NHRA Racing Champ is Not Slowing Down
Photography Provided by Matt Polito/Racing Perspectives
In the 1970s, Byron Hines began racing with Terry Vance at a drag strip. They started riding each other’s motorcycles and Byron, who was mechanically inclined at a young age, figured out a way to make them run quite a bit faster. After working together at a motorcycle performance shop, in 1979 the friends founded Vance & Hines Exhaust Systems, which has become a permanent structure in the motorcycle industry. As a result, Byron’s sons, Andrew and Matt, grew up around the sport of drag racing.
“I’ve never known anything different – it’s ingrained in my DNA,” says Andrew Hines, who in the early 1980s spent his weekends tinkering on motorcycles with his dad.
In his youth, Hines rode motorcycles and dirt bikes but didn’t race initially.
“I’d hop on anything with an engine and wheels,” he says. “I liked figuring out how to go faster and ride harder.”
Hines quickly fell in love with the acceleration and agility that comes with riding a motorcycle.
“It’s unparalleled in a car,” says Hines, who notes that to be able to have complete control over something that’s not very heavy is exhilarating, since the power-to-weight ratio is extreme.
“You’d have to have a really high-horsepower car to match a motorcycle that can accelerate the way these things do,” Hines says. “Besides, you can’t do a wheelie in a car.”
In the early 1990s, Byron raced professionally in the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), receiving one win and the notable distinction of being the only man to ever win on a Yamaha motorcycle in the class. Hines’ older brother Matt raced from 1996 to 2002.
“In his era, Matt was the best racer-rider out there, with 30 national net wins and three championships,” says Hines, who began racing professionally in 2002.
In his 19-year career, Hines has amassed an impressive number of wins. He’s a six-time NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle champion with 56 national event wins.
Although Hines always loved bikes, he didn’t always have his heart set on a racing career. Growing up in Trinidad, Colorado, he excelled in the junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program in high school, where he was the top cadet commander.
“I was the command sergeant major my junior year, then switched to the officer side my senior year and became a battalion commander,” says Hines, who was also a top marksman.
All through school, he was torn between pursuing a military career and studying human anatomy. Ultimately, after graduating from high school in 2001, he chose to focus on the family business.
At the end of 2002, the Hines family decided it would be wise to move to Indiana.
“Most of the stuff we were relying on was Indy car-based technology, and we were sending so many parts to the Indy area,” Hines says.
There was the added benefit that two-thirds of the NHRA races are based in the Midwest.
“We did the math and saved 12,000 miles a year of driving on each of the vehicles,” Hines says. “Plus, we were back in the shop a day earlier on each end of the trip.”
A little over a decade ago, Hines was injured riding a motocross-style dirt bike when he came up short on a large jump and blew out both of his ankles.
“That was at a point in my career when I’d already won three championships, quite a few events and set multiple national records, so I got to thinking, ‘OK, what more do I have to prove? Do I still have a passion for doing this?’” Hines recalls. “I was feeling kind of burned out, but as soon as that injury happened, I was eager to do my next race. That told me that the passion was still there.”
A week and a half later, Hines was in Houston, Texas, where, despite the fact that he could barely walk, he won a race.
In this sport, if a racer hits the wall or crosses the center line, it’s a disqualification for that round, whether it’s a qualifying run or an elimination round. One of the most difficult factors in racing a Pro Stock motorcycle other than going 200 miles per hour is getting it to go from 200 back to zero. Early this summer, while in Norwalk, Ohio, Hines had trouble with his braking and suspensions and he ended up going into the sand trap (which is technically pea gravel).
“That was my first adventure down there,” Hines says. “I went in at 25 miles per hour and the bike kind of laid on its side. Physically, it was the softest landing I’d had.”
Hines and his wife Tanya, who have lived in Hendricks County since 2005, have three children – Rion, 20, Declan, 11, and Gigi, 4. The family enjoys living on the west side of Indy as it provides easy access to downtown as well as the airport, which is nice since Tanya works for Delta Air Lines. Plus, when they want a nice meal, there are ample restaurant options.
As for Hines’ future goals, they don’t really extend beyond his next race.
“That’s how I’ve always focused my career – forget about the long term and worry about the short term because the short term takes care of the long term,” he says.
As he astutely points out, drag racing doesn’t care about the last corner, like on a circle track. Drag racing is about the here and now.
“You’ve got one chance to get it right,” he says. “There is no next corner where you can make up for it, as you’re only on the vehicle for six or seven seconds. Though there are three Gs of acceleration, tire shake and vibration, and 200-mile-per-hour wind on your shoulder trying to rip you off the back of the motorcycle, 90% of [the sport] is mental.”
Hines, 38, plans to continue racing as long as he is physically capable and still having fun. He’s also started to pass the torch on to Declan, who began his own racing career when he was 7. In the drag-racing world there are half-scale dragsters that have engines from five to 40 horsepower, based upon the age group.
“We go out to Lucas Oil Raceway for testing and streetcar nights,” Hines says. “Declan participates in the Mid-West Drag Racing Series.”
In four years he has progressed through three different age groups, running first at 13.9 seconds. He switched to the next age group at age 8, dropping to 11.9 seconds, and again at age 10, dropping to 8.9 seconds.
“Declan loves speed, acceleration and noise,” Hines says. “After his second full run in the 8.9-second car, he was like, ‘This is slow.’ He’s definitely a product of me.”