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Arana making strong bid for rookie award

By midseason it looked like a runaway, this 2011 National Hot Rod Association rookie of the year award pursuit.

So certain it seemed that Pro Stock prodigy Vincent Nobile would win the Auto Club of Southern California Road To the Future Award as the top rookie that drag racing announcer-historian Bob Frey made a crazy promise. He told the crowd at Englishtown, N.J., that if Nobile didn't win it, he would buy everybody there that day a steak dinner.

Frey, by the way, is a smart gambler. He has a strong understanding of the risk-to-reward ratio. And his hunch was bang-on that day in June. Nobile had won at Houston the month before, after his runner-up finish at Las Vegas. That weekend at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, Nobile was runner-up. Two races later, he won again in the Mountain View Tire Dodge Avenger.

Nobile qualified for the 10-driver Countdown field at No. 4. He closed the so-called "regular season" just behind Greg Anderson, Jason Line, and Mike Edwards, who have combined to win six of the past eight championships. So the 19-year-old Adelphi University sophomore from Long Island has carved a spot for himself on this year's Pro Stock Mount Rushmore.

Just like his much more animated Pro Stock racer father, John Nobile, he's popular with fans. And he has received high marks from his colleagues, many of whom are more his dad's age.

But just when Frey blithely was promising fancy filets to several thousand total strangers, along came another second-generation rookie drag racer, Hector Arana III. And he has made a serious case for Road to the Future Award votes from an NHRA-selected panel of journalists.

 The question is whether he'll ambush Nobile like reigning Pro Stock Motorcycle LE Tonglet did to Pro Stock's hard-working Shane Gray in the final handful of races of 2010.

In winning the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis aboard his Lucas Oil Buell, Arana III qualified fifth for the Countdown in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class, two spots higher than his father, 2009 bike champion Hector Arana.

And he issued a warning Labor Day as he clutched his career-first Wally trophy following his victory over fellow rookie Jerry Savoie. Referring to his buddy Nobile, young Arana said -- good-naturedly, for the most part -- "He'd better watch his back. I won the U.S. Nationals!"

Arana, who improved from 17th place in the standings after the bike season-opener at Gainesville to third entering the Reading race, led the field at Reading's Maple Grove Raceway with his fifth No. 1 qualifying position. He started the Auto-Plus Nationals with one less victory than Nobile in one less final-round appearance. However, Nobile lost in the opening round Sunday and Arana won Monday's rain-interrupted final against Matt Smith.

He matched Nobile in the number of victories -- and did it in fewer chances, for the bikes have a limited schedule on the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series tour.

"We have a lot of momentum right now," Arana said Monday afternoon. "My runs have been improving, and we plan to keep this streak going. This should help me for the rookie-of-the-year award and give me a good chance for the championship. I finally got to qualify No. 1 and win the race. That's something I've been trying to do all year long."


Arana, who is only 35 points behind leader Eddie Krawiec with three races to go, said, "We're in a tight battle with Vincent for the rookie-of-the-year deal, and now we both have two wins. So it's going to come down to these last three events. In my mind, it's tied up, so may the best man win down the stretch. I hope it's us, but if he gets it, then I'll be the first one to shake his hand."

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