Matt Hines Matt Hines just turned 30. Sometimes the three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle champion looks and acts wise beyond his years. Then there are the days when he could fool you into thinking he is a rookie looking for his first No. 1 qualifying...
Matt Hines just turned 30. Sometimes the three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle champion looks and acts wise beyond his years. Then there are the days when he could fool you into thinking he is a rookie looking for his first No. 1 qualifying position, first victory and first category championship. Hines has already put in one of the most dominating seasons in Pro Stock Motorcycle history. In 1998, he went to the final round in 12 of the 14 events, winning 10 times en route to an astonishing 47-4 round record. Going into the Mopar Parts Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway, July 18-21, Hines will be attempting to qualify for his 90th consecutive race. In this Q&A session, Hines talks about the season and what it is like to go more than a calendar year without a win. He also talks about "the girl" who has challenged him over the years for dominance in the two-wheel category.
Q: How many teams use engines from the Vance & Hines engine program and how involved are you in that operation?
<B>Hines: I'm not sure. A lot of races this year we have had 11 engines racing on Sunday. That's including me. There are usually about three or four teams who don't qualify. I try not to focus too much on (the engine program) when I am at the track. I help the customers when they come over to the trailer or if they need help setting up their bike. I talk to a lot of them on the phone, but I don't really work on the customer's engines too much. I basically just work on my bike and concentrate on keeping our program running. When we are back at the shop I am pretty much the only one who is working on our program.
Q: There are two Vance & Hines shops. One is in Southern California but you moved your race team to Colorado few years ago. Has it been beneficial to move the shop to Colorado?
<B>Hines: Well, we used to build customer engines at Vance & Hines in Southern California in the late 80s and early 90s. When I started racing (1996) we weren't doing any customer motors. In 1997, we started doing just two motors for Gary Tonglet and Greg Underdahl. Those were built in California because our shop wasn't done in Colorado. Our shop in Colorado, originally, was just going to be a hobby shop. Nothing too big. We weren't ever planning, at least I wasn't, on having it be this big of an operation. It kind of snowballed. Everyone wanted our motors and we started giving them out. The Colorado location has been good for us because we are a little more central to our customers and the races than we were in California.
Q: What do you like most about being involved with the customer engine program?
<B>Hines: It gives us the ability to let our shop grow and have all the resources available. We have all the major machinery to work with. But at the same time, it takes a lot of time away from my program. It's a balancing act. Some of the guys out here do give us a little feedback, which helps us. Once they start running good, we try to focus on our own program.
Q: What has it been like to go without a win for so long?
<B>Hines: It's so much tougher to even qualify now than when I first started racing. The competition level was not as high back then as it is now. We just try to go out there and do our thing. I am losing a lot of races this year but our shop in general has won a lot of races, so that is positive.
Q: Is it frustrating to be a three-time champion and have a season like this one?
<B>Hines: I'm a little frustrated, but I know it is better for everyone not to dominate the class like we have in the past. It helps keep the class going. Sure, I would like to win a lot of races, but it's not easy and you really have to do a lot to earn them. I know there are a lot of people out there who have as much power in their motorcycles as I do. The bikes are really close. But if we don't win, well, that's going to be rough.
Q: What is it going to take to get back to championship form?
<B>Hines: I think for us, right now, the bike is working great. I think we have to keep going into the same direction. We've been to the semifinals lately (the last three events) and I know that once we get to the final round, we'll do well. We just need a break. If we would just end up on the right side of the ladder, if the bike performs on Sunday like it should, we should be able to win a couple of races this year, no problem.
Q: The Pro Stock Motorcycle category is racing at the Sonoma, Calif., event for the first time. What is it going to take to get through the West Coast swing and the rest of the summer events?
<B>Hines: Luckily we were able to pick up on some stuff in Chicago. Our bike really started working well there. It also ran well in Columbus and we were able to qualify No. 1. It is going to be warm all summer long and I think the conditions are going to be fairly similar from St. Louis through the rest of the summer months. We don't know what the conditions are going to be like at Sonoma exactly, but if it is hot, then we have some data from the other hot tracks that we can use. Right now our bike is working good and if we can keep going this way, we should be in good shape before the summer is out. The key is to just qualify well and be as consistent as possible. We don't need to lose any ground in the points. We need to start earning as many points as we can.
Q: Your family and the Vance & Hines team has gotten involved with a new program this season by bringing Harley-Davidson to the track. What do you think about the new program?
<B>Hines: That is a bigger project than anyone really thought it was going to be. It has taken a lot of work and a lot of time. It has taken a lot of manpower. That is a very big project. Time and manpower are two of the biggest obstacles with that program right now. The horsepower will come eventually, it is just not coming as fast as we'd like. Suzuki has been around a long time and we are more familiar with that motorcycle. Harley will make the horsepower eventually, but we only have so many guys at the shop and there are only so many machines. It just takes time. We only have one dyno and we need to test both bikes. The Suzuki is on the dyno one day and the Harley is on the dyno the other day. It's just taking a lot of time to get the Harley program off the ground.
Q: What is the benefit of having Harley-Davidson involved with NHRA drag racing?
<B>Hines: It's great for Harley-Davidson and I think it is great for the class. But it is going to take a lot of work and there are a lot of impatient people who want to see better results faster. The fans are impatient because they want to see the Harley out at every race so they can cheer Harley on. But good things take time.
Q: Your younger brother, Andrew, is scheduled to make his professional debut at the Denver event. What do you think about racing with your brother?
<B>Hines: We are sponsoring his bike and we just want to get him out at a national event so he can make some passes and hopefully he can get a big sponsor for next year. It's only going to work if the programs are very individualized. Eventually it is going to be great to have another bike out there going fast. He is pretty young. I started when I was 23 and he is only 19. To start this young he has got to do some growing up pretty quick. I don't know how it would be the first time we had to line up against each other during eliminations. That will be strange. I guess we will just have to wait and see.
Q: During the Columbus event, you were accusing another rider of cheating. Is there a problem with cheating in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category?
<B>Hines: In general, the class is great. The competition is tight. I don't know if there are any problems in particular with the entire category.
Q: You and Angelle Savoie both started your professional drag racing careers in 1996. There seems to have been a rivalry from the beginning. Is the rivalry still there?
<B>Hines: It's obvious that she and I still have a strong rivalry. She doesn't want to admit it, but it is still there, deep down. They claim that now my bike is not fast enough to have a rivalry with them, but I know that we are tough and I know what they are capable of. Sometimes they don't always show the hand that you think they have. There are good things to be said about this rivalry. It definitely brings the fans around to the trailers. Obviously a lot more go to her trailer, but she is in the motorcycle pits now and it brings a lot more around here. The fans like it and it gives the media something to talk about. It's a real rivalry. It's not some fake, WWF, thing. It's legitimate. It's Dale Earnhardt versus the world. It's Angelle versus the guys. When we run tough, we can get her.
Q: Do you think the season is starting to turn around?
<B>Hines: I know that we are a good team, if we could just prove it on Sunday for once this season, that would be great. If things work out, we should be a contender in the points chase by the end of the season.
Q: Right now Angelle Savoie has the lead in the point standings. What is it going to take to challenge her for the title?
<B>Hines: It's so tough right now. All of the riders are tough to beat not just her. There isn't anyone in particular that has a real advantage because everyone is so close. Everyone was really close at Columbus; there weren't any standouts. At this point, it is whoever gets by in the rounds. I would say this is the tightest the competition has ever been. It's been a pretty surprising season so far. Craig Treble has three wins at this point, and there have been a couple of other teams that have really stepped up this year. I'm just trying to work on our team and work my way up through the top 10. If we can keep moving up, we'll be in good shape.
Q: What has been the highlight of your career so far?
<B>Hines: The highlight? Probably the three championships. That was just great, coming out here and winning so many races. That was pretty awesome. At that point, after the 1999 title, it was almost like, 'what do you accomplish next?' which is what you have to ask yourself.
Q: Are you still just as hungry for a championship now as you were in the past?
<B>Hines: I would really like to win another championship. But the goal right now is for us to step up and be the quickest bike ever. We want to be the first team to get into the six-second range. That is a priority for us right now. It would be really difficult to make a six-second pass this season. Very difficult. The conditions have to be beyond perfect and our bike would have to work better than it ever has in the past and we have to have more power than we have right now. Between those three aspects, it shouldn't really happen until next year.
Q: Do you think about how long you are going to keep racing?
<B>Hines: I think about it sometimes. My contract with Eagle One is through 2003, so I will just have to wait and see what happens then. I would really like to continue racing.
Q: What do you do when you are not racing and when you are not in the shop working on the motorcycle? Do you have a hobby?
<B>Hines: Not really. There isn't a lot to do in (hometown) Trinidad. Sometimes when we get the chance, I like to stay on the road between races and check things out. Going to the races is a lot of fun. It's nice to get away from the shop and Colorado sometimes. Being at the track with all of the people is a lot of fun for me. It's like a little vacation every time we go away. After a while, I'm ready to go home, so I am pretty happy when we get to do that too. Really, there isn't too much I do outside of racing. I have a Jet Ski, but I can only use it two or three months a year and I take it out as often as possible. Thinking about it, I used to do a lot more stuff before I started racing. But moving to Colorado and racing has taken up all of my personal time.
Q: Is racing still as much fun as when you first started?
<B>Hines: It's not as much fun as it used to be, but it is still a lot of fun for me to be out here. I have to admit that it was more fun for me when we used to dominate and win all of the races. You can't beat that. But I know that fans didn't like it when we were winning all of the races. I still feel when we can win a round, whether it is the second round or the semis, if we can beat someone that is good and have a legitimate shot at winning the race, that feels pretty good. Even if we lose but we know that we gave it the best we had, we can walk away with a smile on our faces.
Q: What is something people don't know about you?
<B>Hines: I get that question a lot. I think I would have to say that I am probably the most honest guy out here in the pits. I like to race fair and I believe you should. I think that if you want to win, you have to work for it. If you are not working for it, then you shouldn't be out here. It doesn't pay to be dishonest.
Q: What would be your dream race?
<B>Hines: Probably winning the U.S. Nationals. But to be honest, I have already had my dream race. Winning the K&N Pro Stock Motorcycle Klash (in 1999 and 2000). Defending that title was great. If you can go out to the U.S. Nationals and be the quickest bike on every pass, you have the possibility of making 11 runs during the weekend. That's what we are out here for - to race as much as possible. But if I had to choose who I could beat on the way to winning at the U.S. Nationals again, I would beat Angelle, Antron Brown and Craig Treble on the way to the win. That would be a great day.