It is here–the second part of this amazing driver profile! If you missed Part 1 of this exclusive interview with driver, Hector Arana Jr., you’ll surely want to check it out!
“When you ride the bike and you feel the way it reacts, it helps you tune it. Now you’re not just looking at the graphs, you’re also feeling what’s happening. You become one with the bike.” After the DNQ in Gainesville, Hector Jr. got his new Lucas Oil Buell down the track in Houston to make his first race, and then he won his first round— beating dad.
Two races later, Gracie arrived. Named after his mom, Gracie was a new engine installed in Arana Jr.’s bike, and the three performed like they were meant to be together. “I’m giving him the meanest, the baddest,” Arana Sr. said of the engine.
Arana Jr. qualified No. 1 in three of the next four races, showing Gracie had plenty of power if Arana Jr., was able to ride the Buell well. But despite the fast qualifiers, Arana Jr. still hadn’t made it past the second round. Was he ready for the ultra-competitive Pro Stock Motorcycle class? Could he win a race?
Finally, something clicked. In Brainerd, Minnesota, Arana Jr. qualified second, then raced all the way to the final round. A tuning mistake cost him in the finals, but Arana Jr. came back with a vengeance in the next race. And that race happened to be the biggest of them all, the U.S. Nationals. Arana Jr. qualified fifth, but wouldn’t be denied in final eliminations, beating Jerry Savoie in the finals for his first career victory.
“It has not sunk in on me yet,” Arana Jr. said at the time. “This is the biggest race of the year, and I did it in my rookie year. It’s a hometown event, and all my family was here. It doesn’t get any better than this.” Arana Jr. followed in the footsteps of his father as a U.S. Nationals champion, as dad won Indy in 2009. “I’m feeling awesome,” Arana Sr. said. “I’m proud to see what my son has accomplished. I knew from the get-go that once he found his way, you couldn’t stop him. He’s got something that I don’t even have: that passion and the patience to stay calm. That’s what it takes in this sport. I knew once he got comfortable and confident and felt one with the bike, he’d be on.”
Arana Sr. turned out to be a prophet, as Arana Jr. qualified No. 1 in four of the six countdown to the championship races and won two of them. With crew chief Dan Gonzalez, Arana Jr. vaulted all the way to second in the points standings, challenging for the championship as the season wound down.
Arana Jr. did more than ride a winning bike in 2011, too. He continued to study mechanical engineering at Purdue University, College of Technology at New Albany, Indiana, during the week, flying to the race track in time for qualifying sessions on Fridays.
Arana Jr., in his third year in college, went to classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. both days. It’s a grinding schedule, but he’s thankful to have the chance to go to school and race, too. “It’s the same as going four days a week, but I cram it all into two days,” Arana Jr. said. “I’ve been fortunate to be able to do that. A lot of kids will go from 11-3 and have two classes a day, but I do all my classes in those two days. They offer Monday/Wednesday classes and Tuesday/Thursday classes, and people will do both. I just get them all on Tuesdays and Thursday. I’m there longer, but I don’t have to be there every day, and I can get it done so I can work during the week also.”
Arana Jr. doesn’t get the full “college experience” since he’s around only two days a week, but he’s not much of a partier, anyway. “I go to the Zoo in Brainerd if I want to party,” he said of the track’s infamous campground.
And girls? “They talk about girls a lot, too, but I only talk about one girl, my girlfriend Nicole Nobile,” Arana Jr. said. Nicole is Vincent’s sister, and she was caught in the middle of a spirited rookie battle in 2011. Nobile was successful early, winning his fifth race in Pro Stock, but Arana Jr. was better later, getting the nod for the rookie title. “I wanted to have a good battle with Vincent,” Arana Jr. said. “He was running away with it in the beginning, and I was kind of down on myself. But then I was like, ‘I’m not even worried about this anymore. I’m just going to go have fun and race.’ I was letting it get to me. I threw that out the window, started to do well and have fun.”
Was it really that simple? Perhaps. Getting comfortable was the most important thing, as riding a Pro Stock Motorcycle can be a difficult proposition, especially doing it consistently. Having Arana Sr. around helped, too; he’s been down all of the tracks numerous times. “Any of these tracks I go to, my dad has been racing at them for years, so I already have the data,” Arana Jr. said. “We walk the tracks. He goes over each track and tells me, ‘Okay, there’s a bump here, this lane will take you to the wall, center line, just ride the groove out.’ My dad has been behind me a lot of the way, and he’s helped me to be able to race these tracks without having any issues.”
But Arana Jr. was the one who had to get down them. Midway through the season, Arana Jr. would practice his runs when he had time at the team’s shop. He would run through the entire staging procedure, from practicing walking the bike through the water box to doing burnouts to staging itself.
Time after time, Arana Jr. would repeat the practice procedure. Plus, Gonzalez would help him practice cutting the best light, and Arana Jr.’s reaction times dropped. Soon, practice made, well, perfect. “Drag racing is all routine,” Arana Jr. said. “It’s all about trying to be as consistent as possible. Any time I can sit on the bike and get practice, it’s like making another lap. It just makes it that much easier in my subconscious. It becomes a natural habit.
“Over the year, getting seat time helped a lot with me getting comfortable on the bike. We got an engine that made a lot of horsepower, and then I learned to ride the bike to its full potential. We won a couple races and started going rounds.”
That he came up a little short doesn’t get Arana Jr. down. Instead, he’s fired up for 2012. “Overall, it was a good season, being that it was my rookie year, first time out,” Arana Jr. “I can’t wait to get back to the shop, find some power, come back and show these guys who’s boss. I’ve got a full season underneath my belt. Those last several runs, I felt like I was making perfect runs. I’m ready to go to Gainesville and start from the beginning.
Text by Rob Geiger
Photos Courtesy of Lucas Oil