Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson teammates Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines, who are battling one another for the 2012 NHRA Full Throttle Pro Stock Motorcycle championship, took part in a recent national teleconference to discuss the title race.
Krawiec, a two-time world champion, is the points leader by just 17 over Hines, a three-time champion, on the strength of his career-best seven wins during the season. Hines has five wins this season to go with four runner-up finishes.
Q: Eddie, talk about the season to date and the amount of success you've had with your specific team.
Krawiec: Well, to be 100 percent honest, Andrew is part of my team. We sort of share, let's just say, crew chiefs would be the first thing. Second of all, we both share our knowledge on each other's motorcycles. It's a continuing group effort.
We have five guys on our team. We all work hard, and we all have one common goal, and that is to win whatever race we go to. You know, I never thought in the beginning of the season as it started, obviously went to Gainesville, and man, came out like gangbusters, set the national record with a 6.75, went 200 miles an hour in testing, really couldn't have asked for a better opener. I've been fortunate enough to win that event three years in a row, and it's just been really good to me. Went rolling on into Houston, Andrew won; Commerce, it was going back and forth; and then finally I got to win my hometown event at Englishtown. For me, that was like the icing on the cake for the season. I almost could have ended my career right there. It was perfect for me.
Moving forward, we continued to run really well and do really good. You know, it was unfortunate that we got hit with weight penalties two or three times, and that's what NHRA felt needs to be done to continue to make a competitive field and to do the best they can to make it parity wise. Andrew and I got a little down after the second time going into Dallas, but we tried to rise from the top and rise back to the top I should say, and make it better. Our common goal, like I said, to go to every single race and win it. I don't think you'd find any racer that says they don't expect to win a race or they don't feel they have a shot because I think if that's the way that you feel, you technically shouldn't even go to the race. I think it's just more of a momentum thing when you have it behind you, everything gets rolling, and it really helps out for the next race. And that's what our Screamin' Eagle team has been doing all year long.
Q: Andrew, same question to you.
Hines: Well, my year has been more of an up-and-down roller-coaster-type year. We came out and tested really well just like Eddie did in Valdosta [Ga.] and went into Gainesville and ended up being runner-up to him at that race. As far as a team standpoint, it doesn't get much better than putting both bikes in the final round. Moving on after that, winning Houston for my third year in a row was a big deal for me, not just because it was the third year in a row, but it was my first win of the season, and I've been chasing the elusive NHRA silver Wally at these 25th anniversary races for a long time, and I've missed out on a few of them, so it was nice to finally get the silver one on my bench there. That was big. And then shortly after that, we started struggling with the performance of my V-Rod, and we went into Atlanta, and I was down seven-, eight-hundredths to Eddie, and we just couldn't figure out what the problem was.
The bike wouldn't accept any kind of tune-up, and we went back to the shop, and I studied the data log for a few nights, just taking it home, looking at it at the shop every day, and made the ultimate decision after Englishtown to rewire the bike, and then shortly after that, we went testing and moved into Chicago and Norwalk, which were two really hot races, and that's where my season really turned around. We benefitted a lot with rewiring that bike and then testing in the hot, humid weather out in Indy, and we rolled that into racing at Chicago and Norwalk. Running those races with a totally different approach, doing stuff that we hadn't typically done in the past, and those races last year, I barely qualified for those two, and I went out in the first round both races last year in 2011.
So I came in this year, and I turned that completely around 180 and won both events. And then it was just a battle back and forth between Eddie and myself to see who can get those Wallys on Sunday. Every time we rolled into the final round or into the winner's circle at the end of the day, we'd just shake our heads and couldn't believe the season we're having. We never expected anything like this. It's something you always dream of, but to actually be experiencing it was quite the deal. Moving on from there, winning Indy and Charlotte to close out our perfect regular season and then start the Countdown with a win was huge, and as far as myself getting that win against Eddie in Charlotte was a big deal because that was a 20-point swing either way. He entered the Countdown as the No. 1 bike, and he had the extra 20 bonus points associated with that. It was a big deal to get that win late in the final round of Charlotte. That was one track I had never won at, and that moved me 20 points closer. I would have been 50 back going into Dallas, and turned out it was only 10.
As for right now, it's come down to the wire. We have two races left excluding the final that Eddie and I have to run out in Vegas for the Reading final. That will be 20 points more that's going to be on the line, and luckily, I was able to sneak out at Reading with the national record. Luckily, I've had a lot of points coming my way lately, and this was ultimately what we wanted. When we finished last season with Eddie winning the championship, myself finishing third, we were walking back from the pressroom, and we said, the only way we can do better than this is to finish 1-2. It's what we wanted. I say we expect it because we expect to go out there and win every race we leave for, but hopefully one of the V-Rods is in the winner's circle. Luckily, we're sitting in this position right now, and it's a good life so far.
Q: With having added weight to the bikes this season, how did it change the way you rode the bike, and did you guys think you would be able to overcome it as quickly as you did?
Krawiec: They added 20 pounds to us after Gainesville, and then they added another 10 pounds to us after Charlotte. The first 20, really it affected performance, slowed us down somewhere in the neighborhood of about three-hundredths, which obviously brought competition back a little tighter because from there on out, we were sort of fighting with the Hectors (Arana Jr. and Arana Sr.) as a constant battle for the 1 through 4 spots. It was getting shuffled around throughout the whole season.
Going into Charlotte, we won the race, ran well, we weren't low e.t., we weren't No. 1 qualifiers necessarily all during qualifying, and stuff like that. Came into race day, had great motorcycles and worked on our setup, and Andrew and I as riders did a great job, and we were able to win that race. And then we get hit with another 10 pounds. So moving forward with that, our option is to either sit back and complain about it or move forward and continue to do the best and move on, and that's what we did after each one.
This second 10 pounds that we got hit with, it's been pretty difficult. You know, it definitely did change characteristics. It seems to work pretty good on Andrew's bike, but my bike is struggling now for the first 60 feet. I don't know, we're going to have to probably move some weight around or play around with the tune-up a little bit just to see, but we haven't found the sweet spot yet, and we're going to go into those final two races trying to find it. It's not going to make us not work any harder because I feel that's what you have to do. When things are down, you need to pull together and move forward, and that's what we did during it.
Q: With the new engine package that's coming, what do you guys anticipate next season looking like?
Hines: Next season is definitely going to be different. We used to run two-valve bikes from 2002 through 2008, so we have experience with working on those engines. We're just not quite certain exactly what steps we need to take right now. A lot of competitors have been saying, "Oh, well, they probably still have their old motors, and they're probably still dynoing those things and probably making more power with that bike than the current bike." There's all kinds of keyboard jockeys out there saying whatever they want. But that's not in our interest. We're not out here trying to design two motors at the same time. We're going to have to jump back in the fire here in the next month or so, shortly, right after Vegas and Pomona, and try and get some stuff pounded out of our machine shop so we'll have something to race starting in Gainesville next year.
Q: Eddie, you've got two championships, and over the years, champions have a tendency to say you think the first one is hard, and then the next one is really hard. Do you feel that way? And also, what will be your expectations about getting a third championship?
Krawiec: Well, to be honest, the first one was really hard because I did it without even getting a win. When I reflect back to that one, I just still shake my head. I still can't believe it. It was a crazy year just by the way everything went. The championship that got away from me in '09 was really the hardest one for me to take, you know, because I had a phenomenal season, nine final rounds in a row, 10 total that year, and man, I was just on a streak. At the end of the day, I lost it to Hector Arana [Sr.] by two points. It stung a little bit. It hurt. And I went out there and did the best I could this last year. I went through a little bit of a riding struggle as I'd like to say, where you start putting unnecessary pressure on yourself.
You know, this sport is 90 percent mental. As a driver, you know how to perform, especially as a championship-winning driver. You know. You know what you need to do. But somehow or another, you tend to stray from that. And when things aren't going well, you start looking and digging in other directions that the answers are not at. The answers are always with yourself, and you need to physically focus on it and say, "I know what I need to do, just concentrate, go up there, hit the Tree and do my job," and you'll get win lights.
Sometimes you can have luck on your side, and other times, you can't buy any luck. But we have been fortunate this year. I have been, also. I've had a couple lucky rounds. I've had a couple rounds where I was good and needed to be good to get the win. I've just really focused and tried, let's just say, riding better or racing better, because I know I can ride the bike, get it from A to B down the track. Sometimes you falter on race day. I gave up a couple round-wins this year, races on my own loss because I didn't hit the Tree the way I should have, and that's what I've really been concentrating on and focusing on for myself. This championship hunt for me, between Andrew and I, it's great. We've never gotten down to the point where it's just been me and him battling. That looks like what's going to happen. Me and him are both very competitive racers as well as good friends, and you know, there isn't anybody that I'd rather have in that position with me where we're fighting for it than Andrew because I think we both make each other do better, and you're going to see some killer racing, I believe, between me and him in these final two races.
Q: Andrew, can you compare your past championships to the intensity of this one?
Hines: Well, my past championships are definitely different than this one. You know, in '06, I did battle GT [Tonglet], who was my teammate at the time, for the championship, and the only difference is we both had, I think, two race wins throughout the entire year each. This year, with having so many race wins, it's a totally different outlook because you're racing against the other best bike.
Back in '06, there were so many bikes that had won all the races that it was up for grabs, and it was close down to the wire, neck and neck. That was before the Countdown, so everything was totally different than it is now. This new Countdown scenario throws a whole different wrench into your plans. I got close to winning the championship in 2007 and 2010. I think I finished both of those seasons less than 10 points out of first place. Those really sting. Those are a few that I'd definitely like to have back.
But coming down to these last few races, racing for the championship, it really doesn't get much better than this because it's all ultimately going to come down to putting another championship under Harley-Davidson's name. We're the riders that are fortunate enough to be sitting on top of these bikes, and it's a great position to be in. We've had such a great relationship with the motor company for 11 years now that it's really amazing to me to see how far we've come with the motor company in the past decade. Ultimately, getting another championship for them is what we're paid to do, and luckily, we've got to that position, and everything so far has worked out really well for us. Now I'd like to get No. 4. That's something big. I think the only person that has more than three is Dave Schultz. I think he had six. Right now, I'm tied with my brother, Matt, Angelle [Sampey], and John Myers. If I can get four, that would just be another notch in the belt, which would be something very phenomenal.
Q: Eddie what is your opinion on qualifying points and possibly or probably in this year making the difference between you and possibly a championship?
Krawiec: Those "little" points sometimes can separate certain positions of where you're going to end up. A lot of people think you sandbagged during qualifying or you're holding back. Well, I'll tell you what: When there's qualifying points on the line, you have no reason to hold back because you need to get every single point you can. I knew when my crew chief, Matt, came to pick me up in Pomona in '09 up on top end after my No. 4 qualifying run and I blew the tire away, I told him right there that was the championship. And, needless to say, nobody really thought that was 100 percent the truth, but Hector just needed to go to second round basically to solidify it. He ended up doing that, and I would have had to set the national record, and it wasn't going to happen. So he ended up getting the championship.
I think it makes for great, interesting racing. It gives all the competitors the reason to come out and want to do good. We're a very strong team off the trailer. We have been this whole entire season. And it seems like as the weekend goes on, the other guys tend to catch up because usually by Saturday morning, you end up seeing the No. 1 qualifying shuffle, as we like to call it. You stand there and you say, "OK, Hector is probably going to knock out a run here or somebody else is probably going to knock out a run," and they do and then pass you. It adds a little bit of drama, and it adds a little bit of interest. But all in all, I think it's a good little way to get some extra points, and at the end of the day, it can make or break your whole season, that one little point.
Q: I often see the phrase "factory-backed Harley-Davidson" used in relation to the Vance & Hines team, and I think the perception is you guys have unlimited money, unlimited parts, whatever you want. Can you guys put a handle on exactly how much help you get from HD?
Hines: We are a factory-backed team. It's not quite as factory-backed as you would call like an AMA super bike team or flat-track team where say the factory is actually building the motorcycles and supplying you horsepower and all these parts and everything. We get a lot of our help from the engineers at Harley-Davidson at the product development center. They've helped us many, many times by bringing data-logging equipment and sensors and all kinds of stuff, hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of equipment into our dyno facility to help us find horsepower, optimize port shapes, optimize exhaust pipeline sizes, things like that. So we get factory support from all the engineering and all the logistics that happen.
Luckily, Harley-Davidson has a great midway up at NHRA Nitro Alley there, also, so we get just all the engineering help, I guess that's how we figure we're a factory-backed team. We are sponsored by the motor company, which is different from a lot of other teams out there that are supported or just have little stickers on the back. We are the flagship motorcycle sport at the Harley-Davidson factory.
Q: We head to Las Vegas next. Eddie, as the defending winner there, Andrew has the most wins in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category there, is it good to be going back to a track where you've had such great success?
Krawiec: Absolutely. You know, for me maybe not so much because Andrew has had so much success there, but it's definitely going to be an interesting weekend. I look forward to it. You know, I've been fortunate enough to be able to say, from that point last year was when the Harley dominance really started. We went to the final in Phoenix, and then we debuted our new exhaust system, our two-into-one exhaust. That was one of our goals. If we could have really made it to this point being an undefeated team, and it's unfortunate we lost at Dallas, people did say or think that we threw the race, and we said, “Well, we've won every race up to that point, so why would we throw one now?” but for us, we're moving into the final two races of the year, and I know Andrew is excited, and I know I'm excited. We're looking forward to it. I have a great track record at Pomona; he has a great track record in Vegas. I am thinking these last two races are going to be really interesting, and it would be awesome to be in two more all-Harley-Davidson finals.
Hines: Going to Vegas this year is definitely high on our list. It's something I'm really looking forward to, especially since we get to run the remainder of our Reading national event at that race. We just clarified with [NHRA Senior VIce President-Racing Operations] Graham Light that we're going to race for the Reading trophy in the fourth qualifier in Las Vegas. I do have a really good track record at that event. I'm not sure why. Vegas was never really my favorite place for the first four or five years of my career. But not long after that, I started winning there fairly regularly. It was nice to go back to that event every year, and standing in that Vegas winner's circle and getting to go hang out with the guys at night at casinos and having good meals after the win was something we always looked forward to, and luckily we were able to pull it off a few times.
I was the runner-up there last year to Eddie and then went on to Pomona and was able to win the final against Eddie there. We're still riding that wave from this time last year, and each one of us needs to do everything we can to try and take out the other guy. It's going to be some serious competition, and Eddie mentioned last week when we were on our radio show that the pit area is probably going to be a little quiet come time between Q3 and Q4 in Vegas, and odds are that's going to be the case. I know with Matt, too, and the bikes they're both going to have the best shot at it. Just going to go from there and ultimately one of these V-Rods should have a No. 1 on it next year.
For tickets for the 12th annual Big O Tires NHRA Nationals, call The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, 800-644-4444, or log on to www.lvms.com.