NHRA's 50 greatest drivers: Terry Vance

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#35: TERRY VANCE

Long before Matt Hines and Angelle Savoie became the main attractions in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category, and even before the late Dave Schultz and John Myers fought the first of their many historic battles, Terry Vance was the undisputed ruler of motorcycle drag racing.

Vance and longtime partner and engine builder Byron Hines were the heart and soul of NHRA two-wheel racing for the better part of two decades, and few would argue that without their influence, there might not be a Pro Stock Motorcycle category today.

During his career, which lasted from the mid-1970s until his retirement in 1988, no one won more races or did more to promote the sport than Vance. Armed with equal amounts of talent, motivation, and desire, the Southern California native claimed 27 NHRA national event victories in Top Fuel Bike and Pro Stock Motorcycle, and his 101-21 career record in Pro Stock Motorcycle eliminations ranks among the sport's all-time best, regardless of class.

Vance was barely old enough to drive when he began racing his motorcycle at Lions Dragstrip in Southern California in the early 1970s. At Lions, Vance met Hines, who had just returned from a tour of duty in Vietnam. With Vance's riding talents and Hines' engine-building and tuning ability, they formed a virtually unbeatable combination. One of their first projects was a double-engine 750cc Honda that once won a remarkable 22 of 23 races in Top Gas. Burning gasoline, Vance's Honda held its own against some of the era's quicker Top Fuel bikes.

Vance entered the NHRA arena at a time when motorcycle drag racing was struggling to gain credibility on the crowded landscape. In the late 1970s, Top Fuel bikes began to gain popularity thanks to the efforts of riders like Elmer Trett, Bo O'Brochta, and Russ Collins. Vance and Hines built their own nitro-burning Suzuki, and on Aug. 2, 1984, Vance became the first motorcycle racer to record a six-second elapsed time with a 6.98 at Orange County Raceway in Southern California. Few individuals possess the talent or the nerve to manhandle a 1,000 horsepower Top Fuel motorcycle like Vance did, but he isn't afraid to admit that it often scared him. "I remember riding it, but as I get older, I wonder why I did," said Vance in a 1994 interview with National DRAGSTER. "When you're doing it, it's hard to explain - the emotional feeling, the adrenaline rush, the level of competition. I miss the feeling, but I don't miss the fear that it gave me. It's nice to have as a memory."

Vance and Hines worked for Top Fuel Bike racer Collins until 1980, when the dynamic duo decided to form their own company. Building custom exhaust systems and other motorcycle accessories, Vance and Hines accomplishments in the business world mirrored their success on the racetrack, and their company quickly grew into one of the world's largest aftermarket motorcycle companies. Vance parked the Top Fuel Bike in 1984 and devoted his efforts to the Pro Stock Motorcycle class. He capped his riding career by running the sport's first seven-second e.t., at the 1987 Chief Nationals in Dallas, and in 1988, he won four national events, including the Winston Finals, the last race of his career.

Unlike many professional athletes, Vance was able to walk away at the height of his career and never made another pass, and he did so with no regrets. More than a decade after he hung up his helmet, Vance looks today as if he could easily handle a modern 190-mph Pro Stock Motorcycle, but he has always resisted the temptation to make a comeback.

Vance, however, has remained a highly visible figure in motorsports. In addition to the Vance & Hines business, he operated a successful AMA Superbike team with Yamaha and later with the Italian Ducati brand. Rider Thomas Stevens won the AMA Superbike title in 1991, and Eddie Lawson rode a Vance & Hines Yamaha to a win in the Daytona 200 in 1993. Today, Vance is helping to guide the career of Hines' son, Matt, who has won three of the last four Winston Pro Stock Motorcycle titles on the Vance & Hines Eagle One Suzuki. He is also working to develop the new Vance & Hines Screamin' Eagle Pro Stock Harley-Davidson, which is schedule to debut later this year. "Byron and I knew from the very beginning that we wanted to be racers, and we wanted to gain respect by winning," said Vance. "But we also had a bigger plan: to have our business be in a very dominant position in the motorcycle market. Fortunately, we have achieved that. I don't miss the politics of racing, but I do miss the sheer fun of riding a motorcycle to the envelope of performance." NHRA's Top 50 Drivers will be unveiled on NHRA.com and through the pages of National DRAGSTER, in reverse order throughout the 2001 season, with a schedule leading up to the naming of the top driver at the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals at Pomona Raceway on Nov. 11. As NHRA celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2001, it has emerged as one of the most popular spectator sports, highlighted by a $50 million, 24-event, nationally televised tour. The NHRA has developed into the world's largest motorsports sanctioning body, with more than 80,000 members nationwide, and more than 140 member tracks.

<pre> NHRA's 50 GREATEST DRIVERS 50. Elmer Trett 49. Richard Tharp 48. Malcolm Durham 47. Billy Meyer 46. Ken Veney 45. Scotty Richardson 44. Dave Schultz 43. Frank Hawley 42. David Rampy 41. John Mulligan 40. Frank Manzo 39. Danny Ongais 38. James Warren 37. Edmond Richardson 36. Blaine Johnson 35. Terry Vance

-NHRA

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Series NHRA
Drivers Matt Hines , Frank Manzo , Danny Ongais , Eddie Lawson , David Rampy , Frank Hawley