Andrew Hines, rider of the Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson. Hines raced to his fourth career world championship on the strength of strong finishes at each of the 16 Pro Stock Motorcycle events. He didn’t record a first round loss this season and only three quarterfinal round losses. He won six events and was runner up at two.
Q: How gratifying is this championship as opposed to your others in your history of the sport?
ANDREW HINES: This one is completely different, just in the aspect of how far I’ve come working with the team and helping us get back to this point. There’s been a lot of work that’s happened at our Vance & Hines race shop here in the last couple years, and luckily I’ve been heavily involved in what’s been going on here, and it brings a different level of pride to it. I’ve really, with the tutoring from my brothers and crew chiefs, I’ve learned more about every aspect of the motorcycle and what it needs to go down the racetrack. I’ve become better accustomed to giving better feedback and things, and I think that’s paying big dividends right now. We’ve got a lot of great guys in our shop, and without them and everything that goes into each and every weekend, we couldn’t have got back to this spot. 10 years ago I was a young kid and the championship it was hard to get to, but it means an awful lot more now after I’ve been chasing another one for eight years.
Q: You mentioned that eight years that you were chasing it. We’ve talked to racers in the past and some of them said one reason they were so excited when they win is because they never know if that’s going to be their last or when that next one is coming. How hard was it, I call it a dry spell for you, without hoisting that big Wally at the end of the year?
ANDREW HINES: It was tough. I’ve been close a couple times. I almost had a four-peat there in ’07, and then 2010 I had another one slip through my fingers at the last event. Those are tough pills to swallow. Losing a championship in the last weekend, that was rough. I’d had great motorcycles both those years all the way up that point and ultimately it fell down to me and I just made a few mistakes. Those are the things I’ve learned from. I’ve learned to push through those points and forget some of those things, and I approached the last couple years racing and riding entirely different. It’s just part of the growing experience. You learn what not to do, what you need to do, how you need to look at different situations, and the thing that really helps me, though, is I have a great crew that we never get down on each other. We never there’s no negative comments, nothing about riding or racing, we just take it one weekend at a time and however the cards fall, we just play like that. They always do a great job of keeping the morale positive in our pit area, and that is huge. I can’t ask for them to do anything more for me. They’re already giving me a great motorcycle every time I go up to the starting line. For them to be that positive for me every weekend and every round, and they know that if we didn’t win this weekend we’re going to go out there the next and do our darndest to get to that winner’s circle. You hear it from all the champions, you hear it from all the people that win races, but believe me, we truly believe how great our crews are every time we go up there to the starting line.
Q. You kind of mentioned championships are tough out there at the pro level. You struggled the years in between getting the titles, but even while your teammate won, also, but not this year. Talk about that consistency and the wins that you’ve been able to put together in one season.
ANDREW HINES: Yeah, it rivals one of my best years of my career. 2012 was obviously a career year for our entire team, but this year for me was one of my best. Six race wins is tying my career best in a single season, and had a consistent motorcycle all year long. It wasn’t consistently fast in qualifying. I didn’t have the multiple No. 1 qualifiers like Eddie (Krawiec, teammate) had. He had nine, I believe, and I had the one there in Vegas, which was right timing, I guess. But I had a good motorcycle on race day. I could go rounds, it was consistent, and I was able to ride it and have confidence in how I was going to leave the starting line. That’s the biggest thing, you can go out there and focus on going on yellow, trying to get the best reaction time I possibly could. I won a couple rounds on holeshots and extended the day a little further here and there so we could tune on it a little more, and we got to those final rounds and we won six out of eight. That’s a pretty decent track record. I didn’t know the stats like they were saying earlier, how I didn’t have single first round loss and I only had three second round losses. That’s something I dreamed about in years past, and to actually pull that off this year and have a motorcycle that consistent and that deadly to go out there and get Wally’s on Sunday was phenomenal.
Q. Do you have any plans to be able to go back to back next year?
ANDREW HINES: Oh, absolutely. That’s the goal every time. I want to go out there and have the No. 1 plate every year. It’s hard to win them, it’s even harder to defend them. You’ve got that bull’s eye on your back, get rolling into next year, big No. 1 on the side of the bike. You get some respect for it, but you get a lot of people taking potshots at you, and they want to take you down.
Q. Have the rigs even entered the state line? Have they gotten back from California?
ANDREW HINES: No, I actually I stayed out in California the last couple days. I was at the LA Auto Show yesterday. We had the Harley-Davidson on display there along with Erica Enders-Stevens Pro Stock car and Matt Hagan’s Funny Car. The rig just left Southern California yesterday, so we’re not expecting to see that thing until Sunday.
Q: Talk a little bit about the LA Auto Show and about that experience.
ANDREW HINES: That’s a good time. I’d never actually been to the LA Auto Show before, so to actually be invited this year as the NHRA champion was very special. Met a lot of great press folks out there. It was just open for the press day, just a few couple days here. Got to see some interesting cars and mingle with people that hadn’t really experienced a whole lot of NHRA drag racing before, so it was nice to open their eyes to what we had done this year and show off the Harley. I put a Tweet out yesterday, it was breaking the rules. We had a Harley-Davidson at a car show. It was pretty cool. Only motorcycle on the premises that I saw.
Q. With last year being so dismal and you guys working so hard on the new engine package and trying to find that combination, how much sweeter does it make this championship and the season that you’ve had, your whole team has had?
ANDREW HINES: Yeah, it makes it really sweet. Last year was a rebuilding year, but it was so brutal to go through. I think I won nine rounds all of last year. I did win one race, so four of those rounds came in one race, so that just shows you how tough it was for us just to get going and find some horsepower to run up front. But we pulled through. This past off season my guys stayed focused, and my brother Matt (Hines, crew chief), he led the charge on our R & D program, figuring out which direction we needed to go. To pull off what we did just last winter and have the horsepower gains we had to roll into Gainesville this year and have some confidence we could be contending for the front again was huge. I mean, it was rough going most of last year, but we ended the Countdown fairly well, and that gave us some big morale boost going into the off season, got everybody pumped back up again, and it was just quite the ride. We were able to get back to our old form, we like to say. That was a big deal for us. All our guys, we love going out there and winning, and it was rough last year. Rough is the key word to 2013. Maybe just because of the ’13 year. It wasn’t a good number.
Q. I’m guessing that you never did see the black suburban with Jersey plates on it and the five guys in suits that Eddie was talking about over the weekend, huh?
ANDREW HINES: No, never did see them, but he did keep hinting around at it. He’s such a great teammate, and we obviously poke fun at each other all the time and he says stuff like that, and I’ll say, well, I’ll just make a wrong key stroke on the keyboard when I’ve got the tune up going on the bike. But no, he just wanted to make it interesting this last race, and we both had fast V Rods, and luckily I was able to maintain my points lead throughout qualifying, and at that point it was a formality. The big thing for me going into Sunday was I just wanted to win the first round, I didn’t want to have the drama play out where I lost first round and Eddie is marching through elimination rounds, and who knows, he might go out there and set the record in the final and steal it.
Q: Talk a little bit about the one two finish that you had with Eddie and how much that means to Vance & Hines.
ANDREW HINES: One two finish for Vance & Hines was huge. We did that back in 2012, and that was our ultimate goal coming into the season. We take a lot of pride in how we run our V Rods up and down the racetrack, and Harley-Davidson loves having both vehicles up front. It’s a huge task just to try and get one up front, let alone having two running good enough to get back where you’re both contending for a championship. Luckily Eddie and I, we make each other better. We push each other to have the faster bike in the pit area. When we’re doing that it’s tough on the competition because each one of us wants to go out there and have the faster bike in the pit area, and we keep pushing through it. We saw struggles with my bike throughout the year, and Eddie stayed mainly pretty consistent. He was pretty deadly in qualifying. And then we did a chassis change in the middle of the season, brought in a new bike for me, and that was the ultimate turning point. I went 13 and 0 with the new bike after we debuted it, and that was the writing on the wall for how I was entering the Countdown as the No. 1 seed and then stayed consistent all the way throughout.
Q: How nerve racking was that to break out a brand new bike mid-season, and how important was that in the overall championship?
ANDREW HINES: Well, that was very, very nerve racking. We had three days to build the bike between our Chicago and Norwalk events, and it was unproven. When we got back from Chicago, it was just raw tubing sitting there. We had to totally assemble it, rewire it, or wire it the first time, I guess, and hadn’t even been down the racetrack. We made sure all the brakes were good, everything was good on it, and sent it down the first lap in Norwalk and put a six second run up on the board on a brand new bike. That was the gratifying feeling.
It was nerve racking getting to that point, stressful, but ultimately played out well. I went out and won the Norwalk event that weekend, and that was a huge turning point, gave me a lot of confidence in what my team had done. It showed the true character of all the guys on my team. I had a new guy with me all year long that had never worked on a Pro Stock Motorcycle before, Mike. He’s a friend from New Jersey, and he showed that he can be consistent. He gave me a bike that was perfect every lap I went up there, never had one malfunction, and everything was flawless. I knew we had assembled a great group for our Harley-Davidson team, and that showed right then and there how good our guys were.
Q. Kind of looking ahead if you can for next year, we saw Hector Arana, Jr., run strong at the tail end of the season, we saw Angie Smith run strong this season, Steve Johnson. What’s in store for fans for the 2015 Pro Stock Motorcycle category?
ANDREW HINES: Well, these last couple races it was an eye opener. We didn’t have big speed out of our V-Rods, and we were putting up the E.T.’s, we were getting off the line good, but we weren’t running the big speeds. That’s where Hector Jr. was outrunning us. That pisses me off more than anything. That’s horsepower. That’s something I’m going to be focusing on here. We’re going to switch over to Sunoco race fuels for next year as the official fuel of NHRA, so I’ve got a 55 gallon drum sitting out in my dyno room right now, and next week I will be burning gas all week long trying to figure out what it wants for a tune up, and I already got parts on order from our suppliers to make ourselves one step better for 2015.