Indianapolis: Vance & Hines team preview

SCREAMIN' EAGLE TEAM LEADER AIMS TO KEEP EMOTIONS IN CHECK AT LONGEST RUNNING NHRA EVENT Hines and Tonglet Racing for First U.S. Nationals Victory MILWAUKEE (Aug. 28, 2006) -- Byron Hines is not boastful. He's not loud. You would sooner find a...

SCREAMIN' EAGLE TEAM LEADER AIMS TO KEEP EMOTIONS IN CHECK AT LONGEST RUNNING NHRA EVENT

Hines and Tonglet Racing for First U.S. Nationals Victory

MILWAUKEE (Aug. 28, 2006) -- Byron Hines is not boastful. He's not loud. You would sooner find a photo of Byron Hines under the definition of 'Racing: Calm, Cool and Collected' before you would find him patting himself on the back.

So when the team owner of the two-bike Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines V-Rod team has a concern for an upcoming event, the team knows they ought to listen. When it comes to the crew's preparation for the 52nd annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park, they need to keep their eyes on their work. The eldest Hines knows what he's talking about. He's earned three wins tuning Terry Vance (1979, '85, '86) along with two more with his oldest son, Matt Hines, in 1998-'99.

The U.S. Nationals continues to be the longest, most demanding event of each NHRA POWERade season. There are more competitors, more qualifying runs, more than one trophy to be won in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category. In general, there's more of everything. Hines doesn't want the team to have more emotions too.

"Our approach this year really needs to be focused on the motorcycles and preparing them like this was any other race," Hines said. "We must keep that perspective but it's difficult because it's easy to get starry-eyed for this event. Everyone wants to win and everyone comes to the race amped up and it's easy to make mistakes with your emotions running so high.

"My job is to make sure that we run a calm event and don't over-react to anything. It takes a lot to win this event but if you do, it's because you remained calm and were able to make decisions on the bike the same way you would any other race."

The Vance & Hines Motorsports team is now located in Brownsburg, Ind., not more than a mile from the track. The team moved there from Trinidad, Colo., in 2004.

"Being at home for a race allows you more time to focus on the maintenance level of the bikes and make sure they are up to snuff and ready for the event," Hines said. "You don't have to travel, so it gives you time to collect the bits and pieces that you've been saving in hopes of having a performance advantage. But that means you also have more time and you could try too hard and mess everything up.

"On top of that, you're at home and everyone wants to come out to the track. Employees that normally just work at the shop, friends, neighbors, everyone wants to come and hang out during the event. That's a distraction for us that we don't normally have on the road. It's a tough balancing act."

Qualifying for the U.S. Nationals begins Friday, Sept. 1 with one session at 6:15 p.m. Riders will have two chances to qualify on Saturday (2:25 & 6:15 p.m.) before the final two qualifying rounds take place at 11 a.m. & 3 p.m. on Sunday. Final eliminations are scheduled to start on Monday, Sept. 4 at 11 a.m. On top of qualifying and racing for the event title, Andrew Hines will join seven other riders in the annual bonus event for the two-wheel category. The Ringers Gloves Pro Bike Battle is a bonus race between the top eight riders in qualifying over a calendar year. The Battle will kick off on Saturday.

"We have to set the tone right from the beginning," the team owner said. "I want to make sure no one wigs out just because it's Indy. We want to win badly, but all of the pre-race stuff can take its toll and we have to make sure we just stay focused."

Neither rider has won the big go at Indy yet. Neither rider, both 23 years old, has been to the final round either. Now they are focused on winning the U.S. Nationals.

Well, kind of--

"I'm going to do whatever it takes to make myself believe it's just another race," Hines said. "If you go into Indy thinking it's the biggest race on Earth and you want to perform better than any other weekend, you can be setting yourself up for an emotionally draining weekend where you can miss the little things that make the difference in your riding or preparation.

"The U.S. Nationals is not worth any more points than the rest of the races and I have to remind myself that we're in a points championship battle and to focus on the race and that's it. Everyone talks about the U.S. Nationals all season and this one race draws more fans and more attention from everyone. But I have to think about one thing and one thing only: getting to the finish line first."

With his win on Monday in Memphis, Hines took over as the category point leader. Hines beat Antron Brown and the U.S. Army Suzuki team in the final, bumping Brown out of the top spot by three points.

Now the Screamin' Eagle team has a major event, a bonus event and the points chase on the line. With just four events remaining for the Pro Stock Motorcycle category, the U.S. Nationals becomes a vital piece of the championship title puzzle.

Harley-Davidson Racing Manager Anne Paluso wouldn't have it any other way -- if she were just a fan, that is.

"The U.S. Nationals is one of the reasons why Harley-Davidson decided to get involved with the sport of drag racing," she said. "This is the premier stage for the sport and it makes for great competition, especially with the season winding down. As a racing fan, I love it. As a team manager, I know this is a difficult weekend for a team. It takes so much stamina to qualify and compete for the U.S. Nationals trophy. The team that wins the U.S. Nationals trophy usually deserves it because the event is so demanding."

While Hines and Tonglet have not yet won the main event at the U.S. Nationals, they have each won the bonus event. Tonglet won the Ringers Gloves Battle in 2005 and was the runner-up in 2004. Hines won the event in 2004.

"Winning the battle last year was pretty cool," Tonglet said. "We had one of the quickest bikes in the field and if we had not broke the motor first round, I really think we would have had a shot of winning the race on Monday too. The U.S. Nationals is one of the races that people talk about for years. You want to treat it like any other race, but it's difficult because it's the oldest event in NHRA history. Everyone wants to win it and become part of the history."

In order to get the team's name in the record books, the riders first must qualify.

"It's great to have the Battle at the U.S. Nationals because it puts the Pro Stock Motorcycle category on the biggest stage of the season, but it also takes a mental toll on the riders," the points leader said. "We have an extra qualifying run and the bonus race and just when you think you can't take anymore, Sunday comes along and you have two more qualifying runs and don't race for another day. By the time Monday rolls around, you're mentally and physically exhausted. I think that will continue to be my biggest challenge for this race."

Last year Hines and Tonglet each suffered a first-round loss. It was the first of only two events last season where both riders were ousted in the opening round -- just one reason why Hines and Tonglet finished first and second in the 2005 point standings, respectively.

With Hines back in the top spot, Paluso said they can dare to imagine what seemed impossible not too long ago -- a third championship.

"With the competition as good as it is, thinking of a third championship seemed outrageous," Paluso said. "But now Andrew is in the hunt for the title and it's exciting. Winning the second championship was a huge feat for the team and if we can pull off a third title we will be in great company. Only Matt Hines (1997-'99) and Angelle Sampey (2000-'02) have managed to win three consecutive championships and to be listed with two of the best riders in the sport would mean a great deal to this Screamin' Eagle program."

The two-time champion said he has the perfect team to compete for a championship and would not want anyone else working on his Screamin' Eagle V-Rod.

"The team is becoming more consistent from run-to-run," Hines said. "We're trying to make more horsepower and fix any weak parts on the bikes. The V-Rods have gone out of the U.S. Nationals too early the last couple of years. But now that we are back in the championship chase with so few races left we need to be on offense. I remember last year thinking about how pumped up I was just being in the hunt for a second title. Knowing that we even have a shot at competing for a third title is blowing my mind."

The chase for the championship will continue at the sports most prestigious event -- the U.S. Nationals.

"I think the hype for the U.S. Nationals comes from the fact that it's been around for so long and it's in Indianapolis," Byron Hines said. "Indy is the home for the Indy 500 and there is such a strong racing tradition. It's the racing capital of the world and fans know that if they come, they might see some history."

-credit: vance&hines motorsports

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Series NHRA
Drivers Antron Brown , Matt Hines , Andrew Hines , Angelle Sampey