The National Hot Rod Association’s record-setting weekend at Sonoma was one of dominance. Don Schumacher Racing ruled the nitro ranks, Allen Johnson continued his roll through the Western Swing, and the Harley-Davidson duo of Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines mowed down the competition.
And those left in the wake of those outstanding performances began to speak up at the Sonoma Nationals. So the California Wine Country crowd got treated to an uprising of peasants and talk of a tamale throw-down.
Confused? Read on . . .
PEASANTS RISE UP – Reacting to Krawiec’s remark at Denver the week before that he and Hines should name their bikes “Achilles,” in honor of the Greek mythological hero who slew Hector, Lucas Oil Buell rider Hector Arana Jr. and Sr. decided to have some fun.
During Saturday qualifying and Sunday eliminations, Arana crew members Adam Arana, Dan Gonzalez, and Charles Gordon showed up dressed as peasants.
Arana Jr., who said Krawiec’s words carried some truth because he believes the Buells have an unfair disadvantage to the Harleys with the current NHRA rules, explained the unusual garb.
“It was very true what [Krawiec] said: Their equipment that they’re using is far superior to ours, like gods,” Arana Jr. said. “They get to go run by run and not have to work on the bikes. Every two runs, we’re pulling valve covers off and doing all kinds of work in order to maintain these motors. We only get so many runs out of them. We’re pushing them to the limit, and we’re working hard from the very beginning of the track – 60 foots – to all the way down. We’re working like peasants.”
Before that, they offered sand bags for sale at their pit area, hinting that they’re emblematic of the Harley-Davidson team. Krawiec ran over and autographed them.
Arana Sr. took the words to heart: “To me, those words hurt: ‘He killed the Hectors.’ Hey, those are words for me that are going to make me work harder. I can’t wait until I put them down.” But he did say the peasant costumes and the sandbags were just gags.
“We’re just trying to have fun,” Arana Sr. said. “We’re not trying to be disrespectful. We just want to have fun. He did make a statement, so we’re going to run with it. To my surprise, the fans reacted great. They got a good laugh out of it, so overall, it was a good thing.”
Krawiec, too, said he was playing, for the sake of entertainment.
But on the track the flogging of the “peasants” continued. Arana Jr. committed the first foul start of his career, so keyed up was he to beat Harley-Davidson rider Hines in the semifinal.
“I was amped up, pumped up, ready to go,” Arana Jr. said. “I was going for the light; I wanted to win bad. It just goes to show we were going for it. We’re pushing the Tree. I needed any little thing to beat him, and unfortunately we ended up on the wrong side of the light. We need to go home, work hard, and try to find an edge so we can give these guys something.”
And Krawiec defeated Arana Sr. to reach the final round, but Arana Sr. left the line first. “I know we lost — we spun the tire — but I did my job, so it doesn’t hurt as much,” Arana said.
Krawiec won his fifth race in eight bike-class appearances on the schedule this year. Hines, Sunday’s runner-up, has won the other three.
TAMALE WARS BEATS WIND-UP TOYS – Funny Car owner-driver Cruz Pedregon was talking a little bit of smack with a liberal dash of chili powder Friday night after out-performing Jack Beckman with a track-record 4.028-second blast that held up as low E.T. of the meet. He climbed from his Snap-on Toyota Camry and declared, “If these guys want to throw tamales, we’ll throw down with them! We’re California Mexicans!”
Afterward, he calmed down a bit and confessed, “Aw, when I get out of the car, I get a little bit excited. Half the stuff I wish I didn’t say. But I was just throwing a little heritage around here and there. It was nothing I wouldn’t say to my mom.”
Really? He says that to his mother?
“She’d laugh,” he said, adding that if his family were Italian, he would talk about “throwing spaghetti and meatballs.” Said Pedregon, “You know, as long as we keep it clean, I think [it's OK.]
I’m glad I finally figured out that we don’t have to be wind-up toys out there. We try to thank the sponsors, but the fans, they want to see what they guy’s really like. – Cruz Pedregon
RACETRACK WITH NO NAME – The NHRA has No Problem Raceway Park in Louisiana, but this Bruton Smith facility in California Wine Country has no name at the moment. For many years it was known as Sears Point Raceway since it opened in 1968, until it became Infineon Raceway in 2002. A decade later, in its 25th anniversary of this event, it has no official name and simply goes by the label “Sonoma.”
RECORDS BROKEN – It didn’t take long for pro racers to show their strengths. In contrast to Denver, this second stop on the Western Swing had conditions ripe for record-setting. By the end of the first day, racers reset both elapsed time and speed marks in each of the four classes. By the end of eliminations, the honors went to Top Fuel’s Spencer Massey (3.777 seconds, 328.62 mph), Funny Car’s Cruz Pedregon (4.028) and Ron Capps (317.57), Pro Stock’s Erica Enders (6.512) and Allen Johnson (212.46 mph), and Pro Stock Motorcycle’s Eddie Krawiec (6.785, 198.35).
COUNTDOWN CLINCHERS – During the Sonoma Nationals, seven drivers clinched berths in the Countdown to the Championship, bringing to 14 the number of drivers who have secured their spots to compete in the six-race playoff. Top Fuel winner Antron Brown, as well, as Tony Schumacher, Funny Car’s Ron Capps, and Pro Stock Motorcycle’s Hector Arana Jr. all locked up their positions during qualifying. Waiting until eliminations to clinch spots were Pro Stock’s Mike Edwards and Vincent Nobile and bike contender Hector Arana Sr. Edwards and Nobile did so by reaching the quarterfinals, and Arana got in by going to the semifinal round.
Already in were Spencer Massey (Top Fuel); Robert Hight (Funny Car); Greg Anderson, Jason Line, and Allen Johnson (Pro Stock); and Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
HAGAN: ‘WILL SPIT, PINCH FOR COUNTDOWN SPOT’ – Reigning Funny Car champion Matt Hagan has had sponsor Aaron’s Lucky Dog on the side of his car all season, but he has been nothing but snake-bitten, it seems. Now, with his first trip this year to the final round — with a runner-up finish to Don Schumacher Racing mate Johnny Gray — Hagan is 12th in the standings and less than 100 points away from the 10th-place cutoff.
So this could turn into another battle with 15-time champion John Force — only at the bottom of the line-up instead of the top. Force is 10th.
Of course, Hagan will need similar results in the final three races of the so-called “regular season” if he is going to make the cut. But he’s game. Said Hagan, “We’ll take anything we can get right now. I don’t care if we have to spit, fight, pinch, or bite to get into the Countdown. “We definitely have a shot now. I’m excited and I know our team is excited. We’ve got a chance to get into this thing.”
Hagan trails Force by 91 points and is 22 behind 11th-place Tim Wilkerson.
BROWN TAKES SHARE OF THE LEAD – Driving the Matco Tools Dragster, Antron Brown grabbed a share of Spencer Massey’s Top Fuel lead Sunday by beating the FRAM Dragster driver in the final round. The Denver winner is in position — as is Pro Stock winner Allen Johnson — to go for a trifecta in the so-called Western Swing as the tour heads to Seattle for this coming weekend’s stop at Pacific Raceways. Should he win at Seattle, Brown would be the NHRA’s only driver to sweep the Western Swing twice.
“We can talk about sweeping if we can get to the final round of the next race,” Brown said. “First we’ve got to qualify, and then we’ve got to get past the first round. And there’s a million things on these race cars that can go wrong.”
DSR OWNS FUEL FINALS – The Brownsburg, Ind.-headquartered team guaranteed it would earn its 188th and 189th all-time victories. All four nitro-class finalists were DSR drivers: Brown and Spencer Massey in Top Fuel and Johnny Gray and Matt Hagan in Funny Car. The last time DSR drivers claimed all four spots in the nitro final rounds at the same event was Aug. 21, 2011, at Brainerd, Minn. Both Brown and Gray won that time, as well. The Massey-Brown final-round match-up, the third this season, marked the 22nd time the Top Fuel final was a DSR vs. DSR affair. The Funny Car meeting between Gray and Hagan marked the 15th time that DSR fielded both Funny Car finalists.
JFR CARS FALTER – Three of the John Force Racing drivers lost in the opening round, leaving Robert Hight to carry the banner. And he lost in the second round, although he kept his points lead. Mike Neff (now in fourth place) and Courtney Force (seventh heading into the Seattle race) each dropped one position, but John Force stayed in the top 10 at No. 10.
ACCIDENTS – The only real blemishes on the weekend were injuries to NHRA safety official Rollie Miller during qualifying and Top Sportsman racer Rick Takahashi’s crash during his class’ quarterfinals Sunday. Miller was struck by debris from Khalid al Balooshi’s exploding Al-Anabi/Toyota Dragster Friday night. Miller was airlifted to a Santa Rosa hospital but was removed from the intensive care unit Saturday. He is expected to make a full recovery. Takahashi’s car got loose on his run and hit one wall, flipped, and banged into the other wall. He made a trip to the Santa Rosa hospital, complaining of overall soreness.