NHRA News: Tight Rookie Battle; Countdown Contenders And New Phoe
The NHRA Full Throttle Countdown to One championship chase has three more races before a victor is crowned.
We all know the focus is on the Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle battles, but one title that is really coming to the forefront is the Auto Club Road to the Future rookie race.
Hector Arana, Jr. and Vincent Nobile have each patterned themselves in an earnest and sincere way to challenge the rigors of campaigning a full-time racing operation on the NHRA tour.
These two young drivers have mirrored seasons.
To date, both men have two victories in four final-round appearances. Arana won Indy and Reading, while taking second in Brainerd and Dallas. Nobile won Houston and Norwalk and was runnerup in Las Vegas 1 and Englishtown.
Arana, 22, has raced in all 13 Pro Stock Motorcycle events and is 19-10 on race day, a .665 winning percentage. Nobile has competed in 19 national events in Pro Stock and has fashioned a 27-17 elimination-round record, which translates to a .614 winning percentage.
Arana's win in Reading aboard his Lucas Oil Buell V-Twin moved him to within 35 points of the Pro Stock Motorcycle championship points lead, currently held by past champion Eddie Krawiec. Considering his four final-round appearances have come in the last five races, he seems to have the momentum to challenge for the title.
It's a good thing there's still three races left because it will probably take a few more rounds to completely figure out who should earn the Auto Club Road to the Future Award. If the vote were taken today, it would be close, with Arana taking a slight lead due to a few key factors - a real chance to win the championship, number of low qualifiers and the prestige of winning the U.S. Nationals.
"We've put a lot if work into this season," Arana said. "The bikes certainly come a long way since we got started in Gainesville.
“For us to win Indy was huge. It's always the biggest race of the year on the NHRA schedule and has been since the sport started. It's our Daytona 500, and to put your name up there beside all the legends that have won that race was very humbling.
"The Lucas Oil Buell has been running great. It was nice to finally win a race from the No. 1 spot (in Reading). That was something we've been trying to do. You feel like you did all you could do at one race when you pull that off."
At Reading, Nobile was looking to add to his perfect 5-0 record against opponent Ronnie Humphrey but his NAPA/Mountain View Racing Dodge slowed and was eliminated in the first round for just the fifth time in 19 events this season.
“We’ve been struggling with our clutch tune-up the last three races and it bit us again on Sunday,” said Noble, the driver behind the wheel of Nick Mitsos’ Dodge Avenger. “The weather was cold and damp and a lot of guys missed the set-up but we were really off. As soon as I dumped the clutch, I could tell we weren’t going to make a very good run. It’s very frustrating because I feel like I’ve been driving well but all we can do is keep working hard and head to the next event.”
Despite the loss, the 19-year old college student, who is majoring in business administration at Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y., continues to be one of NHRA drag racing’s brightest young stars. He is currently fifth in the Full Throttle Pro Stock points trailing, leader Jason Line by 261 and needs 31 points to catch fourth-place runner Erica Enders.
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If there was ever a driver that started out the Countdown on fire, it would be Spencer Massey. In the past three races of the Countdown, Spencer has had a final round appearance in each one. After taking the points lead from teammate Antron Brown after his Dallas performance, Massey came out at the Auto-Plus NHRA Nationals in Reading and raced to his fourth win of the season. He now holds a 65-point lead over Brown heading into the final three races.
Massey, after sitting out almost all of the 2010 season was wondering if he would ever drive again. How would he feel to win the World Championship this first year with Don Schumacher Racing?
“It would simply be amazing,” said Massey, winner of four races of seven final-round appearances. “It would be my dream of what I always wanted, much less after sitting out last year and not really racing with the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series.
“Don Schumacher gave me a great opportunity and so did FRAM. We started off the season not really, really great but not terrible either. We have steadily gotten better with the runs without smoking the tires, and now starting the Countdown, having consistency going down the racetrack, turning on the win lights. We might not be the fastest, but we're consistent and we're along with the hunt every round.
“My main thing is, hey, let's not worry about setting the national record, let's not worry about the points, let's worry about round wins. If that comes, that comes with a race win, and that happens with points, and hopefully that means a championship.
“Keeping my fingers crossed. I'm loving life. Three races to go and I'm excited.”
Massey’s DSR Funny Car teammate and NHRA FTS points leader Matt Hagan went through a major disappointment in 2010 with a near miss at the Funny Car title. Although John Force took the championship, now Hagan can deal with the pressure much easier.
“Well, absolutely”, said Hagan. “I think that you learn from your lessons you've gone through in life. I got taught a lot of life lessons there along the way. For me, you know, you come in with the points lead last year, you feel like all you have to do is go a couple rounds, you sew up a championship.
“You get out there, when things don't go your way that day, you realize it's not over till it's over. This year when they hand the trophies out at the end of the year, I think that's when we'll worry about whether we did a good enough job or not.
“It's so easy to put pressure on yourself out there. Just being there once in the mix of things, it really has helped me. I'm taking it all in. I got a pretty big smile on my face when I sit in that car because I know this DieHard hotrod has the potential to go out and set records, to be a really competitive car out here and win races. I think everything kind of takes care of itself when you have confidence like that.”
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The 440-acre Firebird International Raceway has a new paving job completed for the running of this year’s Arizona Nationals. As the fourth playoff race in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship, you can throw out all the data stored and crew chiefs will be rewriting their notes in their records making this race quite an even playing field.
The right lane was finished June 2, but Firebird Vice President Franki Buckman said milling in the left lane wasn't to President Charlie Allen's "satisfaction." According to Buckman, the lane was surveyed a second time, with more milling planned. Final paving was done by June 11. The projected $250,000 improvements in the Valley of the Sun will offer fans and competitors a much better venue for drag racing.
The work comes in the aftermath of last February's Arizona Nationals, where the Pro Stock cars of Gordie Rivera and Vinnie Deceglie flipped. After one round, it was decided to complete the event during the 2010 Gainesville, Fla., weekend.
The race has been moved back in 2012 into its normal slot of being the second race of the year of February 17 – 19; and St. Louis will takes its position of keeping the Countdown at six races.