2017 NHRA U.S. NATIONALS - PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE NOTEBOOK
MONDAY - RELAXED KRAWIEC SCORES SECOND INDIANAPOLIS PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE VICTORY
After NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Eddie Krawiec won the 2014 U.S. Nationals, his favorite keepsake from the experience wasn’t the Wally statue, although having it among his awards certainly was gratifying.
What he cherished most was a photo that National Dragster’s Marc Gewertz snapped. It silhouetted Krawiec and young daughter Kayden, holding hands and walking down the same dragstrip on which he had defeated final-round opponent Jerry Savoie.
“In my heart, that’s my all-time favorite picture,” Krawiec said Monday after beating 2011 Indianapolis winner Hector Arana Jr. and handing him a second consecutive runner-up finish.
Krawiec, the Avon, Ind., resident (and one of three Hoosiers to make it to the winners circle) scored his second backyard victory at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, his wife, Annemarie, wanted to recreate, to update, the photo..
“Kids, when they get older, before you know it they’re adults and don’t even want to hold your hand,” he said.
So they arranged for a new photo, this time with Annemarie in it.
“To be able to celebrate as a family is an awesome feeling,” he said.
What they had to celebrate was his march past Jim Underdahl, points leader L.E. Tonglet, two-time champion Matt Smith, and finally Arana Jr. The Vance & Hines Racing rider registered the biggest success yet for the brand-new Harley-Davidson Street Rod with his 6.858-second elapsed time ant nervous d 196.90-mph speed against Arana’s 6.886, 195.48. Moreover, Krawiec secured the No. 2 seeding for the Countdown to the Championship. The six-race playoff will begin in two weeks with the Carolina Nationals at zMax Dragway at Concord, N.C.
He said he had his “mojo” going throughout this longest event on the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.
“I’ve had it all weekend long,” Krawiec said. “I had a good feeling. I had a great motorcycle. I wasn’t nervous one bit coming into Q1.”
Then when he and teammate Andrew Hines performed well right off the bat, Krawiec said, “It was like, ‘We’re back. These guys are all in trouble. We’re going to give ’em hell for the Countdown.’”
“We had a good motorcycle all weekend long,” he said. “We just needed to finesse it and get it better and better and better.”
According to Krawiec, their Harley-Davidson Street Rods are performing well, “but we’re still struggling a little bit early [in the run]. We’ll probably be making laps out here the next few days, trying to get stuff sorted out. We’re not where we need to be in the front numbers.”
What they ran Monday was strong enough to land Krawiec on the podium with Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), JR Todd (Funny Car), and Drew Skillman (Pro Stock).
Krawiec said he and Hines “knew coming here we had to get our act together.”
They did, and now they hardly can wait for the encore. Susan Wade
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
KRAWIEC TAKES NO. 1 QUALIFYING SPOT – Eddie Krawiec, rider of the Vance & Hines Harley Davidson, grabbed the No. 1 qualifying spot in Pro Stock Motorcycle with his 6.822-second elapsed time at 196.62 mph.
His teammate Andrew Hines finished second on the qualifying ladder with a 6.825-second time.
The team had struggled since debuting their Street Rods at Englishtown (N.J.) Summernationals in June. Krawiec did give the team a boost with a win at the Mile-High Nationals in July in Denver.
Still, he did acknowledge the team did make a change before competing at the U.S. Nationals.
“Have we had chassis issues? Yeah, 100 percent, we have been struggling with what I would like to say (is) our current chassis design,” Krawiec said. “We went through phases and we came here with a whole different chassis under the bike. It’s a matter of working on it. We felt to develop and better our program we needed a state of the art, better chassis.
The last 15 years you have the same design under you and you change there’s going to be a learning curve. What would like to say coming here was Plan B. It wasn’t Plan A. We had great motorcycles at the start of the year and we knew what we had and we kind of worked into our second generation of stuff going into Englishtown. We hoped for better results. In between every race we cut pieces off our chassis and replaced them. Coming into here (Indy), we knew we had to step it up and really get things right and we went to Plan B and worked on our old chassis and converted some stuff and made it as current as we can get it and adapted it to the Street Rod body work and get everything going and it has proved to be a success. If you can’t get it right with what you’re working with, go back to what you know. That’s what we did coming here and it has paid off.”
EMOTIONAL WEEKEND FOR ELLIS – Veteran Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Chip Ellis started driving for owner Junior Pippin in 2015 and has had success.
Ellis has loved driving for Pippin, but he acknowledged it has been tough because his owner has been battling nasal cancer since July of 2015.
“We’ve ran this bike most of the season, but we missed the West Coast and Brainerd,” Ellis said. “Mr. Pippin, the team owner has been sick with cancer, and he’s not doing too well and that’s why we haven’t been out there. He’s not doing too good at all, but he called us a couple of weeks ago and said he wanted us to come (to Indy) and run, so here we are.
They put him in the hospital (Sept. 2) because he has been having issues. He’s an amazing guy. He texted me (Sept. 2) and said he was in the hospital and he texted me back (Sunday) morning and said he was doing better. The guy is fighting for his life and the thing he is worried about is this motorcycle. We’re just going to try and do our best for him. He actually has a tumor in his nasal cavity and some of the tentacles off that tumor are hooked to his brain stem, so there’s really not much they can do for him right now and they’re trying some experimental stuff on him and we’re just all praying and hoping that it works. Lon Moyer, my crew chief, and I have been crying for two days now. We’re just trying to do the best we can and do good for Mr. Pippin, that’s our goal.”
Ellis qualified fifth with a 6.848-second time at 194.66 mph, and he has a heavy heart for his ailing owner.
SAMPEY MAKES THE FIELD – Angelle Sampey and her teammate Cory Reed have had a slew of engine problems this weekend at the U.S. Nationals.
Despite all the mechanical woes, Sampey and Reed survived to make the 16-rider field for eliminations Monday.
Sampey had her best run of the weekend at 6.944 seconds in the fifth and final session to qualify No. 15 and Reed was 14th with a 6.941-second run.
“I wasn’t even supposed to make that run and we were waiting to see if I was going to get bumped out,” Sampey said. “I asked my team even if I don’t get bumped out please let me make the run because I just believe that whatever they did after the last round to fix it was going to work and if you let me make this run maybe we can move up in the ladder and they were a little hesitant. They told me if you blow it up you can’t race (Monday) and I say go big or go home and we went big and it worked out for us and I’m so thankful.”
POLLACHECK HAPPY WITH HIS SEASON – This season has been a good one for Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Scotty Pollacheck.
He joined the Underdahl-Stoffer Pro Stock Motorcycle team in 2017 and he’s had good results. He clinched a spot in the Countdown to the Championship and he qualified sixth for Monday’s U.S. Nationals with a 6.862-second run.
“We were with Matt Smith and Angie Smith for the last three or four years,” Pollacheck said. “A lot of the reason we switched teams had to do with sponsorship. We were struggling for sponsorship and we didn’t have anything that would have allowed us to stay with Matt. The sponsorship we ended up getting here was the Suzuki Extended Protection, which wouldn’t work on the Buell, which made it a no-brainer that we had to come over here (to the Underdahl-Stoffer team). It has worked out really well, and we’re definitely happy with what we have going on.”
Pollacheck is driving the motorcycle Jimmy Underdahl rode last year. Underdahl is competing at Indy, but has taken most of the season off to spend with his family.
Pollacheck’s season has been highlighted by four semifinal finishes.
“It has been a really, really good year and we’re riding Jimmy’s bike and it’s still Jimmy’s bike, we’re just kind of borrowing for this season, and they’re building him a new (motorcycle) for next year,” Pollacheck said. “We’re very happy with the way things have gone this season. We’re locked into the top 10 in seventh and we’re trying to move up a spot or two so we can be a little closer for the start of the Countdown in Charlotte (N.C.). I knew the bike was good and I knew the (Underdahl-Stoffer) team was good. They had fuel injection on it last year and I knew they were taking the fuel-injection off. The way I looked at it with them going back to carburetors I knew it would be fast, and it’s definitely worked out how I thought it would go.”
As for next year, Pollacheck can’t give a definite answer just yet.
“For us, it always depends on sponsorship and how that works out because we can’t do it on our own,” Pollacheck said. “We would definitely like to (race next year) with this team.”
STOFFER TALKS ABOUT HER TEAM’S ALLIANCE – Racing is a humbling sport. Teams may have a sponsor and security one minute and the next they are disbanded because of lack of funding.
Veteran Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Karen Stoffer has been on both sides of that fence and she took a moment to explain her journey. She is now part of the Underdahl-Stoffer Pro Stock Motorcycle team.
“Interestingly enough, in 2015 when we came out on our own, we had been with Geico for nine years prior and Geico left us and our whole team disbanded and we retired basically,” Stoffer said. “We came back out in 2015 because our team owner had given us the opportunity to buy the team, so we did, but we didn’t have any funding so we just ran out of our own pocket.”
Early success in 2015 by Stoffer in 2015 – she won the Gatornationals in Gainesville and was victorious again in Norwalk – was huge boost.
“The good thing was in 2015 was that we started out good and started winning races,” she said. “So, we had funding to keep us going, but when we came into the Countdown, we didn’t have funding to keep going and Ray Skillman came on board and helped us through the Countdown and it has been a great relationship ever since. In addition to that, Big St. Charles came on board and he’s still with us.
Greg (Underdahl) used to work with us on the Geico team and he was creating his own team and we were creating our own team and we know we work well together, so Greg and Gary (Stoffer, Karen’s husband) merged together and it is the Underdahl-Stoffer team and it is working out very, very well. We work very well as a team and we want to bring new riders in and we want to give them good equipment and all these sponsors helping us are letting us live our dream.”
The Underdahl-Stoffer team is comprised this weekend of Karen Stoffer, Jimmy Underdahl, Scotty Pollacheck and Andie Rawlings.
Stoffer, who made her NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle debut in 1996 at the Mile-High Nationals in Denver, and has won eight career national events, doesn’t plan on retiring from the sport any time soon.
“As far as professional racing, we will always be out here helping or doing something in some way,” Stoffer said. “Gary and I used to joke around that we are going to be the old couple that walks out with a cane and gets in the car or a bike and races it. The beauty of NHRA racing is the fact that age isn’t a limitation. The only limitation is usually money, but you can do this as long as you’re functioning and you have a driver’s license. So, whether it is at the Sportsman level, whether it’s at the local race track or whether it is professionally, we are going to be involved and engaged in some way because we love it.”
Stoffer qualified ninth with a 6.897-second lap.
MATT SMITH READY FOR INDY, COUNTDOWN – Smith arrived at the U.S. Nationals fifth in the season point standings on the strength of three runner-up finishes in his Victory motorcycle.
Smith, a Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion in 2007 and 2013, would like to add a second U.S. Nationals to his resume. Smith won the Big Go in 2006.
“It would be huge,” Smith said about winning Indy in 2017. “Our biggest thing is we’ve got a lot of momentum going. We’ve been to the semifinals, and finals the last five races. I think if you took LE (Tonglet) out of the mix we’ve probably made the most points from Norwalk on than anybody else. We’re confident. We should be good for the Countdown. We’re fifth in points. If we can get to fourth that’s great but everybody is going to lose a lot of points. Those No. 1 and No. 2 guys are going to lose a lot of points. It’s going to tighten up. We’re going to be within 50 or 60 points of them. We’re looking forward to going to Charlotte (Sept. 15-17) after this race but we’re going to do our best to see if we can win this race and try to get a little more momentum. I’m fine with the momentum that we have but we need a win. Hopefully we’ll get one here.”
Smith knows the perennial powerful Harley-Davidson team of riders Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec is going to be in the mix in the six-race Countdown to the Championship based on what they have been doing at Indy this weekend.
“Harley’s are running that Street Rod and everybody was basically knocking them down because they couldn’t figure it out,” Smith said. “They claim that they’ve got it figured out and they’re going to make this push. Those guys, the Harley bikes, they’ve got good power. Everybody knows that they’ve got good power. I still think we can run with them. We can run with Jerry and LE within a hundredth or two.
I still think the Suzuki’s have a two to three hundredths advantage over the class but it’s not a big enough rule change for NHRA to make a change. We saw that last year with Jerry (Savoie) dominating the year and now they’ve got two bikes and they’re doing the same thing. They’ve won seven out of nine races. NHRA just doesn’t want to make the rule changes, I guess to try to make it a bit more even to let other people win. But we’re fighting, we’re pushing. Doing the best, I can with what I got and we’ll try to put a W in the win column this weekend.”
Smith qualified fourth with a 6.840-second time. Angie Smith, Matt’s wife, qualified 10th with a 6.914-second run.
MIKE BERRY ABOARD A DIFFERENT BIKE – Veteran Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Mike Berry has been competing in NHRA for 20 years.
He planned on coming to the U.S. Nationals with his Vroom team, which is owned by John Hammock and includes his teammate David Hope, but that was derailed.
“I was going to sit it out this week because we broke all our pistons and stuff,” said Berry, whose M B Precision Machining Shop is based in Englewood, Colo. “We had nothing to run and I was talking to Blake (Gann) on the phone and he said, ‘Why don’t you come ride my bike, I have it all ready to go.’ I said I will be there. This is Shawn’s bike I’m riding. Blake also leases to Lance Bonham, so he was going to be here anyway at Indy. I will be back on my own stuff in Charlotte, N.C., but I was excited to come here to Indy.”
Berry had never been on this Buell motorcycle prior to this weekend, but he was solid in qualifying, capturing the No. 12 spot with a 6.936-second lap.
“It’s a good bike and they have good stuff,” Berry said. “I run a Buell as well, but we all do our own motor programs and everybody has their own spin they put on stuff and it’s a lot different that the way I do my stuff. There are a lot more ways to skin a cat. I love it (racing Pro Stock Motorcycles) and what would I do with my time if I didn’t race.”
BLAKE GANN CONFIRMS SON’S RETIRED – Shawn Gann had a solid career in NHRA’s Pro Stock Motorcycle class winning five national events in 14 final round appearances. He was also known for his colorful fire suits.
According to his father Blake Gann, Shawn is retired from Pro Stock Motorcycle racing.
“He did it so long, he started racing in 1996 and I guess after 20 years, it’s just not fun anymore,” Blake said. “Plus, he has three kids and he works at my (Gann Custom Speed) machine shop (in Stoneville, N.C.). As for me, I’ve been leasing bikes since 2002 and this just kind of helps everything.”
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
TONGLET, SAVOIE TALK ABOUT DREAM SEASON – When LE Tonglet became a teammate to Jerry Savoie in 2017, he had lofty expectations, but even he couldn’t imagine things would be going this good.
Tonglet arrived at the U.S. Nationals first in the points on the strength five wins and one runner-up finish.
“LE is a great rider and we knew that putting him one of our bikes would be a good thing,” Savoie said. “I didn’t think it would come together this early because when you build something new from scratch, look at the Harleys, they built new chassis and could not get those things to work. LE’s bike is a clone of my bike, and everything fell into place and when you have a consistent rider like LE you can tune off that. Where if you had another rider, not criticizing any one, just saying someone who wasn’t as good as LE, it takes more time because it takes more time to put good, clean passes together. LE’s on fire. He’s done really well and (crew chief) Tim (Kulungian) is doing a great job and so is the whole crew. I don’t think you can ask for anything more, especially being individuals and not factory-backed to be running against the factory stuff, which is pretty cool.”
Now, Tonglet aims to continue his momentum at Indy. Tonglet won Indy in 2010 with his family’s team and he went on to win the world championship.
After three qualifying sessions, Tonglet’s 6.876-second run is No. 7 on the ladder and Savoie is sixth at 6.871 seconds.
“Just go out there, try to qualify good and just go rounds on Monday this weekend,” Tonglet said. “The focus is just to make good clean runs and qualify and learn as much as you can and go some rounds on Monday. That’s what it’s going to take.”
Tonglet also knows how much an Indy victory would mean to he and his team as they make a push for a world title.
“It’s a huge momentum swing if we can go out here and win the race,” Tonglet said. “It would be huge leading into the Countdown. We’re pretty much locked in the No. 1 seed. Jerry is only 35 points out of second. We could realistically go into the Countdown one and two. It would be huge for our team. It would be a big statement and hopefully we can carry that momentum into the Countdown which we should be able to.”
Finishing No. 1 and No. 2 in the points would be a perfect scenario for Tonglet and Savoie.
“We both get along," Tonglet said. “We’re from the South (Louisiana). My dad (Gary) raced for Jerry in the past and the whole team is just gelling well right now. We’re all getting along, having fun. There’s no tension between the crew guys or between anybody. Everybody is just getting along and having fun and that’s what it’s about.”
If it comes down to he and Savoie having to race each other to win a world championship, he knows both will earn it.
“Anytime you have more than one bike at an event you learn twice as fast,” Tonglet said. “It’s going to be huge for the Countdown. If it comes down to one of us having to lose for the other one to win the championship, we’re not going to be like that. We’re going to race heads up and Jerry does not want a free round given to him and I’m the same way. I don’t want it given to me. He won his championship earning every single round. He was independent and we want ours like that so it’s a lot of work to do it that way but in the end, you were not given a single round and that’s something that not everyone out here can say. Because no matter what they say, everyone knows the truth.”
Savoie took a moment to discuss his approach as being the reigning world champion.
“Here’s the deal with me, I saw these guys commenting on television and stuff and talking about John Force and Tony Pedregon creating their own problems and their own assassin. But, what people don’t realize about me, and sooner or later people will get it, I’m out here to have fun and my heart tells me to be out here, and I love it. I love all my fans and drag racing family out here.
Everybody knows you and it is a good thing to be involved in the sport. Like I said last year, I just wanted to win one race. To win a championship was a gift from God. If things happen this year and I win a championship I will take it. I’m not going to quit working as hard. Do I put myself under pressure and say I have to win a championship because I’m the defending champion, people have me figured wrong. I’m out here to do my best every weekend and go rounds and if things fall in place whether be myself or LE or the Harleys or Matt Smith or whomever. For these commentators to saying these things, they need to get off it. I’m not under any pressure trying to defend my title. Everything will fall in place as is and we will see.”
With the six-race Countdown to the Championship, Savoie knows winning a championship will not come easy.
“The Harleys (Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec) are really stout and they’re running really good in the middle,” Savoie said. “I really don’t think they can 60-foot with us, especially when the conditions get hot and nasty this summer. You go to Dallas, to Charlotte and all these other places they are not going to 60-foot with us, but they do make more power. Can they run you down on the big end? I think so. Here’s what I told someone the other day, our bikes our quick their bikes are fast and there’s a difference. They work hard they really do. You have to give them credit, they’re great riders and they have a great team. Harley-Davidson backs them up for a because they are the best of the best. If we beat them, so be it, if we don’t I will be glad to just out here competing with him.”
Savoie and Tonglet ride Suzukis and their engines are provided by Vance & Hines. It seems like a weird arrangement that Savoie and Tonglet are receiving engines from their rival team, but Savoie doesn’t see things that way.
“They (Vance & Hines) has always treated us fairly and given us the power that it takes to compete and we’re constantly working on projects together to try to go faster,” Savoie said. “I have nothing negative to say about Vance & Hines as far as what they give us. They give us a good product and we’re not breaking anything. Tim (Kulungian) takes these engines and massages them a little bit and Tim is a guru and that’s why we’re running so fast.”
ARANA JR.’S OLD BIKE HAS MUCH BETTER RESULTS – Hector Arana Jr. came to the U.S. Nationals fourth in the points, but he and his father Hector Arana Sr., took a chance to bring out a new Buell.
The new bike didn’t produce strong ETs in the first two qualifying sessions. He had runs of 8.755 seconds and 7.103 seconds. The team returned to its old bike and it produced the results the team was looking for with a 6.871-second time at 194.88 mph, which left him No. 5 in qualifying.
“That bike was two years in the making, but this bike is awesome,” Arana Jr. said. “We went back to old faithful here at the Big Go, and we tried the new bike twice and now we had to get back to business.”
WELCOME BACK JIMMY: Jimmy Underdahl has been competing in NHRA’s Pro Stock class since 2005, mostly at the full-time level. However, that hasn’t been the case this season. He’s only competed at one race this season – Brainerd, Minn. (Aug. 17-20) and now he’s at the U.S. Nationals.
“I took the season off just to spend more time with the kids and the family back home,” Underdahl. “My dad and Gary Stoffer bought Joe DeSantis’ old bike and they asked me if I wanted to ride it to get all the gremlins and bugs out of it, but this will be my last race for me this year. Hopefully we will get everything working out with Joe’s old bike and it will be a competitive bike. I think we some people interested in leasing it for next year.”
Underdahl and his wife, Kelly have two children, boys, Dylan, 3, and Daven 1.
“They keep us busy,” Underdahl said about his children. “You don’t really realize how much you’re gone until you’re home. It has been really fun.”
Underdahl was scheduled to make a run in Friday’s qualify session, but he missed out he couldn’t get to the track in time.
“My flight got in at 6 p.m., and they moved the times up because of possible weather issues and I couldn’t make it,” Underdahl said.
On his first qualifying run Saturday, Underdahl clocked a 7.277-second time at 183.34 mph. His second one was much better as he came in at 6.996 seconds at 190.75 mph.
This weekend, the Extended Protection Suzuki team has four riders in its fold. The list of teammates is comprised of Underdahl, Karen Stoffer, Scotty Pollacheck, and Andie Rawlings.
“It seems like it is hectic, but it is really not,” Underdahl said.
Pollacheck clinched a spot in the Countdown to the Championship Friday.
“Scotty is riding my bike from last year without the fuel-injection on it, and he’s having a good season,” Underdahl said.
As for Underdahl, he said he will coming back full-time to racing in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class in 2018.
“We have another bike being built identical to my bike from last year and the one Scotty is riding this season,” Underdahl said. “That’s in the process of being built right now and we will get some testing in before Gainesville in 2018.”
RAWLINGS ENJOYING RIDE SO FAR – This season, Andie Rawlings made her debut in NHRA’s Pro Stock Motorcycle class and she’s thrilled to be competing at this level.
Rawlings has competed at Gainesville, Fla., Atlanta and Chicago, and now she’s at the U.S. Nationals.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” Rawlings said. “I know it was kind of a hurdle to figure which team we wanted to get to, but we picked an incredible team (with Greg Underdahl and Gary Stoffer). So even though we have gone through a lot of growing pains and learning curves, I couldn’t ask for a better season.”
The journey to the Pro Stock Motorcycle ranks was a decade in the making.
“10 years ago, I started on my street bike and it just wasn’t fast enough,” Rawlings said. “I got a small tire Suzuki and it still wasn’t fast enough. I ended going to a drag racing school with George Bryce and I was like this where I want to be. I worked hard to get here and I’m going to keep working. This is where I want to stay.”
Rawlings’ best qualifying effort through three qualifying sessions at Indy was 8.039 seconds.
JOHNSON STEPS BACK IN TIME – Steve Johnson is clearly a veteran of the U.S. Nationals. He competed in his first U.S. Nationals race in 1987.
“My first U.S. Nationals I remember were parked over there in the grass and people were like ‘Are there motorcycles here? I’m like of course there are motorcycles here, we are the greatest thing on the planet, those fuel cars are nothing. I remember I had a transmission problem and I worked on it all night long. I had a bunch of stuff that was broken and I got it fixed.”
Fast-forward to 2017 and Johnson has this assessment about Indy.
“It’s still the same race,” he said. “On one side, it has changed and on the other side it hasn’t from the standpoint the fans are still here and they still love you, win, lose or draw, they are still cheering for you. I guess we feel like we are more part of the group now. Back then, we had our different little series and stuff going. The reality for us is that it is still the Big Go. I never understood why they called it the Go, but all I know is when I see the NASCAR guys hey man you going to try and win Indy? I was like yes. Then, when we finally won Indy (in 2005) it was like I had some status over there. They all knew more about the heritage of the race than I did. I was a street racer who was just tired of seeing my bodies get all beat up and thrown in jail and killed and all that stuff. We got off the street and came to the drag races, the real races.”
Johnson’s best run so far is 6.964 seconds, which has him No. 14 on the qualifying ladder.
FLYIN’ RYAN OEHLER TRYING TO GET NOTICED IN PSM – Flyin Ryan Oehler is trying to make himself in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class.
Oehler competed at Chicago in July and now race No. 2 in his career is the U.S. Nationals.
“Well it’s been a goal of ours for a very, very long time (to race at Indy),” Oehler said. “I was born in Lafayette, Ind., which is 40 miles from here. My dad was in Pro Stock cars and was a cylinder-head developer. My dad couldn’t afford to play with the Pro Stock car back in the 1970s and 80s, and he moved on to motorcycles and it’s something we’ve been pursuing ever since.”
Oehler acknowledged he’s soaking in every moment of getting to compete at Lucas Oil Raceway.
“It’s just way too cool,” Oehler said. “You’ve got the biggest people in drag racing and we’re all pitted right here together. Alcohol Funny Cars running behind us and it doesn’t get any cooler than drag racing.”
Although Oehler is only two races into his career, he wants to make a career for himself in Pro Stock motorcycle.
“That is the plan,” Oehler said. “We’re trying to make a good image for ourselves. Making a good showing this weekend would sure help if we could show that we’re able to run the numbers with the rest of the field and try to get some help for next season. Right now, we know we’re going to be at the Gatornationals (in 2018). After that we’ll see what we can do. We’d like to say that we’re going to be a rookie of the year contender next year and pick up some help this winter and get out there and make a name for ourselves and put the number on the board. So, we’ve got to do that first. We’ve got the look, we’ve got a good team and we have a good business at home that can help us but it takes a lot to be gone for 16 races and make that commitment.”
Oehler’s family runs a heating and cooling business in Bloomington, Ill. Oehler is riding a motorcycle that’s no stranger to the PSM scene.
“This is a Buell. This was actually Angelle’s Buell from 2015,” Oehler said. “I’ve been in cooperation with George and Jackie (Bryce) at Star Racing, I went to their school, did the challenge with George and developed a relationship. To be honest with you, I never thought I’d be able to do this. I was looking at it one day and I really started to say, ‘you know if we’re riding this wave that we were with the Pro Mod Harley, you’ve got to just go for it.’”
Essentially on the spur of the moment, Oehler made the leap to Pro Stock Motorcycle.
“I literally crawled out of 140-degree attic on a service call and made a deal with George (Bryce) out in the parking lot to buy that bike,” Oehler said. “So, we bought the bike. They helped us get the tuning down and we got some private test sessions in the winter with them at Valdosta and then they pretty much cut me loose over the summer and we’ve been doing it on our own. Getting some advice from them of course and some parts help. They’ve been helping me with anything that they really can. I’ve been really fortunate to have a good relationship with them and they’ve really fast tracked us to run the numbers.”
Oehler is on the outside looking in with a 7.026-second run in the No. 17 spot. Angelle Sampey is in the No. 16 spot.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
HINES NO. 1 IN QUALIFYING – Since debuting the Harley-Davidson Street Rods at Englishtown (N.J.) June 8-11 Andrew Hines and his teammate Eddie Krawiec have been battling to find the right combination.
Krawiec did get the team back on the winning track when he won the Mile-High Nationals July 23 in Denver.
Now, Hines seems to have his Street Rod in the groove. He clocked a 6.825-second lap at 194.74 mph to take the provisional No. 1 qualifying spot after Friday’s lone session. Krawiec was No. 2 at 6.825 seconds at 193.57 mph.
“The Street Rod has come a long way,” Hines said. “It has been quite an evolution from what we first came out with in Englishtown. It has been a lot of hard work figuring out exactly what these motorcycles needed to put those kind of times on the board. We needed this cool weather because our guys have been burning it up so much at the shop trying to figure out what we need to do and the last two weeks have been completely grueling. But, the guys at Vance & Hines they never stopping digging and we never stop striving to get to that next level and right now we are really happy putting our Street Rods No. 1 and No. 2. It has been a lot of blood, sweat and tears to come here in our backyard and go No. 1 and No. 2 is a heck of a deal.”
Krawiec and Hines have been chasing LE Tonglet and Jerry Savoie, all season and Hines is more optimistic than ever after his run Friday about he and Krawiec’s immediate future.
“It’s tough to say after one run (what we could do the rest of the season), but that one run just felt so different compared to the last 40 that I’ve made at the last few races,” Hines said. “This one run, it opened our eyes on what we can do now with this chassis and this body work. Hopefully it will be more to come with this Street Rod being up front. Those guys have had their way with us really all year and they were taking advantage of it while we were down. Hopefully we can climb our way back up and battle with them. Then if we can manage a way to pick them off during the Countdown and gets some points around I think we will have our chance at running for the championship.”
With his effort Friday, Hines clinched a spot in the Countdown to the Championship. He entered the weekend sixth in the point standings.
ARANA JR. UNVIELS NEW BUELL: Hector Arana Jr. arrived at the U.S. Nationals very much a championship contender as he is fourth in the point standings.
With only seven races left in the season, Arana is making a bold move as he’s debuting a new Buell in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Raceway.
“It’s a bit risky but we have good faith in it,” Arana Jr. said. “We tested it in a wind tunnel earlier in the year. We compared it to the other bike and they’re pretty close and it’s stable. We know the engine is good. We know our clutch setup is good so we feel pretty confident.”
The new bike is a project his father – Hector Arana Sr., has been working on for the past two years. Arana Sr. is recovery left shoulder surgery he had in June. Arana Sr. injured the shoulder while fixing a flat on his team’s hauler as the team was headed back from Englishtown, N.J., after the race June 11.
“The injury is taking longer than I thought and I need to get my strength back,” Arana Sr. said.
Although there were many layers in Arana’s day Friday, he was ready for the challenge.
“I always get nervous period,” Arana Jr. said. “So, there are definitely some nerves. We’ve got a cross wind so I’m curious to see how it’s going to handle that but we have five runs here to get it right. We’re excited and we’re ready for it.”
Arana’s new bike sputtered on Friday, clocking a 8.755-second time.
Although there are risks involved with unveiling a new motorcycle late in the season, Arana Jr. believes it still is the right move.
“You’ve got to keep moving forward,” Arana Jr. said. “We’re fourth in points, it’s not the Countdown yet so we’ll definitely know what to do when the Countdown starts. The key for us to win a championship is consistency. Making consistent runs. Smart runs and just go from there.”
As for now, Arana Jr. is focusing on the winning the U.S. Nationals – again.
“I love it,” he said. “This is the first race I ever won in 2011. First race I ever won my rookie year. It’s the biggest race of the year. It’s the home race. This race really means a lot to me.”
POLLACHECK CLINCHES COUNTDOWN SPOT – Normally qualifying in the No. 5 provisional spot in Pro Stock Motorcycle Friday, but it gave reason for Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Scotty Pollacheck reason to smile.
With his 6.917-second run at 190.73 mph, Pollacheck clinched a spot in the six-race Countdown to the Championship, which begins Sept. 15-17 in Charlotte, N.C. Pollacheck’s season has been highlighted by four semifinal round efforts.
REED WEIGHS IN ON TEAM LIBERTY’S SEASON – Some NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle teams have had busy off seasons.
That was an understatement for the newly-formed Pro Stock Motorcycle team – Team Liberty Racing with riders Cory Reed and Angelle Sampey, a three-time NHRA world champ (2000-2002) made its debut at the Gatornationals March 16-19 in Gainesville, Fla. The team is campaigning Victory motorcycles.
Sampey, Team Liberty’s team manager, Ken Johnson serve as her team’s co-crew chief with Chris Rivas.
The massive undertaking has been a work in progress.
“We aren’t anywhere close where we need to be, but we’re getting there,” Reed said. “Just getting the shop setup in itself is so much work. We started with an empty building and we had was bare chassis and no motors. We are not far off, but we are definitely not where we want to be or where we are going to end up by the time everything is said and done. We definitely have a lot of horsepower to find still, but it is coming and it just takes a lot of time.”
Reed said Team Liberty will be competing in the 2018 season.
“We’re going to work all winter and try some new combinations and we will back next year for sure,” Reed said. “We’ve qualified for all the races this season and that’s goal for the rest of year just to keep qualifying. We came here to get into the (Countdown to the Championship), but it is a little bit of a longshot. Angelle and I are 12th and 13th in points, and if we get in either of us, we’re going to feel like we earned it. It will be a good weekend.”
At the last race, the Lucas Oil Nationals (Aug. 17-20) in Brainerd, Minn., Team Liberty had a tough event.
“We blew up three motors,” Reed said. “We have whole new motors and whole different combinations, and that’s why it is hard. Nobody has any data on anything, so it’s not like we can bounce off ideas off anybody, but it’s coming.”
Reed’s family is heavily involved in NHRA racing. His father, Jim Whiteley competes in Pro Mod, mother, Annie drives a Top Alcohol Funny Car and brother, Steven also drives a Pro Mod.
“I want to drive my dad’s Pro Mod, and I also want to drive my mom’s Funny Car, but it is designed for a 5-foot-2 person, not for a 6-foot guy, so I can’t drive her car, but I can drive my dad’s, and I’m going to this winter probably,” Reed said. “I don’t really want to race it, I just want to drive it. I want to burnouts in it. If I did get my license in it, I’m sure I would do one or two races here or there, but for the most past I just want the experience of driving it. It has to be fun.”
GLADSTONE HAPPY WITH ROOKIE SEASON – As a rookie in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class, Joey Gladstone has been turning some heads while driving a Suzuki for the San Marino Excavating Team. The team is owned by Joe Riccardi.
“This year has been everything I’ve imagined my rookie year to be like,” said Gladstone, who is eighth in points. “It has been a lot of fun and I’ve learned a lot and got some round wins, which is really cool because that’s super hard to do. We are hoping to continue to learn and make some strides towards to more round wins. We want to be one of the last ones standing on race day.”
Gladstone’s top memory so far was his semifinal finish at the season-opening Gatornationals.
“That was a huge highlight because it was completely un expected,” Gladstone said. “We went from a really rough test session to a lot of success. I’ve raced some really good people this year like Eddie (Krawiec), Andrew (Hines) and Angelle (Sampey), and we’ve beaten some and we lost to some, but it has been a heck of a ride, a heck of an experience.”
Prior to this season, Gladstone was competing in Pro Street motorcycles and he is thrilled he made the leap to the NHRA ranks.
“This has always been the ultimate goal to get over to NHRA,” Gladstone. “I started racing the street bike stuff because it is all we could afford to do and I worked my way up through ranks with that and got the attention of people like Eddie Krawiec and I became friends with him and he started recommending to some of his customers and that’s where Joe (Riccardi) met me.”
PAQUETTE MAKING SEASON DEBUT – Mark Paquette has proven himself in other motorcycle classes – winning championships.
Paquette, however, is ready to translate his success to the NHRA level. The Michigan resident is making his Pro Stock Motorcycle season debut at the U.S. Nationals.
“If everything goes well here (at Indy), we’re going to do zMax (Sept. 15-17 in Charlotte, N.C.), Dallas (Oct. 12-15) and Las Vegas (Oct. 26-29) to finish out the year,” Paquette said. “I’ve been racing bikes for over 20 years, mostly I built my own bikes and do my own thing with them. I raced a Pro Mod bike and was a world champion in that and sold it about four years ago and I got into Pro Street motorcycles and set the world record on that at 6.70 flat at 217 mph in the fall of 2016. I purchased this bike from Matt Smith Racing at the end of last year. We revamped some stuff, got the new Victory Magnum body on it with a new Victory S&S engine and we’re looking for some good things. We’re working with Matt Smith. He’s supplying the horsepower over the next few races and we have a lot of good things coming.”
Paquette did compete in NHRA last season, driving a bike owned Gary and Karen Stoffer at last year’s U.S. Nationals and he just missed making the 16-bike field qualifying 17th. Then, he drove Matt Smith’s Buell at zMax in the fall and qualified.
“I got my feet wet last year and I decided this is what I wanted to do,” Paquette said. “This is it. This is the top. This is where we want to be. Obviously, there’s a big fan following here and this is the best of the best and we want to set our self and see how we measure up. In my own little group of people who have followed me over the years and watch me set records and win championships have a lot of high expectations for me out there and I want to make sure I live up to them.”
Paquette is cautiously optimistic about this weekend.
“Obviously qualifying is the No. 1 goal to start with, but I really feel Matt is giving me the power to qualify in the top half and the goal would be to do that,” he said. “First is first, we need to make good, straight runs and get in the field and then we will work from that. We only have a few runs on this bike right now. We tested last week (at Lucas Oil Raceway), but we just shut it off at an eighth-mile. We didn’t try and lay down any numbers. We just wanted to make sure the fuel and the bike was going straight.”
Paquette said he’s looking to run in NHRA’s Pro Stock Motorcycle class fulltime in 2018. His own company – Paquette Enterprises, which repairs surgical equipment is his team’s primary sponsor.
“We will see where we are with points and everything midway through the season,” Paquette said. “The goal is to do well enough and run the full series next year. We’re looking for a sponsor for 2018 and I’m hoping we do well enough and open some eyes and get some attention so maybe we can pick up a major sponsor for 2018.”