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Krawiec Has Sights Set On The Magical Number

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, March 16 2018

NHRA biker Eddie Krawiec is determined to ride through the 200 mph barrier. Perhaps as soon as this weekend in Gainesville.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

It widely is viewed as professional drag racing’s last major barrier, and “Jersey Boy” Eddie Krawiec has made it clear he wants his name next to the number in NHRA’s record book.

“First and foremost, I want to go 200 mph,” said Krawiec, anticipating the start of the 2018 Pro Stock Motorcycle schedule this weekend at historic Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway. “I’m excited to go to Gainesville because I think we have 200 mph motorcycles. We’re going there and hammering down.”

Krawiec clinched his fourth NHRA Pro Stock Bike championship last Nov. 12 during the season-ending Auto Club NHRA Finals at Pomona, Calif. Krawiec again will be aboard a Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson Street Rod during the 16-race PSM portion of the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule beginning with today’s 49th annual AMALIE Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals.

Hector Arana Jr. holds the PSM national speed record at 199.88 mph, set aboard his Lucas Oil Buell during the 2015 NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C., on April 2, 2015.

“For us, if the weather presents itself, we want to go 200 mph,” said Krawiec, previewing NHRA’s traditional East Coast opener. “We have great motorcycles that can capitalize on the weather conditions if it’s there, so if the opportunity presents itself, we need to capitalize. There’s four-to-five bikes in the class that can do it but we want to be the first. Going 200 mph is our focus.”

Krawiec’s victory in last year’s Gatornats was his second in a row and made him a five-time event winner. Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car) and Shane Gray (Pro Stock) also emerged as champs last March of an event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including finals coverage on Sunday at 7 p.m. (EDT).

Krawiec, who dominated the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs en route to his fourth title, fully is aware PSB continues to add to its depth-of-field. In addition to H-D teammate/five-time world champion Andrew Hines, the field in Gainesville will feature three-time world champ Angelle Sampey, 2016 world champ Jerry Savoie, two-time world champ Matt Smith, Arana Jr., Scotty Pollacheck, Karen Stoffer and Joey Gladstone.

“I only see this class getting tougher and you need to perform at that high level if you want to stay at the front of the pack,” said Krawiec, who has accumulated 43 career national event Wally Trophies. “There’s 15-16 bikes that could be in the top-10. There’s really good bikes at every race and you’re going to have to be on your game. You have to elevate the way you race.

“Fifteen years ago in the category…you’d have two or three bikes that were light-years ahead, a tenth of a second ahead of everybody. Now when you’re qualifying hundredths or even thousandths apart from each other, when you look at the top four or five usually at every race, we’re all within a hundredth. That makes for great racing on Sunday.”

Krawiec won four Countdown races and five of the final seven events in 2017, posting a 24-2 won/loss record in eliminations during that span. A former track manager at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J., Krawiec termed last season his finest in a professional career that began with a three-race schedule in 2004.

“We’re very confident with the equipment we finished with at the end of the year,” said Krawiec, a 42-year-old native of Bayonne, N.J., now living in Avon, Ind. “We’re confident we can roll that right into (2018) and it’s going to be business as usual right off the trailer. We know the track and we know what this bike is capable of. We’ve run well (in Gainesville); it’s a great race with a great atmosphere and we expect to be good right off the bat.”

Krawiec clinched his fourth championship, and first since 2012, by qualifying on Day 2 of time trails Saturday at the season-ending NHRA Finals. Krawiec’s seven victories included his second at the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in Clermont, Ind., over Labor Day weekend. Krawiec exited the Countdown-opening NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway on Sept. 17 with the point lead and never faltered.

“This championship, one of the most unique things about it, was the fact that I think our team was a little more united, had a greater effort to get there,” Krawiec said in a post-season interview. “What I mean by that is, we switched motorcycles after the third race of the year, going into the fourth race of the year. We made the big change. We basically introduced a whole new motorcycle, being the Harley-Davidson Street Rod (in place of the V-Rod).

“During the release of that, we also figured because we were debuting a new body, it would be smart of us to debut with a new chassis. We put a whole new chassis together. We figured this was going to be the newest, state-of-the-art Pro Stock Motorcycle _ and I believe it was. The big struggle was the chassis didn’t quite work out the way we wanted it to. We struggled as a team. Through the middle part of the season I would say we struggled obviously to win the championship. But the great thing about the way that the Countdown is, you kind of can afford to have a slow part of the year or a less successful time in the middle part of the year and still have that opportunity to race for a championship.”

Krawiec said the experienced brain trust at Vance & Hines factored that into the decision to change its complete racing package.

“It really made us dig deep and look at areas of our motorcycle when we were struggling with the chassis setup,” Krawiec said. “It made us dig deep and look for areas of the motorcycle that we usually wouldn’t look at because we’ve had success. Then when we actually switched back because our (new) chassis didn’t work; we switched back to our old chassis with the new Street Rod bodywork on it. It really showed us how to refine what we had and made us just that much better.

“Andrew kind of took over tuning roles, Matt (Hines) took over the chassis role, I was a floater guy in between, working on motorcycles to get stuff done. Man, it just made us so much better. I really do believe that’s going to only make us better down the road and continue to grow.”

Krawiec admitted the team owned by the legendary tuning duo of Byron Hines and Terry Vance was guilty of a bit of Harley hubris when it switched to the Street Rod package.

“Absolutely. I mean, to be quite honest, we thought it was going to be easy,” Krawiec said.”We’re going to build this new bike, we’re going to go race it, we’re going to have great success. Well, it proved us wrong. It humbles you is probably the best way to say it. Don’t get me wrong, we had a great year. We had good success with that motorcycle. We just didn’t have the success that we wanted. It won a race. It actually won Denver (at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colo.), which is one of the hardest races to go and compete at (because of thin air). But it also takes a different level running up there. You have to have a different understanding of how to tune the motorcycle and a way different approach.

“But I think the greatest thing about it is, it made us a little more humble here because we realized we don’t know everything. There’s no such time that you should ever think you know it all. We have great resources and a lot of good people behind us and in our shop. It showed all of us that we made a mistake. The chassis was not correct. We had to go back and correct those changes. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t have the right amount of time to do it, so we reverted back to our old bike.”

Work on the new chassis continued last season, however, including a test after the Countdown race at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in late October.

“The bike ran well. We figured it was a great opportunity to run it in Pomona,” said Krawiec, referring to the season-ender at Auto Club Raceway. “We actually brought aboard a third rider, Chip Ellis. It was kind of perfect timing. Unfortunately, Chip was racing for Junior Pippin, who just passed away. We wanted to bring Chip aboard for two reasons _ one, to gain some data and information, and the other to do a little bit of a tribute to Junior Pippin Racing, because his program had to stop and get put on the side while they tended to Junior’s health conditions. Really we wanted to try to end the year and put a smile on his face.

“We went to Pomona and qualified all three motorcycles 1-2-3, something that’s never happened. To have a Harley in all three top positions meant a lot to us. Chip was right there. It proves that our new rendition of chassis is going to work. So we were excited about that. Really, it was one of the top in 60-foot and incremental (quarter-mile times) going down the track. We’re excited; what we have is already proven.”

Krawiec begins the season third on the all-time Pro Stock Motorcycle win list, trailing Hines’ five titles and the six racked up by the late Dave Schultz between 1987 and 1996. Krawiec also is among a handful of NHRA competitors to have won four championships, an exclusive club featuring Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Kenny Bernstein (Funny Car) and  Greg Anderson and the late Lee Shepherd (Pro Stock).

“To be totally honest about that, you’re talking to a guy that when I came aboard to the Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team back in 2007, I had a goal,” Krawiec said.”My goal was to win one Wally. Really my inspiration for Pro Stock Motorcycles started in 1995 when I met Dave Schultz in Englishtown at the Summernationals. I delivered a package to him. I came to his trailer, dropped off a package, because I used to work at the racetrack there at Raceway Park. When I wasn’t racing or when I wasn’t there hanging around, I would help out at the Summernationals. I helped guys delivering packages because I knew who a lot of the drivers were.

“I brought a package to Dave, spoke with him for a little while. Became a huge fan of Pro Stock Motorcycle. Actually after that weekend I went out and bought a street bike and turned it into a race bike. That’s when I started my racing career on motorcycles.

“Dave went on, won that race. When Dave passed away (from cancer in 2001), I actually became a family friend of Dave’s wife Meredith and his son. When Dave passed away, I got a box delivered to Englishtown, didn’t know what it was. I opened it up. It was Dave’s 1995 Summernationals win Wally. His wife sent that because she knew it meant something. I always had it on my desk. It always sat in my room, on my desk, it was a reminder.

“I eventually phased into trying to run Pro Stock Motorcycle on my own. I did it with Dave’s son, Brian, until he unfortunately lost his life in a traffic accident (in 2004). That kind of put a hold on the whole thing. But it gave me more drive to go out there and succeed. I wanted to do it not just for myself, but Dave, his son Brian. I had this Wally. I just wanted to have one of my own.”

Krawiec rode a pair of runnerup results to a seventh-place point finish to qualifying for NHRA’s inaugural Countdown field as a Harley-Davidson rookie in 2007. Eddie followed that with his first PSM world title in 2008, when he parlayed four runnerup finishes to become only the second competitor and first since Top Fueler Rob Bruins in 1979 to capture a championship without winning a race.

“Never won a Wally, but won a championship,” Krawiec said. “It kind of blew my mind because here I am standing here with a championship trophy, but no Wally yet. I really just wanted a Wally.”

Krawiec took care of that blank space on his resume with a victory at Atlanta Dragway in 2009, the first of a then-career-high five wins in 11 final rounds. He won more rounds that season (46) than in the previous two seasons combined.

Krawiec secured his second championship in 2011 with four victories and a 35-12 won/loss record that included a pair of Countdown Wallys and 16-4 playoff mark. Eddie’s third title in 2012 was more impressive, highlighted by a nine wins in 17 races including three-of-six in the Countdown, three playoff runnerup results and a massive 50-7 overall won/loss mark.

Krawiec’s next win will tie him with Schultz at 44 overall and place him firmly among NHRA’s top-15 all-timers. “Coming back at the end of it, to say you have 43 (wins), fighting to be one of the top finishers ever with Wallys in Pro Stock Motorcycle, four championships later, it just blows my mind,” Krawiec said. “To be on a list of individuals like that, it’s very humbling.

“Honestly, I never have forgotten my past and I’ve haven’t forgotten where I come from. I think that is the most, let’s say, important thing to making your past part of your future. If you’re so focused on what’s going on, you’ll never remember all those wins and how you got there.”

The Gatornationals also is the season-opening race for the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service. In addition, the schedule features competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series as well as the Mickey Thompson Tires NHRA Top Fuel Harley Drag Racing Series.

Professional qualifying will open with rounds at 1:15 and 5 p.m. (EDT) Friday, with the final two sessions Saturday at noon and 3 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. Sunday.

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Professional point standings (top-10) heading into the NHRA Gatornationals:

Top Fuel _1. Steve Torrence, 183; 2. Doug Kalitta, 144; 3. Tony Schumacher, 140; 4. Scott Palmer, 139; 5. Antron Brown, 133; 6. Clay Millican, 122; 7. Leah Pritchett, 90; 8. Brittany Force, 86; 9. Billy Torrence, 71; 10. Greg Carrillo, 66.

Funny Car _1. Matt Hagan, 179; 2. Courtney Force, 160; 3. Ron Capps, 139; 4. Robert Hight, 133; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr., 128; 6. Jack Beckman, 122; 7. Jonnie Lindberg, 107; 8. Shawn Langdon, 104; 9. J.R. Todd, 83; 10. Cruz Pedregon, 82.

Pro Stock _1. Jason Line, 195; 2. Deric Kramer, 154; 3. Chris McGaha, 152; 4. Bo Butner, 149; 5. Alex Laughlin, 136; 6. Erica Enders, 134; 7. Greg Anderson, 119; 8. Drew Skillman, 117; 9. Vincent Nobile, 95; 10. Jeg Coughlin Jr., 84.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, March 16 2018
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