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Smack-Immune Krawiec Is Ready To Defend

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, March 9 2012

Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Eddie Krawiec begins defense of his championship this weekend at the Gatornationals. (Photos courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Not all the noise emanating from the NHRA’s Pro Stock Motorcycle pits in 2011 was engine-related. En route to his second world championship, Eddie Krawiec bowed-up and figured out how to turn the smack talk regularly served by Hector Arana Jr. and Jerry Savoie, among others, to his advantage.

“That motivates me,” said Krawiec, a no-nonsense guy from Bayonne, N.J. “That’s actually motivation. Whenever people talk junk, I’m pretty consistent – I don’t let anything get in my head. I stay with my routine. I try not to let anything out of the ordinary throw me off. I can handle myself in different situations.

“As years of experience come, I learn every single race I go to. By no means am I never not learning anything. Once you make a mistake, you can’t make it again. My main goal pretty much all the time is, ‘Don’t listen to what everybody else out there is telling you, just stay in your own element.’ ”

Krawiec followed that elementary blueprint to three poles, four victories in six final-round appearances and a 90-point margin over Arana Jr. in the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series standings. The 2012 season for two-wheelers is scheduled to get under way today with the opening rounds of qualifications for the 43rd annual Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals presented by NAPAFilters.com at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, Fla.

ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise one hour of qualifying coverage at 4 a.m. (ET) on Sunday, with a re-air of the qualifying show at 5 p.m. (ET). ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise three hours of eliminations coverage beginning at 6 p.m. (ET), also on Sunday.

Joining Krawiec – event winner in 2010-11 – as defending champions are Mike Neff in Funny Car and

Eddie Krawiec won a big Wally and the big check last year.

reigning world champion Jason Line in Pro Stock. Del Worsham, who won the event in Top Fuel last year, retired after clinching his first world championship in November.

Krawiec, who captured his first PSM championship in 2008 without winning a national event, has a shot at NHRA history out of the box this weekend. While three other competitors have won the season-opening race back-to-back, no rider has ever won three in a row.

“That would just be an awesome thing,” said Krawiec, who will carry the No. 1 plate on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rod tuned by Matt Hines.”It’s not many opportunities you get to go back-to-back, but to try to do it three times in a row is definitely something that I’d love to do. Right now I’m not even thinking ‘championship,’ I’m thinking more ‘Gainesville.’ It would be great to start off the year with a win.

“The key thing is being able to have great starts throughout the season and going rounds. I focus one round at a time. You need to go round-wins to get race-wins, then race-wins will get you championships. They’ll all fall in line as long as you continue to do your job.”

Krawiec opened the 2011 season in style at Gainesville by posting a class quarter-mile speed record of 199.26 mph – barely missing the historic 200 mph barrier. After defeating Karen Stoffer in the final, Krawiec never was ranked lower than third on the points table for the remainder of the season. Krawiec posted a 35-12 won/loss record (.745 percentage) while qualifying in the top half for all 16 national events. His championship was the fifth in eight years for the famed Vance & Hines H-D team co-owned by Terry Vance and Byron Hines.

Arana Jr., meanwhile, went 24-11 (.686 percentage) during his rookie season, which got off with a thud when he failed to qualify at Gainesville. Despite that stumble, Arana Jr. rode his Lucas Oil Buell to three wins and five final-round appearances, including a victory at the prestigious Mac Tools U.S. Nationals near Indianapolis.

The son of 2009 PSM world champion Hector Arana Sr., Hector Jr. capped his season with the $20,000

Eddie Krawiec is immune to big talk.

Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award, which recognizes the top-performing rookie of the year. Hector Jr. enters the 2012 season upbeat and unplugged.

“Guys, until my media people told me, I didn’t know about a ’sophomore slump’, ” Arana Jr. joked during a recent teleconference. “I’m not going to even think about that. I finally have some experience underneath my belt. So my goal is to qualify at Gainesville – which I didn’t last year – and go some rounds, just start strong from the very beginning.”

Arana Jr. also indicated he is not about to tone down the rhetoric he directed, primarly at Krawiec, during the six-race Countdown to the Championship.

“Oh, no, I love to have fun,” said Arana Jr., 22, who again will be teamed with his father. “Every time I go down the track is a plus. That’s why I’m so excited and so outspoken is ’cause I am enjoying every bit of it. I’m loving every bit of racing. I’m living my dream. I want everybody to understand how exciting this is for me. That way I can get the fans excited and riled up. They want to come watch the races more, watch it on TV. I just love it. I love just expressing all the moments.

“I’ve been involved since I was born. My dad has been racing since I was born. So this is all I know, is racing. I knew from Day One that I wanted to race. I’ve always been really competitive in anything I did. I think that is a big part of why I knew I wanted to race NHRA and how I knew that I was going to do well. I knew I didn’t have the experience right away, but I stayed focused, I didn’t give up and I believed in myself, my team. My dad believed in me. That drive just helped me to do as well as I did.”

Despite their budding rivalry, Krawiec acknowledged that both he and Arana Jr. share similar backgrounds.

“I’ve been around drag racing for a long time,” said Krawiec, 35, the former track manager at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J. “I actually grew up around it. My earliest memories are going to the track at 4-years-old with my dad. The motorcycle drag racing, when I came into it in the early to mid-1990s, has a whole different view. It’s a very close family that sticks together, unlike the standard race car drivers. The motorcycle guys, they group together. But we all know when we pull onto that drag strip, it’s no-holds-barred. Whoever it is next to you, you want to whoop them, beat them. Nobody wants to go home the loser. I don’t know one guy that pulls out of the shop and says, ‘I hope to go out first round, second round, lose in the final.’ ”

Krawiec admittedly struggled in the middle of the 2011 season, with five of his 12 losses the result of an opponent’s holeshot. Two of the losses came via red-light.

“Obviously, when you carry that No. 1 on the side of your bike you tend to be a victim of guys that are

Biker Hector Arana Jr. was the top rookie in 2011.

willing to take a risk a little more against you,” said Krawiec, who has 11 career wins in 25 final-round appearances. “As we all know, the competition has gotten greater and greater and greater. The only way that you can have that opportunity to defend your championship is you’ve got to improve and get better as well as everybody else. That’s my goal here. My goal is to be a better racer on Sundays.

“I got over my slump. We made some tune-up changes in the motorcycle that helped it react better to the way that I’m on it. The end result is hopefully it leads to good reaction times and consistent ones at that. That’s the key, is being consistent. A race-day racer needs to be 20s and 30s (with reaction time), just be good on the tune-up. Hopefully, that will get you a couple race wins.

“I think a lot of it stems to the work you do back at your shop. Maintenance and preparation is key. Every time you pull out of that water box or starting line, you need to make sure your bike starts and you go down that track. If that doesn’t happen, you’re giving away qualifying points as well as round-win points. Every single little point adds up in the end. For me, I really didn’t have any unsuccessful runs last year. I did have one or two mishaps where a chain broke or I had an ignition failure. But every other time my motorcycle went down the track.”

Krawiec said an exhaust change made toward the end of the season on the Harleys ridden by himself and teammate Andrew Hines moved both “in the right direction” for 2012. “We need to move back in that direction and get our chassis working better,” Krawiec said. “That’s what we focused on the end of the year. I think for this coming season, you’re going to see, hopefully, our bikes working better off the starting line and being a little more consistent, and the end result netting in some better ETs.”

In addition to teammate “Drew” and the Aranas, Krawiec said the list of contenders includes former world champions LE Tonglet (2010) and Matt Smith (2007) as well as GEICO Suzuki’s Stoffer and Savoie. The latter will start the season on a White Alligator Racing Buell V-Twin, while keeping his Suzuki as a backup.

“They’re championship contention. Jerry is a great rider,” Krawiec said. “He proved that last year. He was on the (Christmas) tree. He put me on the trailer two or three times.”

A third championship would elevate Krawiec into the exclusive company of Matt and Andrew Hines, Angelle Sampey and the late John Myers. The late Dave Schultz was a five-time PSM world champion.

“To be honest, I feel 2009 – the year I lost my championship to Hector Sr. – that year for me was my championship year,” Krawiec said. “I went to a total of eight final rounds in a row, 10 that year, won five, really was on fire, in my opinion. Hector Sr. was just on top of his game that much more and got the championship by two points when it was all said and done. But last year was the icing on the cake. It’s nice to say that you’re a one-time champion, but it’s even better to say a two-time. When you’re a two-time champion, nobody can turn around and say you didn’t earn it. You don’t fall into championships; they’re usually earned. I feel I earned this one. It was a great battle all the way to the end.”

Gatornationals notes:

Most Gatornationals victores: Warren Johnson, 9, PS; John Force, 7, FC; Don Prudhomme, 5, FC; Joe Amato, 4, TF; Kenny Bernstein, 4, FC/TF; Larry Dixon, 4, TF; Don Garlits, 4, TF; Jason Line, 4, PS; Ed McCulloch, 4, FC; Tony Schumacher, 4, TF; Dave Schultz, 4, PSM; Terry Vance, 4, PSM.

Track records: Top Fuel: 3.797-seconds by Tony Schumacher, March ’10; 325.45 mph by Schumacher, March ’11.

Funny Car: 4.030-seconds by Matt Hagan, March ’11; 316.15 mph by Matt Hagan, March ’10.

Pro Stock: 6.495-seconds by Rodger Brogdon, March ’11; 213.57 mph by Erica Enders, March ’11.

PS Motorcycle: 6.777-seconds by Hector Arana, March ’11; 199.26 mph by Eddie Krawiec, March ’11.

National records: Top Fuel: 3.735-seconds by Del Worsham, Oct. ’11, Reading, Pa.; 328.62 mph by Spencer Massey, Feb. ’12, Pomona, Calif.

Funny Car: 3.995-seconds by Matt Hagan, Sept. ’11, Charlotte, N.C.; 318.99 mph by Jack Beckman, Sept. ’11, Charlotte, N.C.

Pro Stock: 6.477-seconds by Jason Line, Oct. ’11, Reading, Pa.; 213.57 mph by Erica Enders, March ’11, Gainesville, Fla.

PS Motorcycle: 6.777-seconds by Hector Arana, March ’11, Gainesville, Fla.; 199.26 mph by Eddie Krawiec, March ’11, Gainesville, Fla.

Point standings (top 10) following the second of 23 events in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series:

Top Fuel: 1. Antron Brown, 212; 2. Tony Schumacher, 180; 3. Spencer Massey, 176; 4. Morgan Lucas, 143; 5. Shawn Langdon, 139; 6. Clay Millican, 126; 7. (tie) Steve Torrence, 89; Bob Vandergriff, 89; 9. (tie) Brandon Bernstein, 85; Doug Kalitta, 85.

Funny Car: 1. Mike Neff, 196; 2. Robert Hight, 154; 3. John Force, 150; 4. Jack Beckman, 137; 5. Ron Capps, 125; 6. Courtney Force, 124; 7. Todd Lesenko, 102; 8. Johnny Gray, 99; 9. Jeff Arend, 84; 10. Gary Densham, 83.

Pro Stock: 1. Greg Anderson, 209; 2. Jason Line, 208; 3. Mike Edwards, 147; 4. Rodger Brogdon, 125; 5. Jeg Coughlin Jr., 122; 6. Vincent Nobile, 111; 7. Greg Stanfield, 103; 8. Allen Johnson, 93; 9. (tie) Erica Enders, 84; Shane Gray, 84. Larry Morgan, 84.

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

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, March 9 2012
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