Hines will get a chance to show how hungry he and his team are as the Pro Stock Motorcycle class kicks off its 2015 season.
Gainesville, Fla. — Andrew Hines and his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team worked so diligently to return to prominence that it might be understandable for Hines to take a little time to enjoy the fruits of his labors after winning the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Pro Stock Motorcycle world championship.
But to hear Hines talk, the four-time PSM world champ and his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team are as motivated as ever to stay on top of the mountain as they were to once again reach the summit.
Hines will get a chance to show how hungry he and his team are as the Pro Stock Motorcycle class kicks off its 2015 season at the 46th annual AMALIE Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, March 12-15. It is the first of 16 races for the two-wheel category during 2015 and the tradition-rich drag race is the first opportunity for Hines to show he isn’t content with last year’s banner season.
“We’re absolutely just as motivated,” Hines said. “It’s a lot tougher because we performed so well last year and found the power we needed, but we’ll work hard to find that little extra horsepower. We’re trying to optimize and use the power we have. It’s also about trying to better ourselves for the future. It’s a constant process and there’s always stuff in the works. You always have to be on top of your game in this class or the whole field will pass you by.”
The biggest stars in the NHRA
The traditional East Coast opener on the Mello Yello Series circuit will feature the biggest stars in the NHRA. Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Steve Johnson (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will once again be televised on ESPN2.
A busy off-season, which included a trip to Africa to meet with members of the U.S. military, didn’t keep Hines and his crew from putting in ample work. That was the theme a year ago after Hines failed to qualify for the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship in 2013. The team made vast changes to the bike, discovered considerably more power through extensive work, and capped off 2014 with Hines’ championship.
He finished 2014 with six victories, including two in the Countdown playoffs, and eight final round appearances, while teammate Eddie Krawiec finished second in points and posted five victories. But with the bulls-eye firmly back on Hines, he isn’t fretting the challenge that awaits this season.
“I’ve been in this position before and honestly I felt more pressure to repeat earlier in my career,” Hines said. “I’ve learned to calm my mind down. My whole approach has been about being calm and it’s worked well. A big part of that is taking everything in stride and whatever happens yesterday is history.”
The challenge will be great as a talented class will be looking to knock Hines off his title perch. That includes Krawiec, defending Gainesville winner Steve Johnson, father and son duo Hector Arana Jr. and Hector Arana, three-time world champ Angelle Sampey, and husband and wife duo Matt and Angie Smith.
Opening at a track like Gainesville has a certain motivating factor as well, especially for Hines who hasn’t posted a win at the track since 2004.
“Gainesville obviously has a ton of history and I won my first national event there, but the cards just haven’t been aligned for me there since then,” Hines said. “It’s a big bike area and there’s a huge following down there, and to top it off, it’s one of the quickest tracks we’ll go to all year.”
A quick track means Hines and the rest of the class must be ready right off the trailer. That is where off-season preparation comes into play, as well as focus for the upcoming 16-race season. Those nervous butterflies also tell Hines he is ready to go.
“I’ve been doing this for 12 years and I’m nervous before the first run every year,” Hines said. “But once the bike fires up you fall right back into it and get right back into the same frame of mind. Gainesville is great because you’re going out there at the first event running some the quickest times you’ll have all year. It’s a great way to blow off the rust.”
In Top Fuel, Kalitta defeated Antron Brown in a thrilling final last season to claim his second Gatornationals victory. Kalitta is looking for a repeat performance in Gainesville but will face stiff competition from the likes of reigning world champ and the most recent event winner Tony Schumacher, Spencer Massey, 2014 rookie of the year Richie Crampton, three-time world champ Larry Dixon, AMALIE Motor Oil dragster driver and fan-favorite Terry McMillen, category newcomer Dave Connolly, second place points finisher J.R. Todd, Steve Torrence and Brittany Force.
Hight was the hero of Funny Car at Gainesville in 2014 defeating team owner John Force in the final. Courtney Force will try to become the first female Funny Car winner at the Gatornationals, but reigning world champ Matt Hagan has been red hot, winning the first two events of the year at the controls of his Mopar Dodge Charger R/T. Ron Capps, Tommy Johnson Jr., Del Worsham, three-time national event winner Alexis DeJoria and two-time world champ Cruz Pedregon, are all expected to be competitive in Gainesville as well.
Allen Johnson, the 2012 Pro Stock world champ, got the best of reigning world champ Erica Enders-Stevens in the final at Gainesville last season. Enders-Stevens, who was recently named RACER Magazine’s Racer of the Year, is looking for her first Gainesville victory while other top challengers include Winternationals winner and four-time Gatornationals winner Jason Line, Shane Gray, Greg Anderson, Vincent Nobile, Rodger Brogdon, who won the most recent event in Phoenix, rookie sensation Drew Skillman, Chris McGaha and Jonathan Gray.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful motorsports attraction on the planet. While visiting the pits, interactive NHRA Nitro Alley and the NHRA Manufacturers Midway, fans will also want to check out NHRA’s popular Hot Rod Junction presented by the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum that offers a spectacular display of many nostalgic dragsters, race cars and hot rods on display, including vintage machines that were driven by ‘Big Daddy’ Don Garlits, K.S. Pittman, Big John Mazmanian and Bruce Larson, among others. There will also be several NHRA Legends of Drag Racing autograph sessions, allowing fans the rare opportunity to meet drag racing stars of the past.
Pro qualifying begins on Friday, March 13, with sessions at noon and 3 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, March 14, also at noon and 3 p.m. Final eliminations will begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 15.
The 2015 AMALIE Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals will also feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series as well as showcase the season-opening race in the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series.