In this edition of First Seasons, Speedway Media catches up with six-time NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Andrew Hines. During this interview, Hines discusses entering the sport in 2002, racing for his dad’s team, Vance and Hines and memories of his first start. Other topics covered were winning the championship in 2004 and whether he has a favorite trophy out of his collection.
SM: You made your debut at the young age of 19 years old in 2002 at Denver. What was it like making your debut at that age which at the time was considered young for the sport and what drew you to compete in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class?
AH: “That race was a challenge to get to,” Hines said. “I’ve grown up around drag racing and hadn’t known much else, watching my brother and dad race throughout the early 90s and ‘00s and I got the chance to go racing. My dad (founder of Vance and Hines) told me if I wanted to go racing, I needed to learn the entire aspect of a motorcycle. He told me here’s a chassis and go ahead and build it up. I had to learn all my fabrications at that point.
“Had some struggles getting there. We went testing prior to that race and the engine expired at the 1,000-foot mark on the run and oil got all over the exhaust pipe and the bike went up in flames. We originally were shooting for Chicago that year, but we had to get the body repaired and rewire everything, just regroup and figure out what to do from there on forward. It was a lot of work, a lot of headaches, I put so much time into that motorcycle and to see it burning at the end of the racetrack was not a very easy feeling.
“At that point, it kind of sets into your mind what can happen on these motorcycles. They’re not really safe and they can have a mind of their own. That was instilled in me early on and that was an eye-opening experience to have so many things happen early in my career. Getting to Denver, I was able to qualify at the top half of the field, which was a cool feat for the team.
“Some people think it’s a good place (Denver) to start because you’re going slower due to the altitude. The track is one of the most technical races on the tour because you’re going slower and any change you make on the motorcycle will drastically impact the motorcycle more than a sea-level track.”
SM: In 2002 you competed on a part-time schedule running seven races before going full-time from 2003 to now. As you entered the ‘02 season, was managing expectations difficult knowing you were part-time that year and eventually going full-time in ‘03?
AH: “In ‘02, the way the Rookie of the Year worked out in NHRA, once you compete in your fifth event, you’re no longer considered a rookie,” he said. “By running seven events, I was saying 2002 was my rookie season. At the end of the year, I was nominated for the Rookie of the Year, but I did not win it.
“I didn’t really know what was going to happen in 2003. We didn’t have any plans set in stone. The Harley-Davidson contract that Vince and Hines picked up and we weren’t sure where that was going to go in the future. Throughout 2002, I was just focused on getting experience, racing new people, and going to these different venues. Every track we go to is a quarter-mile track, but they’re all unique to their own.
“Going into ‘03, I didn’t know where I was going to go, but ultimately I ended up getting a second ride on the factory motorcycle through Vance and Hines. History has been written since. Though I got to race my dad (Byron Hines) twice that year, once at Reading and the other at Pomona, and we went 1-1, and after that, he was done racing. So our record still stands to this day as a tie.”
SM: Are you encouraging him to try and come out and race with you so you can break the tie with him?
AH: Yeah, exactly,” Hines said. “He’s always got the itch to come out and race, but he hasn’t had the opportunity to get on a motorcycle since then.”
SM: Your debut came at Denver in 2002. Before we talk about your first qualifying run and eventually your rounds that weekend, what were the weeks like leading up to that event? Were you nervous or anxious, or were you tired of waiting and ready to get going?
AH: “I was definitely anxious,” the six-time champion said. “My brother was racing for Eagle One (corporate sponsor) and here I was, the younger brother coming out here trying to make waves in the class. I had high expectations, but unfortunately at the time, we weren’t running my motorcycle at peak performance. I was using some old parts at the shop that were lying around. Just trying to race as a low-budget deal and not gobble up all the resources that my brother needed to go race for the championship.
“It was older engines, crankshafts, that’s why we had some failures along the way. Very anxious going into that first race at Denver. I was actually able to borrow a truck and trailer from an industry friend of ours, PR factory store, Don Plesser. I worked at his trailer that weekend, so I wasn’t getting in the way of my brother. My dad would come over and make the tuning calls and things like that. Denver was a cool experience.
“Up to that point, I hadn’t figured out how to get good reaction times. I ended up racing one of the well-knowns of the sport, Reggie Showers, in the first round. Did a very bad job on the tree and he beat me. Got my first round win at the next race in Sonoma.”
SM: What did that first round victory at Sonoma mean to you at the time?
AH: (Winning) my first round meant a lot,” he said. “I can’t remember where I qualified at that event. Thinking about it now, I went over to Craig Treble’s trailer on Saturday night and used his practice reaction timer. I had bad lights in all rounds of qualifying and I came up with what was then called 500 on the tree in the first round against John Smith. Luckily I had the motorcycle to carry me on through the win.
“In the second round, that was my turning point knowing I can do this because I had a better reaction time. I was amped up getting that round win.”
SM: As Sunday came, unfortunately, you lost in your first round match against Showers after you moved toward the centerline at the 330 feet mark. Is there anything you wish you could have done differently in order to advance that day or do you feel it just wasn’t meant to be?
AH: “It was just experience at the time,” he said about losing in his first round. “I hadn’t had enough seat time staring at the Christmas Tree and learning the reaction times. Twisting the throttle and hearing 10,000 rpm at the time it’s hard to get that through your head and throw your clutch away at the start line. It just comes with seasoning and you have to learn from the experience along the way.
“Ultimately, it would have been nice getting my first round win in my first round, but I’m not going to hang my head on that. There were a lot of good people racing in that class.”
SM: For the rest of 2002, you qualified for all the events you entered. Being on a part-time schedule was there still a learning curve racing on the bike or did you start to become more comfortable after making more runs as the season went on?
AH: “Definitely a learning curve,” Hines said. “It didn’t come quickly by any means. I raced my brother at Pomona in the final round and had a huge holeshot lead and then red lighted because I forgot to shift on time. Had I been a better rider and not pay attention to what’s happening in the other lane, I probably could have got him (Byron Hines) on that win.”
SM: One year later in 2004, you scored your first career victory racing against GT Tonglet. What does that victory mean to you to this day and have you ever had a chance to go back and re-watch that race? Did you ever think it was going to come after racing for only a couple of years? I’m sure it was a special win coming at the Gatornationals.
AH: “My first race win was definitely special not only for me but the first race win for Harley-Davidson in NHRA with our Vance and Hines team,” he said. “We put both bikes in the final round and there were a lot of Harley-Davidson executives on the starting line. I think the biggest reaction came when I won my semi-final round. I was still rolling to the shut down area and I could still hear the crowd roaring because GT (Tonglet, former Pro Stock Motorcycle racer) had won, and at that point, we sealed it (victory) for Harley-Davidson.
“You know, Gainesville being near the Daytona bike week time frame, a lot of motorcycle riders were in the area. The place just went nuts.”
SM: When you won that year in Gatornationals, it started a season of three wins and your first-ever championship. Why was that season so special and why do you think it clicked together with your team?
AH: “I was coming into my own as a rider,” Hines said. “The team was learning clutch management going down the racetrack. We were so good when NHRA started hammering us with extra weight penalties to get parity back in line. We took a big hit between Englishtown and St. Louis that year with a 40 lb weight increase from one weekend to the next. After that, we never won another race (that year), but we accumulated enough points early in the season to win the championship.
“That was an extra special time, winning the first championship and being 21 years old at the time. You kind of take it for granted at the time wanting to win races.”
SM: After 2004, the stats speak for themselves, 56 wins and six championships. When you reflect on your early days, are there any races where you wish you had the chance to go back and re-do it? If so, what races stand out the most?
AH: “Oh man, probably 2005 Pomona in the final round racing against Ryan Schnitz,” the Vance and Hines rider said. “I went 11 thousand fouled red and he went 10 thousand red. Not winning that race kind of plagued me forever, I was never able to win Pomona after that race. It (winning Pomona) didn’t happen until 2012. That’s one where you wish you can get it back.”
SM: What is your fondest memory when entering the sport?
AH: “I was the young kid at the track everyone knew,” Hines said. “It was cool being out there when my dad was racing, being only 8 or 9 years old, and people were still racing when I came back out. Racing with peers I looked up to for so long was a pretty fond memory.”
SM: Some drivers keep their own memorabilia and some don’t. Are you a driver that collects your own merchandise and if so, is there anything in your collection that reminds you of your rookie years?
AH: “I have a few shirts from those early years that are still in bags,” he said. “That’s something I’ll let my kids look at in the future. Obviously, I still have all my trophies, leathers and helmets. I guess the helmets are probably the biggest thing. I kept all my helmets from the start. I can look at each helmet and remember what happened during that exact race.”
SM: Out of 56 victories, I know it’s kind of hard to pinpoint as all of those wins have special meaning, but what would you say is the favorite trophy out of your collection?
AH: “The next one,” Hines jokingly said about his favorite victory. “To pinpoint one, there are so many. Probably my 50th win that came at Charlotte in 2019. That was big for me, breaking the 50th milestone. Everything lined up that weekend, I think that race was a four-wide race too.”
SM It’s hard to believe your debut came 19 years ago. However, if time travel was available, what would a 38-year-old Andrew Hines tell a 19-year-old Andrew Hines? Is there anything you would do differently?
AH: “When I was younger, you get caught up in what other people think of your performance on the racetrack,” the six-time champ said. “It’s tough at times, you can have those red lights, holeshots, you can make a bad run riding. I would always dwell on what people thought of that last round. As I got older, I realized the performance would come as long as I don’t dwell on the negatives. I have to be positive for the future. I think that’s where my mindset changed probably in 2014.
“The best thing I told myself is that it doesn’t matter what other people are thinking, it only matters what you’re thinking. If you think about what the outcome should be, you’ll get there. That’s probably my biggest takeaway is I was too worried about what other people were thinking.”
Many thanks to Natalie Torrence for setting up this interview and special thanks to Andrew Hines for taking the time out of his busy schedule to conduct the interview.