Gainesville, Florida (March 18) - It looks like all the hard work Hector Arana Sr. and his son Hector Arana Jr. put in during the off season is paying off with the dynamite duo making a major statement at the season opening event at Gainesville Raceway. Family patriarch Hector Sr. qualified fifth overall with a 6.813-second pass at 197.02 mph, followed closely by Hector Jr., who earned the seventh spot with a 6.828 at 195.42 mph.
The much-anticipated first 200-mph pass almost came to pass with Eddie Krawiec matching Hector Jr's two-year-old mark of 199.88 mph in Saturday's early session, but that was as close as anyone got to the milestone. The fastest Hector Sr. reached in qualfying was 198.26 mph, while Hector Jr. topped out at 198.08 mph.
"We've been following the weather really close and tomorrow is going to be warmer," Hector Sr. said. "The window for that 200-mph pass has gotten smaller and smaller. There are bikes going fast and playing consistently with 199 mph so i t's going to happen this year. We are all flirting with it, but maybe it'll have to wait for another weekend."
Now, with his mind off the historic mark and focused on race day, Hector Sr. says he's found a tune-up he thinks will work.
"When we went testing with my bike all we could do was spin the tire," Hector Sr. said. "We had no control. I also tested Hector's bike because we had stripped it down to the bare chassis. He had a couple of little air leaks we couldn't find, so we worked and worked and finally found the leaks, fixed them, then re-wired the bike and put on a brand-new tire. Even then, we couldn't leave the starting line with that bike either.
"Here again we struggled to leave the starting line the first three runs so I finally made another change because I needed that to stop. Boy, did it stop. I dropped the clutch in Q4 and it almost threw me over the handlebars. I could hear the motor stop before it finally took off. So now we need to find the middle ground in the data and we should be get something really competitive for tomorrow."
Hector Sr. squares off against No. 12 qualifier Scotty Pollacheck, who had a best pass of 6.890 at 189.71 mph.
Across the pit, newly-married Hector Jr., with his bride Nicole by his side, was pleased just to start the year on the good side of the ladder.
"Considering the season we had in 2016, I'm really happy," Arana Jr. said, referring to his eighth-place finish in the 2016 points. "I screwed up that last run; driver error. We should have been in the .70s and that would have improved my spot but we won't go there and recap what I did. I definitely hurt the run but it's fine. We'll put it behind us and be ready in the morning.
"It definitely takes a little bit of time to get back in a routine and get everybody used to the scramble of a national event. You just can't replicate the pace you need at a race with the short turnaround time and everything when you're testing or at the shop. But it's like riding a bicycle; after the first time, you know how to do it the rest of your life."
Hector Jr. begins his run at the Gatornationals title opposite Matt Smith, who rode his Victory bagger to a 10th-best 6.857 at 195.17 mph.
Pro Stock Motorcycle eliminations begin at noon, Sunday. FOX Sports 1 will air qualifying highlights at 11 p.m., Saturday, followed by live elimination action beginning at 1 p.m., Sunday. (All times listed in EDT).