NORWALK - The storm clouds that were predicted to arrive late in the afternoon at Summit Motorsports Park came earlier than expected and washed out Friday evening's qualifying sessions at the fifth annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals.
The track crews worked several times during the afternoon to dry the track once the rain stopped, but they were not able to complete the nearly two-hour process before more rain came and re-saturated the drag strip.
Friday's qualifying runs were officially canceled shortly before 7 p.m., as the track could not be dried and the threat of more rainstorms loomed on the radar.
"It was very frustrating because we were here all day, had that on-again, off-again and had the track nearly completely dried on at least one, maybe two occasions," said Bill Bader Jr., president of Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park. "I can't tell how many times I looked at the radar and it was clear to the West and I thought, 'Thank God. We're good to go.' Then, this other little, tiny cell would pop up and we'd get rained on.
"This is probably one of the most frustrating single days in my 34-year career in drag racing. There was a tremendous effort from both the NHRA staff and the Summit Motorsports Park team. They were out there the minute the last drop hit the ground. It was a great effort by great people."
Though Friday was rained out, today and Sunday are scheduled to be full days of action in front of excited race fans.
"I don't know if it was 15,000, 20,000 or 25,000, but we had lots and lots and lots of people here and it may have been a record Friday," said Bader. "We had some driving rain and people kept coming through the gates.
"This event has taken on a life of its own in short order and secondly, this market is starved for racing. They've not seen a race yet this year. We had horrible weather at the season opener, rained out the Cavalcade and 80 percent of our races. (Today) and Sunday, with beautiful weather, this place is going to be out of control in a good way."
Aranas ready to roll
The rain, which cancelled Friday evening's drag races at the 2011 Summit Racing Equipment Nationals at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, could not dampen the spirits of Hector Arana and his pit.
The reason? Arana has a new competitor in the Pro Stock Motorcycle division this season, his
22-year old son, Hector Arana Jr.
"It's also good having my son here, mainly because I've got the whole family here," said Arana Sr. "It's not just the son, it's the wife, sister, the middle one, who is now the one tuning up my bike. It's the whole family and my best friend also. I can't ask for any more."
"Racing in the same category as my dad is pretty cool just because we get to compete with each other," Arana Jr. said. "It's just a really cool experience. It's an opportunity of a lifetime."
The announcement of Arana Jr. joining the National Hot Rod Association's Pro Stock Motorcycle class came as a little bit of a surprise from Forrest Lucas.
"I was called to go to his office, which he's never called and paged me to the office," Arana Sr. recalled. "You always wonder, 'Uh oh.' He usually shows up and says, 'How you doing Hector? Hey, when you get a chance, come and talk to me.' I go to his office and he goes, 'Have a seat.'
"I'm thinking, 'Oh, boy, what have I done or not done that he had asked me to do,'" he continued. "He was so serious looking at me. He goes, 'Well, Hector, I just want to know how you feel about your son racing?' It was like the pressure was taken off. I said, 'I'm comfortable if he wants to do it, but I've got to find some help for him to do it.' He said, 'Don't worry. I want him; I want a father-son team and I want to help you guys. Let me know what you need and we'll get it.'"
And get it the Lucas Oil team did.
Arana Jr. started his NHRA career at the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville when he qualified 27th with a 7.397 elapsed time and 178.12 miles-per-hour on the bike. He did not qualify for the final eliminations, but made up for that in his next outing at the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals in Houston.
He qualified 13th and defeated his father, the 2009 Pro Stock Motorcycle World Champion and six-time event winner, with a 6.991 in the first round at 191.46 miles-per-hour.
"I didn't realize I'm going forward and I'm staged," Arana Sr. laughed. "My lights are on and I'm still looking at my son. Everything went. I spun the tire really bad and I'm looking; he's gone and in front of me. I had to pull in the clutch because I was out of control and I knew I couldn't catch him."
"Actually, I pulled up to the line and didn't look into the other lane," said Arana Jr. "I knew he was there, but I didn't look over. I just did my routine, took off and because he was running way better than me all weekend, I was expecting to see him pass me. I took off and never saw him. After I slowed down, that's when I looked back and saw him behind me. It was like, 'Oh yeah! I got this race.'"
Locals still alive
While no classes actually ran down the track on Friday due to the rain, several local drivers are still alive in the Competition Eliminator, Super Stock, Super Comp, Super Gas and Top Sportsman divisions.
Patrick Ross (Avon Lake) is in contention for the Competition Eliminator, while Rick Baehr (Wellington) is in the Super Stock. Josh Gnandt (Wellington) and Michael Jirousek (Elyria) are in the eliminations for the Super Comp and Jerry Albert (Avon) remains in the hunt in the Top Sportsman division.
"The track's been awesome; the track and the truck have been awesome," Baehr said. "I've done real well with the qualifying and I'm just looking to getting back on the track and getting through eliminations. It's definitely not what you hope for when you come to the racetrack, but we all know, given the forecast, what we were looking at. We're lucky we got in yesterday. The truck is perfect, ready to go."
"We've made two passes and the car is good. The car is always good," said Gnandt. "Usually, I just travel around, but this has been my home track forever. I've raced here since I was nine and it's close, so there isn't a drive."
Elyria native Ray Connolly, father of Dave Connolly, is still in the running for the Super Comp and Super Gas titles. He has made a pair of runs in each division and does not plan on making any adjustments to either car before running in the elimination rounds on Saturday morning.
"They're feeling really good," he said. "They both ran real well. We've been working on adjusting some different things the last couple weeks and they're both pretty good right now. They're both pretty even. I had the same problem with both, so we're tuning both of them. It's really not much different."
Oberlin's Tim McGuire ran two sessions in the Super Gas competition and feels good about the adjustments he made to the car before this weekend's competition.
"I've run pretty consistently this weekend, two 9.88s in a row," said McGuire. "We've looked at our weather stations and they help us a lot. We correct our cars with that. I made some changes prior to the weekend to try and make it more consistent. We worked on the torque converter, transmission, shock adjustments."
The competition gets back underway today at 8 a.m. with the Stock Eliminator division. Super Gas, Competition Eliminator and the Top Alcohol classes will follow before the Pro Stock drivers take the track for their first round of qualifying.
The eight drivers in the K&N Horsepower Challenge, Jason Line, Allen Johnson, Mike Edwards, Greg Anderson, Ron Krisher, Rodger Brogdon, Shane Gray and Erica Enders, will then return to the starting lines for their first passes in the specialty competition.
The NHRA and Summit Racing Equipment announced on Wednesday the extension of a rights deal between the Norwalk track and the racing equipment manufacturer. The long-term deal will keep the Norwalk event named the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Summit Motorsports Park.
Contact Matt Florjancic at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.