligible for the rookie award on stage, Arana Jr. said he was “shocked” when his name was called. “I wasn’t really sure what the outcome was going to be,” said Arana Jr., 22. “I was really hoping for a tie. Vincent (Nobile) and I both did a good job, and it kinda stinks they could only pick one. But I’m proud to have won.

“I’ve got a big reputation to live up to now with all the other drivers who have won the rookie award. I’ve got a lot to prove now.”

Past rookie 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) and Spencer Massey (2009, Top Fuel).

Arana Jr. earned the rookie award based on written votes from a panel of the nation’s top motorsports journalists. The voting system was based upon number of events participated in, performance on and off the racetrack, participation in NHRA promotions and relationships with fans, sponsors and media.

Other candidates in the talented class were Nobile, 20 (Pro Stock); Dominick Lagana, 26 (Top Fuel); Steve Kent, 56 (Pro Stock); Jerry Savoie, 52 (PSM); Brian Thiel, 36 (Funny Car); Justin Finley, 31 (PSM); Michael Ray, 27 (PSM) and Buddy Perkinson, 20 (Pro Stock).

“I’ve got to thank Forrest and Charlotte Lucas,” Arana Jr. said of his primary sponsors. “I love those guys; they’re like family. If it wasn’t for them and Lucas Oil, we wouldn’t be here. It’s an honor to be able to fly their colors.

“And thanks to my dad for bringing me here and believing in me. I was a true rookie. When I started, I only had five passes down the quarter-mile. My dad had a lot of belief in me to know that I could do this.”

Arana Jr., in fact, failed to qualify for the season’s first race but rallied from 17th place to eventually

Top Fuel champion Del Worsham. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

challenge Krawiec in the playoffs. “Over the year, getting seat time helped a lot with me getting comfortable on the bike,” said Arana Jr., who succeeded 2010 PSM world champion LE Tonglet as rookie of the year. “We got an engine that made a lot of horsepower, and then I learned to ride the bike to its full potential. We won a couple races and started going rounds.

“This has been the most amazing year of my life. This was my goal, my dream coming into this year. Everything was the Rookie of the Year Award.

“I can’t wait to get back to the shop, find some power, come back and show these guys who’s boss. I’ve got a full season underneath my belt. Those last several runs, I felt like I was making perfect runs. I’m ready to go to Gainesville (Fla.) and start from the beginning.”

Arana Sr. echoed his son’s enthusiasm heading home to Milltown, Ind., for the offseason. “Overall, a great year,” Arana Sr. said. “According to everything that happened this year, I am blessed that things went well. My son improved. Toward the end, I started relaxing some more and enjoying it.”

Southern California native Worsham, 41, earned his first championship title in Top Fuel after spending the 20 previous seasons behind the wheel of a Funny Car. He raced to eight victories in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster, including the finale at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, in a season that saw four drivers in close contention for the championship on the final day of racing. Worsham earned $500,000 from NHRA and Full Throttle for the series crown.

Virginia cattle rancher Hagan, 28, avenged a disappointing end to the 2010 season, when he lost a 38-point lead on the final day and the Funny Car title to 15-time world champ John Force, by winning the $500,000 title in his DieHard Dodge Charger. Hagan, of Don Schumacher Racing, claimed two wins and set the national elapsed-time record with a milestone 1,000-foot run of 3.995-seconds in Concord, N.C., at the opening Countdown event.

Line, 42, closed out his second Pro Stock world championship (also 2006) one race early, as the driver of the Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac GXP fielded by KB Racing celebrated his title in Las Vegas

Jason Line, Pro Stock champion.

following the penultimate Countdown event in late October. A native Minnesotan who now calls North Carolina home, Line won six races and posted seven poles en route to earning $250,000.

Krawiec, 34, earned his second world championship (also 2008) in Pro Stock Motorcycle by racing to four victories in six final rounds on his Harley-Davidson V-Rod, including two wins during the Countdown playoffs. Krawiec, an Englishtown, N.J., native who now lives near Indianapolis, claimed $75,000.

Winners of the Full Throttle Hard-Working Crew Award, which recognizes pit crews in each of the four NHRA professional categories, were 83-year-old legend Chris Karamesines’ dragster team in Top Fuel ($25,000) for winning the first round of eliminations at Bristol Dragway in June, his first round-win in NHRA competition since 1990; Hight’s Auto Club Ford Mustang crew in Funny Car ($25,000) for winning at Heartland Park Topeka despite losing a crew member to injury; Erica Enders’ ZaZa Racing Chevrolet Cobalt crew for advancing to the final round in Pro Stock ($15,000) at Brainerd International Raceway; and Krawiec’s H-D crew in PSM ($5,000) for racing to victory at the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway and setting the national speed record at 199.26 mph.

Ford was named Manufacturers Cup winner for the fourth time since NHRA started presenting the award in 1964. Ford Motor Company also won NHRA Manufacturers Cup titles in 1964, 1965 and 1982. Funny Car racers Mike Neff, Hight, Bob Tasca III, Tim Wilkerson and Force and Pro Stock racer Larry Morgan, along with NHRA Lucas Oil Series drivers Drew Skillman, Grant Lewis and Randy Hopkins, among others, spearheaded the winning effort for the Blue Oval. Jamie Allison, director, Ford North American Motorsports, accepted the award on behalf of Ford.

Drivers in seven categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series also were recognized as 2011 world champions: Duane Shields (Top Alcohol Dragster), Frank Manzo (Top Alcohol Funny Car), Lou Ficco Jr. (Competition Eliminator), Jackie Alley (Super Stock), Joseph Santangelo II (Stock Eliminator), Gary Stinnett (Super Comp) and Peter Biondo (Super Gas).

The awards ceremony will be available in its entirety to fans worldwide on the Internet on Wednesday, Nov. 16, at 6 p.m. (EST) at NHRA.com and the NHRA channel on YouTube.

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, November 15 2011
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