Son shows that father doesn’t always know best in historic NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle win

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JOLIET, Illinois – A week ago at Epping, New Hampshire, a husband and wife met for the first time in a final round in National Hot Rod Association history when Angie Smith defeated husband and defending world champ Matt in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category.

Sunday at Route 66 Raceway, another significant milestone occurred with the first father-son final in PSM history when father Hector Arana Sr. met Hector Arana Jr. in the final round of the O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 Nationals.

When the two Miami natives and Buell-powered PSM riders reached the finish line, Hector Jr. proved he had learned the lessons well his father has taught him over the years, defeating Hector Sr. in an exciting final round.

In winning his first race of 2014, his first at Chicago and his seventh career PSM triumph overall, 25-year-old Hector Jr. covered the 1,000-foot racetrack in 6.925 seconds at 193.93 mph, while the 55-year-old Hector Sr. had a 6.946 second run at 192.82 mph.

In a twist of irony, Arana Jr. had to give credit to his crew chief and team owner for setting up his bike for the win.

That crew chief and team owner? None other than Hector Arana Sr.

“We won this race together,” Arana Jr. said. “I wouldn’t have been able to be here without him (his father). It’s a team win and a dream to come true to be able to make it to the finals together and race against my dad.

“That’s what we’ve been striving to do for four years and now we’ve finally accomplished that. Now we’ve just got to do a brother-brother final (Junior and younger brother Adam Arana, who failed to qualify for Sunday’s final eliminations).”

In addition to it being Arana Jr.’s first final round of 2014, that also was the case for Arana Sr.

“It means that I’m going to have to go home and have to work harder,” Arana Sr. said with a laugh when asked what losing to his son meant. “It was something I was looking forward to for a long time, and to my surprise, I wasn’t nervous.

“I was relaxed, I was calm and already felt like a winner. I did my job at the starting line, but (his son) had the better bike.”

In the bigger picture, it was the ninth meeting between the father and son over the last four seasons, but all eight prior faceoffs came in earlier rounds of other races.

With Sunday’s win, Arana Jr., who is in his fourth season on the PSM national tour and was No. 2 in the 2011 season, now leads his father 5-4 in head-to-head matches.

“I’m just glad we got a Wally (victory trophy),” Hector Jr. said. “I loved coming to the final round against my dad, but it’s just not the same when you beat him, not like beating those other guys out there.

“We won, our team won and (primary sponsor) Lucas Oil won.”

Grace Arana, Hector Sr.’s wife and Hector Jr.’s mother, showed who she was pulling for afterward.

“It was exciting, but I really kind wanted my husband to win,” Grace Arena said, noting that Hector Sr. has not won a PSM race since winning five of his six career victories en route to earning the series championship in 2009.

That’s a 74-race winless streak now.

When asked if losing to his son somewhat softened the blow of remaining winless, Arana Sr. was quite clear with his answer.

“No, not even close,” he said with a smile. “But it’s a win for the team. We’ve worked hard around the clock for the last couple of weeks.

“It’s what we needed to now keep going and dig in deeper and keep going forward. It’s especially for me, what I needed, to get my confidence back and to be a winner and to get to the finals and get my Wally (race winner’s trophy).”

In a twist of irony that extended back to last week’s final between Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the elder Arana beat Matt Smith in Sunday’s quarterfinals and then Angie Smith in the semifinals to set up the historic match with his young son.

Andrew Hines holds the points lead in PSM, with a 21-point advantage over the weekend’s No. 1 qualifier, Eddie Krawiec.

Hector Arana Jr. is third in the standings, 52 points behind Hines, followed by John Hall and Matt Smith.

Hector Arana Sr. is in seventh place, 216 points behind Hines.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Final finishing order (1-16) at the 17th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway:

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE:

1.  Hector Arana Jr; 2.  Hector Arana; 3.  Shawn Gann; 4.  Angie Smith; 5.  Eddie Krawiec; 6.  Andrew Hines; 7.  Scotty Pollacheck; 8.  Matt Smith; 9.  Chaz Kennedy; 10.  Jerry Savoie; 11.  LE Tonglet; 12.  Steve Johnson; 13.  John Hall; 14.  Craig Treble; 15.  Jim Underdahl; 16.  Michael Ray.

 

Final round-by-round results from the 17th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway:

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE:

ROUND ONE — Angie Smith, Buell, 6.969, 192.36 def. John Hall, Buell, 7.013, 192.52; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.915, 192.80 def. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 7.026, 191.57; Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.952, 192.82 def. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.955, 193.52; Hector Arana, Buell, 6.908, 194.66 def. Michael Ray, Buell, 21.800, 29.90; Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.908, 194.41 def. Craig Treble, Buell, 7.022, 190.57; Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.873, 195.36 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.976, 193.38; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.858, 194.83 def. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.973, 191.35; Matt Smith, Buell, 6.886, 195.11 def. Chaz Kennedy, Buell, 6.917, 193.10;

QUARTERFINALS — Gann, 6.985, 192.08 def. Pollacheck, 7.014, 190.16; H. Arana, 7.050, 192.93 def. M. Smith, 7.038, 191.27; Arana Jr, 6.894, 194.66 def. Hines, 6.966, 190.30; A. Smith, 6.950, 192.91 def. Krawiec, foul;

SEMIFINALS — H. Arana, 6.919, 193.82 def. A. Smith, 7.016, 191.21; Arana Jr, 6.888, 194.97 def. Gann, 6.958, 192.41;

FINAL — Arana Jr, 6.925, 193.93 def. H. Arana, 6.946, 192.82.

 

Updated point standings (top 10) following Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway:

Pro Stock Motorcycle

1.  Andrew Hines, 536; 2.  Eddie Krawiec, 515; 3.  Hector Arana Jr, 474; 4.  John Hall, 371; 5.  Matt Smith, 361; 6.  Scotty Pollacheck, 341; 7.  Hector Arana, 320; 8.  Michael Ray, 302; 9.  Angie Smith, 300; 10.  Steve Johnson, 249.

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A lasting legacy: Eric Medlen’s death spurred NHRA safety gains

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) John Medlen remembers his son’s final seconds like they were his first steps.

Eric Medlen inched his dragster to the starting line and waited for the signal. John, also his son’s crew chief, made a couple of routine checks, looked in Eric’s eyes, gave him a thumbs-up and pounded on the hood twice.

“Neither one of us realized he had a little less than three seconds to live,” John said.

Ten years after Eric’s fatal practice run at Gainesville Raceway, home to one of professional drag racing’s premier events, John is still dealing with the demons that come from burying a child. Eric’s death became a defining moment for NHRA, mostly because of the way John reacted to it and the safety changes he fought for.

“Eric would not want anybody here on this earth that’s left to be burdened to the point where you can’t live your life because of his death,” he said. “… I hear his spirit tell me all the time, `Keep going, Dad. Make these cars safe. Keep somebody else from having these kinds of issues.”‘

Eric grew up around racing in Oakdale, California. His father placed his bassinet on a workbench in his garage, and he spent hours at drag strips. Even the school bus dropped him off in front of dad’s race shop.

John Medlen has left John Force Racing to join rival Don Schumacher Racing. (Photo courtesy John Force Racing)

John steered his son toward other pursuits, and to an extent, that worked. Eric was a champion calf-roper in high school, then a mechanical engineering major in college.

But the track always beckoned. The man nicknamed “Duff” spent eight years working as a John Force Racing crewmember before the team gave him his big break as a driver in 2004.

“I tried to talk him out of it, but he wasn’t going to have it,” John said. “If it had wheels, he was going to race it. Go karts, sprint cars, it didn’t matter what it was.”

Eric won six times in 72 starts in the National Hot Rod Association and finished in the top five in points in each of his three years at the pro level. His death shocked the series, even if everyone associated with it knew the perils.

Drag racing has always been one of the most dangerous forms of motorsports, whether it’s on backroads, city streets or professional strips. It became increasingly popular in the 1950s: Bigger engines, lighter cars, faster speeds – and increased risk.

Eric reached the top level, where nitromethane-powered dragsters race in side-by-side lanes and routinely top 300 mph in less than five seconds.

“You know what can happen. Everybody in the industry knows what can happen,” John said. “But we’ve never seen an injury like Eric’s before.”

On March 19, 2007, a day after the NHRA’s Gatornationals, Eric and his Force teammates stuck around to test at the historic track, a common move that allows teams to acquire valuable data while reducing travel costs.

As Eric, 33, pulled to the starting line, everything seemed normal. He released the trans brake, allowing his Funny Car to lunge down the track with the G-forces of a fighter jet. And in the blink of an eye, Eric endured a violent, mid-strip tire shake that snapped the chassis, caused his car to slide out of control and forced his head to whip side to side about 150 times. Goodyear later said something apparently punctured the tire at high speed, causing it to lose pressure and start jerking the entire car with more than 40,000 pounds of force.

John rushed to the crumpled car as it came to a stop against a concrete retaining wall, found Eric unconscious in the cockpit and started yelling at him to breathe. John could tell the wreck was bad. Then he saw a paramedic shine a flashlight into Eric’s eyes, turn to a colleague with a look of desperation and try again.

“I’ll never forget,” John said. “She threw that flashlight into the corner of the ambulance. You could tell this was serious.”

Eric’s head swelled so much because of a traumatic brain injury that he was hardly recognizable in his hospital bed. Doctors worked around the clock trying to relieve pressure and improve blood flow to his brain.

Despite the aggressive treatment, Eric’s body lost the ability to manage its salt and water levels.

After four days with no improvement, the decision was made to take Eric off life support.

He died immediately.

“People were mourning, people were hurt, people were dying inside,” said team owner John Force, who stayed at the hospital with Eric’s family. “But they also were already thinking about moving ahead. They weren’t going to let this happen again.”

Force’s cars skipped the next race, and he canceled the reality TV show “Driving Force,” which focused on him and his three drag-racing daughters.

“We’re not going back to making movies,” Force said. “We’re going to learn how to build race cars.”

Eric’s father led the charge, meeting with NHRA executives, competitors, industry experts and even military and NASA engineers. They studied metal energy, seatbelts, tires, padding.

“As long as I’m on this earth, I’m not going to have Eric give his life in vain,” John said. “We’re the ones here that can make all that count for him and for his memory.”

Changes came quickly.

There were tighter tolerances for chromoly tubing used to build chassis. There were wider roll cages. There was thicker padding surrounding drivers’ helmets. There were now seven seat belt attachment points, keeping drivers more tightly harnessed for added stability and support.

John Medlen, 66, works for Don Schumacher Racing now. Returning to Gainesville every year is the hardest part of his life. Sights, sounds, smells, all come rushing back like the crash was a day – not a decade – ago. He welcomes questions about Eric’s triumphs and tragedy, mostly because they help remind him about the son he lost, the life they lived together and the reason he still works to make the series safer.

“It’s very difficult, but you have to do it,” John said. “You’ve got to face your adversaries and deal with the demons. They’re not going away.”

There have been a few NHRA deaths since Eric’s – Scott Kalitta (2008), Neal Parker (2010) and Mark Niver (2010) – but none of those were caused by tire shake.

Six months after Eric’s death, Force endured a similar tire shake during a race in Texas. The violent crash broke his left ankle, left wrist and several fingers and put a deep cut on his right knee. Force was airlifted to a nearby hospital, where he spent weeks before leaving in a wheelchair.

But the 16-time champion avoided any head trauma, which he attributed to the NHRA safety modifications put in place following Eric’s accident.

Force responded by erecting life-size statues of Eric at his team facility in Indiana, and at his corporate headquarters in California. He created museums to house Eric’s race cars.

He sees the impact they have on everyone, even his 5-year-old grandson.

“He pointed at the statue and goes, `What is that, Grandpa?'” Force recounted. “And I said, `That’s Eric Medlen. That’s the guy that saved your Grandpa’s life and I ain’t never forgetting that.”

More AP auto racing: http://www.racing.ap.org

Grosjean: ‘Unbelievable’ to score Haas’ best F1 qualifying result in Australia

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Romain Grosjean hailed Haas’ Formula 1 qualifying performance in Australia as “unbelievable” after picking up its best Saturday result since joining the grid.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas took his eponymous operation into F1 last year, with Grosjean leading its charge through its debut campaign.

Haas enters its sophomore year in 2017 looking to build on its eighth-place finish in the constructors’ championship, and made a strong start in Australia on Saturday.

While new driver Kevin Magnussen dropped out in Q1 following an error on his hot lap, Grosjean was able to take Haas into Q3 before securing sixth place on the grid for Sunday’s season-opener.

The result marks Haas’ best qualifying result to date in F1, beating Grosjean’s run to P7 ahead of the Brazilian Grand Prix last November.

“It was quite an unbelievable qualifying session for us. It’s a shame that we didn’t get Kevin there, but the car is looking good, even better than what we’ve seen recently,” Grosjean said after the session.

“We’ve made some good progress over the weekend. There’s a lot more we can understand and analyze but, generally, it’s a great start for us.

“It’s always good to start with a strong qualifying session. It tells you that if you keep improving the car, you could be in a good place very soon. If that’s our baseline, and you can fight between sixth and 10th position, where it’s so tight, it would be great to be there most of the time and enjoy some good times.

“Tomorrow’s start is a big unknown. We’ve been practicing and some have been good, others not so much. Hopefully, we’ll get the first one right tomorrow.”

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET.

Daniel Ricciardo frustrated to crash out of home F1 qualifying

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Daniel Ricciardo made no secret of his frustration after crash out of Formula 1 qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix, resigning himself to a 10th-place start for his home race on Sunday.

Ricciardo entered the Melbourne weekend aiming to become the first Australian to finish on the podium at his home race since the event became part of the F1 world championship in 1985.

Despite struggling with the setup on his RB13 car on Friday, Ricciardo looked poised to claim a top-five grid slot for Sunday’s race, only to lose control of his car at Turn 14 in Q3 and end the session in the wall.

“That was a tough one today. I don’t crash into the barriers often and the last place I want to do that is at home,” Ricciardo said after the session.

“But I feel I crashed for the right reason, as I was basically pushing and trying to find the limit and these things happen, so let’s say I’m not disappointed by the approach, it was just more of a frustrating outcome, starting 10th instead of being under the top five.”

Ever the optimist, Ricciardo said the difficult qualifying will only serve as greater motivation to fight back up the order and give his home fans a result to celebrate on Sunday.

“I knew the crowds would have also preferred to see me further up the grid and it would have been nice to put on a better performance than that but tomorrow is where the points are,” Ricciardo said.

“It’s a chance to create a bigger headline if I have a good race so that’s what will motivate me to do better tomorrow. I made it a bit more difficult for myself but it’s going to be alright.

“To get a good start in the race will be the key. I saved a set of ultra-softs in Q2, I know that not everyone in front of me has, so maybe that gives me a chance.”

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET.

Valtteri Bottas disappointed with P3 start for Mercedes F1 debut

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Valtteri Bottas came away from qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix feeling disappointed despite securing third place on the grid for his first Formula 1 race as a Mercedes driver.

Bottas joined Mercedes over the winter following world champion Nico Rosberg’s decision to retire from racing, and made his first official race weekend appearance for the Silver Arrows on Friday.

The ex-Williams driver made a splash in qualifying by running teammate Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel close, but was left to settle for third on the grid after finishing three-tenths of a second off the pole time.

“Third position is not ideal. In general I’m not happy with the result,” Bottas admitted after qualifying.

“But what I’m really happy about and proud about [is] what the team has done again with this car. I only saw a very small part of the preparation with the new car and the new era of Formula 1, and it’s really nice to see that all the work has paid off and we’re fighting at the very front.

“It seems to be very close this year, especially here. Myself I didn’t get any perfect laps in, so not that satisfied.

“Tomorrow’s the day that matters. It seems like in the race starts we’ve been quite strong. If we can keep that form I had in practice, and have a nice and clean race and get some really good points.”

Bottas’ best finish in Australia currently stands at fifth place in 2014 with Williams, with the Finn never qualifying any higher than sixth at Albert Park in his four previous attempts.

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET.