This weekend’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event was called the NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, and the plan is to trim eliminations to three rounds.
But because a staging bulb failed to light in Hector Arana Sr.’s lane during the semifinals and officials permitted a “do-over,” Andrew Hines had to make four passes to claim his class-record-extending 50th victory Sunday at zMAX Dragway.
The drama just made his milestone victory all the more memorable. It was an uncertain start for the Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson Street Rod team, with Angele Sampey shutting off her engine early and finishing last in her Round 1 quad and Hines’ concern that “our bikes were a little off-pace from where they should’ve been.” However, it turned into what Hines called “a big, big day,” with teammate Eddie Krawiec earning the runner-up spot for an organization sweep.
Hines said winning for the 50th time was a “fantastic” feeling.
“It’s been a lot of different motorcycles over my career. I’ve probably ridden seven, eight, nine chassis over the years to achieve that feat. But the thing that has remained solid is my crew. They’ve been the same crew the entire time. That’s a testament to how good they’ve been over the years to keep the motorcycle right and keep my mind right. Without a crew that’s as phenomenal as they are, its really hard to win these races. Being able to celebrate with them and share that moment was pretty spectacular,” he said. “It’s something I’ll remember forever. And this Wally is going to sit on my mantle very proud, believe me.”
Hines, who has led the standings since winning at Gainesville, Fla., in the class’ season-opener, clocked an elapsed time of 6.831 seconds at 198.17 mph on the quarter-mile at Concord, N.C.
Krawiec was runner-up here five straight years (2013-17) – make that six now – and was seeking his first victory at this race, his first victory of the year, and his first victory since last August at Brainerd, Minn. Krawiec’s .032-second reaction time was quickest of the finalists’, but his 6.858, 197.68 performance wasn’t enough to catch Hines.
The money-round quartet featured the top three racers in the Pro Stock Motorcycle standings, with No. 2 Hector Arana Jr. and No. 3 Krawiec, along with first-time finalist Ryan Oehler.
Arana Jr., atop the Lucas Oil Buell, won the year’s other four-wide race, at Las Vegas earlier this month, emerging first from a quartet that included Krawiec and Hines, also, like Sunday. His 198.82-mph speed was the fastest among the Final Four, but his 6.908 was third-best.
Oehler, on his Flyin’ Ryan Racing/B&K Cylinder Heads Buell out of Bloomington, Ill., finished fourth at 6.959, 196.27.
The winners podium reflected seven professional and 11 total NHRA championships as five-timer Hines joined Steve Torrence (Top Fuel) and Shawn Langdon (Funny Car).
In what Hines called “the wacky round,” he said he was in Lane 2, “watching the tree flicker in Lane 3 [Arana Sr.’s lane]. I didn’t know what the heck was going on. I thought somebody over there in Lane 3 didn’t know where they were and [was] moving back and forth. The next thing you know we’re all staged. So I just turned the throttle before anybody else and the next thing you know, my red light comes on. I’m not sure exactly what the malfunction was. I’m sure they’ll explain it to us at a later date. That was an interesting deal, waiting around, thinking, ‘Are we going to get a rerun? Are we going to get a chance to do this? Are they happy with the results? What’s going to happen?’ I guess the decision came down to rerun it, so that’s never happened in my career that I know, for a motorcycle class.”
For the record, the power supply in that particular Christmas tree went bad, causing Hines to see the light flickering but Arana to see nothing from his side. That’s why Arana was trying whatever he could do to maneuver his bike and perhaps trigger the light to come on.
At the top end of the racetrack later, Hines said he was looking at some video of the incident which showed nothing lighting up for Arana. Hines said, “I started telling people, ‘No. There were lights coming on right and left. It looked like I was getting pulled over by the cops. There were blue lights flashing everywhere.” He said he even went across the [tech] scales again to make sure he was compliant in the case of a rerun. He and the others returned to the pits and were told, ‘We’re rerunning this thing in 45 minutes. Can you be ready?’ I said, ‘We’ll be ready in 30. Let’s get up there and do this thing again.’ Made up for it and went low E.T. in the ‘new’ second round. So that paid dividends for how my bike’s been working. It likes Lane 2. For some reason, Lane 2 has been kind to me over the years. I think I’ve won all but one of my Charlotte races from Lane 2.”
He said as he blasted down the track in the original semifinal that something wasn’t quite right.
Hines said he told himself, “My red light’s on, and I’m going down the track, thinking, ‘That doesn’t make sense. I saw the yellow turn on. I threw the clutch away. That wasn’t a red light, because the red bulb came on exactly with the yellows. It was very strange.’ It threw me for a loop.”
He said, “I’m not the greatest leaver in our class,” but he said for him a red light is “very rare.”
At that point, he said, “I just took it as it is. I rolled around the corner. People are talking. I’m like, ‘That’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened.’ You don’t know when you’re supposed to go. Should you back out of the beams? But if you back up, is everybody else going to stage and take advantage of actually going and you’re sitting there, the one unlucky duck on the starting line? I just took it as it came and waited for the word to go again. The bright side of that is you get one extra run for a tune-up.”
He said for the final round, “it didn’t really matter what the track conditions were. I was just going to go up to Lane 2. That’s where I was happy, where I was comfortable.
“For the final round, we all did our normal staging procedures, sat there, and I popped the clutch and I’m like, ‘Whew. I didn’t get all of that one.’ And I knew with Eddie being in Lane 1, he’s probably making a good run. I was tucked in, just thinking, ‘Eddie had better not drive around me.’ He’s been known to do that to a lot of people. Luckily I got there by one-hundredth [of a second],” Hines said.
The entire weekend was unpredictable, he said: “Not one of these days was similar to the others.”
Hines paid tribute to his crew, saying they persevered as race day grew hotter and consequently tougher: “We persevered in the heat. We persevered with the hot engines and hot motorcycle. Even in the first round of eliminations, had to get shut off, turned back on, restaged. There was no shortage of emotions flying through my head in every run up there in four-wide today.”
Emotions in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class began ramping up before eliminations even started. Public-address announcer Alan Reinhart mediated/refereed a debate between current champion Matt Smith and veteran racer Steve Johnson about their ongoing dispute that erupted after the NHRA adjusted weight rules for the sake of parity. Hines said, “It’s interesting from the outside. Those guys are definitely picking on each other quite hard. But it’s interesting points they both have, if you look at it from both sides. I just know we’re out here racing with Harley-Davidson. We’re a professional team. We’re going to go out there and do as best as we can for them. From our side of it, our full deal is racing is our life – for our entire crew. That’s what we do at Vance & Hines. We’re paid by Harley-Davidson to go out and do the best we can. So we just look at it and laugh at it and we just flush it out and go out and race.”
Once again, that has worked for Hines and Company.
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019