Short of finding the Golden Ticket in a Willie Wonka candy bar or sinking an oil well in the backyard of his Indianapolis home, there isn’t much that Andrew Hines could do to make his 2019 season more perfect. As far as his Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson Pro Stock Motorcycle is concerned, Hines has been just about perfect. Through the first nine races of the season, he’s got seven wins and a 29-2 record in elimination rounds. Hines also scored a $25,000 payday in the Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle in Sonoma. Both of Hines’ losses have been peculiar; his bike wouldn’t start before the final of the four-wide event in Las Vegas and then he spun the tire in the first round in Chicago, allowing Andie Rawlings to collect her first career round win. If not for those two miscues, Hines might well be flirting with a perfect season.
“It has been unreal for sure, especially after I went all last year and did not win a race,” said Hines. “I mean, it’s not like I was really bad last year. I went to five finals, but we just couldn’t finish the job. It was really just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Honestly, that describes this year as well. I don’t think we’ve been as dominant as our record makes interest t seem. I’ve just managed to avoid all the bad luck that we had last year. It seems like no matter what we do, the win light comes on and that’s a very comforting feeling. We’ve been consistent and our bikes have been quick, but mostly, I’ve just gotten the breaks when I needed them.”
In the interest of fair reporting, there are significant differences in the Vance & Hines came this season, not the least of which is the addition of a third rider, three-time champion Angelle Sampey, who joined Hines and longtime teammate Eddie Krawiec last winter. The team also debuted new chassis, and then switched to a new FXDR body work at mid-season but according to Hines, another change that was equally as important was the switch to the Motech M130 electronic fuel injection unit. Since his is also responsible for making most of the tuning calls on all three bikes, he had to learn to use the new system.
“That M130 is not new; a couple of guys out here have been using it for a couple of years,” said Hines. “We even had one that we used on the dyno a while back. We just couldn’t figure it out. It’s a more tunable system but at the time, I guess we were just stuck in our ways. It processes information more quickly than the system we were using and that’s really important in drag racing when you consider that each cylinder on our Harley V-twin first just 500 times on each quarter-mile run. You’ve got to make each ignition pulse count and we can do that with this system. I spent a lot of time learning how it works and how to best tune our bikes and it’s paid off event with Eddie’s bike. He hasn’t won a race yet, but he’s been to a lot of finals and we’re first and second in the point battle.”
When it comes to Sampey, Hines is quick to point out that she’s been an asset to the team since day one, even if her on-track results haven’t been on par with those of her teammates. The Harley-Davidson is quite a bit different from any of the other Pro Stock Motorcycles that Sampey has previously ridden, and there was an expected adjustment period. Sampey enters Indy as the ninth-ranked rider in the class, and she’s 50-points clear of 11th place Scotty Pollacheck, so her spot in the Countdown if far from secure.
“Angelle has been a great teammate,” said Hines. “She’s worked hard to adjust to our Harley-Davidsons and you can see how much progress she’s made. We haven’t always made things easy on her because at times, we’ve missed the set-up and maybe made the bike harder to ride than it should have been. Our biggest concern with bringing Angelle on board just our ability to run three bikes on a full-time basis. We needed to add manpower in order to make it work.”
With Hines in control of the tops spot in the standings, the inevitable question going forward becomes, on the eve of the Countdown and the start of NHRA’s oldest and most prestigious event, is he worried that he might have peaked too soon this year?
“Absolutely,” he answers without hesitation. “You’d hate to have a bad Countdown after all the races we’ve won this year and I’ve only won Indy twice [2012, 2016] I’d love to win it again. My biggest priority this weekend is to make sure Angelle stays in the top ten but of course I don’t want us to have any kind of a letdown. I don’t really feel much pressure right now. I mean, a little in the first round but by the time I win a round or two it’s all gone. We just need to keep doing what we’ve been doing and I think everything will be fine.”