Rules Have Screamin’ Eagle Riders Screamin’ Foul
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
ENNIS, Texas – Season-long form failed to prevail Sunday afternoon at the Texas Motorplex, where neither Eddie Krawiec nor Andrew Hines and their Harley-Davidsons rolled out of the tunnel and into the Pro Stock Motorcycle final of the 27th annual AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals.
New Braunfels, Texas resident Michael Ray rode his GottSpeed Racing Buell to the first victory of his PSM career at the expense of Karen Stoffer and her GEICO Suzuki in the first final of 2012 not involving one or both of the low-slung Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines H-D V-Rods. Either Krawiec or Hines – who count five world championships between them – had won the season’s previous 11 races, including Round 1 of the six-event Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C.
And therein lies the conundrum facing the NHRA’s Technical Department – how to create as level a quarter-mile playing field as possible among the latest factory-backed Harley V-Rod, various editions of the Buell XB9R and Suzuki chassis ranging in age from 1998 to 2003.
“I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet that I’m getting to go home with the biggest thing that I’ve worked my whole life for,” said Ray – ironically, a fulltime salesman at New Braunfels Harley-Davidson. “When we got here this weekend we knew we had a great bike that could go out there and be competitive coming off our performance in Charlotte (Concord). I just knew as long as I kept my cool and rode the bike consistently there’s not a better tuner out here when it’s hot than Matt Smith, and we showcased that.
“Especially with all the turmoil that’s been brewing for a year now since the Harleys started their dominating performances. The rule change – a Suzuki and a Buell in the final for the first time in I don’t know how long – I think it just shows that right now if you’re coming out here and putting in the work you can go home with a win and take a big swing in points like we did.”
Ray, 28, moved from seventh to fourth in the Countdown standings, 108 points behind leader Krawiec. The two-time/reigning world champion, Krawiec has an 11-point advantage (2,295-2,284) over Hines, a three-time world champion, heading into Round 3 at Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis this weekend.
The rules changes Ray referenced were announced by NHRA officials last Wednesday via a news release affecting last weekend’s race and 2013. First, the sanctioning body slapped a minimum weight increase of 10 pounds on the Harley-Davidson competitors beginning with the AAA Texas Fall Nats. The new minimum weight for the H-D bikes now is 670 pounds. The Buell’s minimum weight is 615 pounds while the Suzuki must carry a minimum of 595 pounds.
“We have been working on a long-term solution for the Pro Stock Motorcycle class for the last several months,” Glen Gray, NHRA’s vice president of technical operations, said in the release. “(Wednesday’s) announcement is part of our ongoing effort to provide great side-by-side racing for NHRA fans.”
In addition, NHRA ruled that the four-valve Harley-Davidson engine combination currently in use will no longer be legal next season. For 2013, Harley-Davidson and Buell will both be allowed a maximum 160 cubic-inch displacement (CID) for a 60-degree, two-valve, pushrod engine. Minimum weight for both motorcycles will be set at 625 pounds. Suzuki will still have a maximum of 107-CID for a two-valve engine. Minimum weight on the Suzuki will be 595 pounds. NHRA also will discontinue the four-valve option on the Suzuki.
Krawiec said both announcements “blindsided” the Vance & Hines teammates as they prepared to head to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and Billy Meyer’s all-concrete track.
“We were out to dinner Wednesday night and all of a sudden we had a 10-pound penalty, after they just finished telling everybody it’s equal across the board,” Krawiec said between qualifying rounds Saturday afternoon in the H-D paddock. “It was like, ‘OK, they’re going to carry another 10 pounds.’ That’s fine. We understand what they wanted to do with us with the motor configuration. We understand that. We accept that (for next year). But we were misled. And then to turn around and just change it the way they did to add 10 pounds this year – where does
that come from? It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”
To backtrack, NHRA served the H-D camp with a 20-pound addition that upped the bike weight from 640 to 660 pounds shortly after the season-opening PSM event at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway in March. Krawiec collected the maximum amount of points (150) that a racer can score at that NHRA event. In addition to the 110 points for winning the race, he earned eight points for qualifying No. 1 and 12 bonus points for having the quickest bike in each of four qualifying sessions. He also earned 20 bonus points for setting the elapsed time record with a 6.750-second pass in qualifying.
That was the first of Krawiec’s class-leading six victories; Hines is a five-time winner this season and has 30 for his career. Both H-D riders have three poles so far this season. Both Harleys are tuned by crew chief Matt Hines, 29-year-old Andrew’s older brother and a three-time PSM world champion.
“We don’t actually know what this last penalty was a reaction over,” said Krawiec, a 35-year-old resident of Avon, Ind. “I think it’s an over-reaction. Regardless of going 11-0, you look at the numbers – and they even said it in the last couple press releases , NHRA has physically said it – when you take the Buell motorcycle and the Harley-Davidson motorcycle and do the average ETs over the course of every race, it was within thousandths-of-a-second, not tenths-of-a-second.
“And when you take the previous race, Charlotte, the way it went, yes Andrew and I were (No.) 1 and 2, but we had Hector Arana Jr. behind us by two-thousandths.”
Gray countered that the NHRA’s decision was based upon solid number-crunching.
“We have a trigger mechanism that we’ve used for years – all spread-sheet based,” Gray said. “We look at data and if any single run by a manufacturer is more than five-hundredths quicker than any of the other manufacturers, it
triggers what we call a review. Or, if we take the average of the four quickest runs by each manufacturer and that’s more than three-hundredths, we trigger a review.
“At Charlotte, the Harley-Davidsons were more than three-hundredths quicker than the Buells, and certainly
more than three-hundredths quicker than the Suzukis. So that’s what prompted the 10-pound weight increase. We looked at other things, obviously. Winning the races is an issue after you look at the trigger. But if there was no trigger, it wouldn’t affect it. Once we get the trigger, we look at everything to try to identify exactly what’s going on.
“Also, the Harley-Davidsons run very, very well on Sunday and were much faster than all of the manufacturers on Sunday at Charlotte. So even though they qualified at one ET, they were two to three-hundredths quicker on Sunday. That factored into all of it.”
Immediate beneficiaries of the 10-pound rule at The Plex were Hector Arana Sr., the 2009 world champion, Hector Jr. and their Lucas Oil Buells. Hector Jr. qualified No. 1 Saturday afternoon – with the track temperature reading 129 degrees – at 6.852-seconds and 195.34 mph. It was his second pole of 2012.
Hector Sr., winner of six career events and No. 1 qualifier a class-leading four times this season, clocked-in second-quick at 6.862-seconds and 196.24 mph. Krawiec took the third spot at 6.887-seconds and 194.49 mph, with Hines fourth at 6.892-seconds and 194.10 mph. Ray was eighth on the 16-bike ladder at 6.940-seconds and 191.78 mph on his 2012 Buell XB9R.
“Finally, we’re having good luck with this engine,” Hector Jr., 23, said Saturday, referring to a powerplant he dubbed Abigail. “We always knew she would run good, and we’re getting faster and faster with it because we’re learning this new engine and how to tune it and different characteristics of what it wants. That’s another thing _ the engine also changes our clutch program so that’s why I was kind of struggling at the last race and this race, because the clutch is different with each motor. It’s all coming together and hopefully we have a great package.
“And I’m really focused. We’ve been very consistent on race day. Both my father and I have been able to go rounds all the way through the semifinals; decent, consistent lights in the 20s and teens. Of course, we’ve been on the negative side a couple of times, but you can’t be afraid of the Christmas Tree. It can be your friend, it can be your enemy. You just got to go for it.”
Those words came back to whack Arana Jr., who red-lighted Sunday during his second-round match against Ray. Arana Sr., winless in 2011 and 2012, saw his day end earlier when his Buell failed to start for his first-round match against Redell Harris. The elder Arana, 54, is crew chief for both of the family Buells.
Shockingly, both Harleys were eliminated during the semifinals. Stoffer, the No. 10 qualifier at 6.958-seconds and 191.48 mph on her 2003 Suzuki TL1000, trailered Krawiec thanks to a superior 0.009-0.066-second reaction time advantage. Similarly, Ray used a hole-shot to defeat Hines. Ray prevailed in the final with a 0.031-second reaction time that triggered a pass of 6.920-seconds at 192.77 mph. His bike is tuned by Smith, the 2007 world champion, whose 2012 Viper Motorcycle Company Buell XB9R was eliminated in Round 1 when he red-lighted against LE Tonglet, the 2010 world champion, and his 1998 zloop Suzuki GSXR. Stoffer’s reaction time in the final was 0.041-seconds en route to numbers of 7.028-seconds at 190.48 mph. A six-time PSM winner in her career, Stoffer’s bike is tuned by husband Gary.
Krawiec, meanwhile, also took exception to Gray’s statement indicating the weight penalty was meted out in order to enhance side-by-side racing.
“If they want to enhance side-by-side racing and we’re already within thousandths-of-a-second, why penalize it even more?” Krawiec said. “What they ought to do is add 10 pounds to us and add 10 pounds the Buell. Because everybody says the Suzuki package is the least competitive. So by adding just 10 pounds to us doesn’t help the Suzuki any. All that’s going to do is allow the Buell to run up-front a little more. So then add another 10 pounds to the Buell.”
Krawiec said the 10 pounds added to the Harleys probably translates to a hundredth-and-a-half to two-hundredths-seconds. “But what no person in this pit takes into consideration is our 660 to 670-pound motorcycle right now is at the top of the charts for 60-foot (time),” Krawiec said. “If you have a lighter motorcycle, the law of physics – you should be able to get it to move faster.
“Why is it (the rival bikes) not moving nowhere near as fast as ours? That’s people lacking on their chassis development and clutch development package. We’re constantly working on that, trying to refine our package and make it better. Every run we try. And for them to do that, it’s hurting us now because we have to get this motorcycle moving and on a hot, greasy track like we have here, it’s hard to get it moving because you’re hitting your tire so hard.”
The other sensitive issue for the H-D camp is elimination of the four-valve engine next year.
“That was a total blindside,” said Krawiec, who has 17 career PSM wins. “They just took $2.5-million to $3-million of engine development and threw it out the window. We have to come up with a new, competitive engine in five months. It really wasn’t thinking ahead. If that was the way NHRA felt, then they should have made us aware of it a year early.
“Everybody’s saying we had two-valve (engines) back in 2008 and, ‘Oh, just take those engines and put them in a bike.’ We can and it’s sad to say they would probably be very competitive out here right now, an engine we haven’t developed since 2008. We’d probably qualify for the race. That shows you the class hasn’t gone forward, it’s gone backwards. And when you look at that, it’s not saying much for the class.” Krawiec earned his first world title in 2008 without scoring a national event victory.
“On the reverse side,” Krawiec continued, ”for us to turn around and put another competitive, new package together in four to five months…people think we knew about it all year long and we’ve been dyno-ing and doing R&D and we didn’t. We found out on Wednesday. We got a phone call and then 15 minutes later it was up on the website.”
Gray noted that NHRA formed a Pro Stock Motorcycle Technical Advisory Council earlier this year consisting of the elder Arana, fellow-riders Stoffer and Jerry Savoie and H-D team-owners George Bryce and Byron Hines.
“It’s kind of a cross-section of big teams, small teams, Suzukis, Buells and Harleys,” said Gray, 52, who joined NHRA’s staff in August 2008 after a 13-year career with Delphi Motorsports. “The idea was for us to work on technical issues like long-term parity, even safety issues if we need to discuss those.”
Gray said among issues discussed by that group was elimination of the four-valve H-D engine with which Krawiec won the 2011 title.
“It had been on the table,” said Gray, who is based in Indianapolis. “It had been discussed for months and there were other options we were looking at to try to help make better side-by-side racing beyond this year. Did they not find out about it until that day (last Wednesday), the final decision? Yes, that’s true. There were many different technical ideas being discussed about what can we do, what are the best things to do for the class, basically, to make it as close as possible and not put undue financial burden on most of the class. Those things all weighed into it.
“So we’ve been working with them all along and that’s what made the comments of being ‘blindsided’…we’ve been talking about all these things with individual people as well as other racers and the committee as a whole. So this wasn’t done in a vacuum. We gained input from a lot of different people and tried to pull in all that information, look at our data and make the best decision for parity.”
Arana Jr., who has three career victories, said he understood why Krawiec and his cohorts are upset about the impending engine revision. “We have a two-valve, pushrod motor and it changes everything,” said Junior, who works with his father out of the family’s shop in Milltown, Ind. “I know they’re upset because they’re going backwards (to a two-valve pushrod motor) and they got to do stuff.
“I mean, give them credit. They’re still building an engine, they’re still doing clutch management. They’re doing great. Can’t take anything from them. We just want to be able to buy one if we want to.”
Gray noted that 19 bikes were entered at Der Plex, a healthy sign for a class that made its NHRA debut in 1990. “You’d like to do 20 bikes and we’d like to build on that,” Gray said. “We’ve had some other manufacturers approach us, and we’re not at liberty to say who they are right now. But we’re working with some of them and telling them what they would need to do from a technical standpoint to get into the class. So there’s some interest from other manufacturers to come in…not necessarily to sponsor a bike but have a bike out there with their name on it, their body, etc.”
To perhaps the quiet relief of NHRA officials, Ray’s upset victory put an end to talk of the Harley Boys pulling off an unprecedented national event sweep from Gainesville to Pomona, Calif., in 2012.
“We’ll let the weekend play-out and see where the data takes us,” Gray said. “We’re already looking at what’s going on right now, but at the end of the race we’ll look at everything and see if any additional adjustments need to be made. At any time during the Countdown we feel that there’s a parity problem, we’ll make an adjustment to try to correct it.”
– John Sturbin can be reached at email@example.comOne Comment