Mon, 28 Dec 2009, 12:22 PM
A Career Year for The “Hammer”
By Bob Frey
Photo copyright 2009 Auto Imagery, Inc.
When the 2009 Full
Throttle Drag Racing
began I don't think there were a lot of people who picked Hector Arana
to win the championship. Of course the same could be
said for three of the four pro champions this year with Robert Hight
being the lone exception. Based on his past
performances it was not a long shot to think that Robert and his Auto Club Ford
could go the distance.
Of course it was looking a little shaky there for a while for Robert, but in
the end he did prevail. But you probably could have received some pretty good
odds if you picked Tony Schumacher, Mike
and Hector to win the championship in 2009. Like I always say, I
guess that's why they make them go out and race on Sunday, because you really
never know who is going to win.
Arana with one of
his No. 1 awards.
Of the four champs I would think that Hector has to be the
most surprising. Not since Geno Scali
won the championship in 2003 has there been a more stunning winner in the
motorcycle class, or any pro class for that matter. The fact that it was
surprising, though, shouldn't take away from what Hector accomplished this
year. Like Mike Edwards in Pro Stock, Hector arguably had the best bike in the
class this year. I say arguably because there were times when he was only
average, but there were other times when he was absolutely crushing the
competition. "I started out the year well but then had a slump in the middle of
the year," he said. He came out of that slump in time to win the title by the
slimmest of margins. Did you know
qualified in the top half of the field at every race this year and that he only
qualified lower than fourth on two occasions? He also qualified in the top two
spots at thirteen of the seventeen bike races this year and that's a dominating
performance in anybody's book.
it counted the most, in the "Countdown," he really turned it on. Did you know
that Hector was the
top qualifier at eight races this year and that six of them happened in the
last eight races of the year? Among that group were four number one spots in
the five races in the "Countdown" for the motorcycles. Like I said, he was
dominating the bikes, especially on Friday and Saturday. Those bonus points in
Charlotte Lucas, Arana & Forrest Lucas
qualifying, plus the twenty points he got for setting the national record in Memphis
, really paid off
when he won the championship by a scant two points. "It really was a dream come
true," he said after the season was over. "I never gave up, the Lucas family
never gave up on me, and together we won the championship. I couldn't have done
this without the help of Forrest
and Charlotte Lucas."
As long as most
people can remember, Hector has carried the Lucas Oil
name on his bike.
He never asked for anything," Forrest told me. "He just kept working hard
and he set a good example for anyone who wants to race. Heck, it's a good
example for anyone in any endeavor. Stick to it, give it your best and, in the
end, you'll come out a winner." It sure worked for Hector.
Arana at '90 Indy.
Hector has been racing
since the 1990 season,
or at least racing on a
part-time basis since then. His first event was Indy in 1990 an event that he
failed to qualify for. That would be followed by a five race schedule in 1991
and four more in 1992. Then he got a little more aggressive by going to six
races in 1993 and that included a trip to the semi-finals at Indy, a race he
lost to Dave Schultz
when he left
before the tree was activated. He shouldn't feel too badly about that red light
because it was one of three that Dave got on the way to the win that Monday in
1993.After that it was pretty much full speed ahead for the auto mechanic from Florida
and he made the
top ten in each of the next four years. Still, without a major win and only two
final rounds to his credit, Hector retreated and went back to being a part-time
racer. In fact, as recently as 2006 he only ran at nine races and he didn't
qualify for any of them. Did you know
that, from the end of the 2005 season through the beginning of 2007 Hector went
fifteen consecutive races without making the starting lineup? That's why his
championship was so special this year, because for a racer to struggle that
badly and still not give up is a real testimony to his desire to win. "I never
gave up on myself or my dream," he said. "And it paid off." It sure did.
Arana vs. Eddie Krawiec
Most people will say that the big difference in Hector's
career can be traced to two things, the switch to the S & S
-powered Buell and the help he received from Larry Morgan
. Having run a Suzuki for his
entire professional career, Hector saw that the new Buell's
provided a better chance for him to be competitive, and he
was right. "The folks at S&S have been great to me," he said. "Even this year when I was having problems and hurting some parts
they took real good care of me."
All you have to do to see what a
difference the Buell made is look at what Hector has done the past few years.
Prior to the 2008 season he had qualified number one exactly once, at the
Gatornationals in 1994. Last year, he qualified in the top half of the field at
eight races and this year, well, you know what he did this year. Before he went
on his performance rampage in 2009 he had set low elapsed time once (at that
race) and recorded top speed three times. In 2009 alone he had the quickest
bike on the property six times and he had the fastest bike at four races, and,
like the runner-up, Eddie Krawiec
he won five races. Did you know
that the motorcycles became a part of the NHRA professional series in 1987,
even though they had been a part of the races since the early '70's? From 1987
through 2008 there had been nine different champions in the motorcycle class
and five of them won multiple titles. Of those who won once, Eddie Krawiec and Matt Smith
raced in 2009 and still have
a shot at another championship, and now Hector Arana is in the group, too. And,
like the other pro classes, the names of the Pro Stock Motorcycle champions
recall some of the glory moments of the sport with riders like John Myers
, Dave Schultz, Matt Hines
and Angelle Sampey
in the group. There were some great rivalries among
those riders, and with Hector challenging the Harley-Davidsons
for the championship this year, we may have that
same kind of interest brewing in the bike class now. "I knew coming into Pomona
that it was between
me and Eddie and the Harleys," Hector said. "They have a great program and to
beat them made this even more special."
Larry Morgan and Arana
As for his relationship with Larry Morgan, it's simple. "We
got talking on Sunday at one of the races and he said that if there was
anything he could do to help just ask. He told me to ship him my heads and he
would take a look at them." Well, rather than waste time shipping them, Hector
packed them up and was
at Larry's shop the next day.
"I really think he was surprised to see me there so soon," he said. "But he has
made a huge difference in my performance." He went on to tell me about his first
association with Forrest Lucas. "A friend of mine called and told me he had a
contact with someone who may be interested in helping me out," he said. "So he
called Forrest, put me on the phone and we struck a deal. The next day money
came in the mail, the very next day. No contract, just a conversation on the
phone. Like I said, this championship is as much theirs as it is mine because I
wouldn't be here without them."
back in 1994 and Hector has carried the red, white and blue Lucas colors ever
since. But more than just helping financially, Hector said that, after
struggling for a few years, Forrest told him that he needed to get his own
engine program going if he wanted to be competitive. "He set me up with a shop
and now I was able to do my own work and build my own engines. It made all the
difference in the world." And so did the Lucas Oil products, "Bob," he said, "believe
me when I tell you that Forrest came up with a new
this year and it worked miracles. No breakage, better
performance and the engine doesn't hurt anything.
He's just amazing." I
guess it's like their ads say, "it works."
Arana vs. Matt Hines
in the '97 Richmond final.
For a man who has been doing this for so long and who
struggled simply to make the field for so many years, the obvious question is
why did he keep going? "I love racing, I love the competition and I always knew
that I could race with the best in the class." An example of the determination
that he has was the final round at Richmond
back in 1997. After qualifying sixth in the field with a 7.44, Hector beat Joe DeSantis, John Smith
and Joey Bartone
to get to the final round where
Matt Hines was waiting for him. "I had lane choice going into the final round
and thought I had the better bike. When I came off the line and got down track
my chain broke. I knew I could have beaten him. Anyway, I saw that he was
getting a bit out of shape out there and I said that if I have to I'll get off
the bike and push it down the track to get the win. That's how bad I wanted
it." After the race Hector admits to asking the questions, "Why me. What do I
have to do to win one of these things?"
he moved forward, stayed with it and now he is the champ. Oh, by the way, when
I asked him why he races bikes instead of cars he told me that it was the
cheapest way to race when he got started back in the late 1980's. "I raced in
the bracket classes in Florida
I wanted to go fast and a bike was the easiest way for me to do it back then."
For the record, that early bike was a Kawasaki
that ran in the mid nine-second range.
As he prepares for the 2010 season Hector is already finding
out what it's like to be the champion. "I just came back from Puerto
where I did some television interviews and met with a bunch
of friends, racers and fans. We even took some time off to go horseback
riding." After four hours of that he admitted to being "very sore." But now
he's back in the shop and he said that the first race of the new year seems too
close. "There is so much to be done and I hope I have time to get ready for
next year. I'm really looking forward to trying to defend my championship. I
won five races this year, set the national record and won the title, so that's
going to be tough to follow. But I'm looking forward to the challenge."
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