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Hines Won But Lost In Pro Bike Finals In Texas

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 23 2014

Andrew Hines headed down the track slowly and alone in the Pro Stock Motorcycle finals at the Texas Motorplex. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

ENNIS, Texas – Andrew Hines exited Texas Motorplex Sunday fully aware his latest Pro Stock Motorcycle victory likely is being viewed as a classic no-win situation in the court of two-wheel opinion.

Hines won the final of the 29th annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals via a solo run when opponent Steve Johnson failed to get to the starting line in time following a major engine thrash. To fans lining the fences and in the grandstands on both sides of The Plex, it might have looked like Hines and the factory-backed Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team were beating up on owner/rider Johnson and his privateer 2003 Suzuki TL.

“It’s like the old saying, there’s no bad wins lights,” said Hines, a three-time PSM world champion. “But there’s no good way around this one. We’re going to look like the bad guys no matter what. I mean, us Harley guys…there’s a lot of pros, a lot of cons.”

Hines notched his first win on Billy Meyer’s famed all-concrete quarter-mile, class-leading fifth of the season and 37th of his career with a pass of 7.571-seconds at 186.54 mph aboard a 2014 V-Rod that blew its transmission during a gear change.

“Yeah, if Steve would have been there, more than likely you’d be talking to him (as event champion),” Hines said in the Motorplex’s press box, approximately 20 minutes after Johnson had delivered his version of the events. “It was rattling so hard in first gear, shaking the tire, I pushed the button for second and it went straight to fifth. Something annihilated itself inside the transmission.

“I’ve never had that experience before. Usually you push the button to go to third and it goes to fifth, because in our transmission third gear drives fifth. So if third goes away fifth becomes an active gear. That one, I don’t know…it went first-to-fifth and I did the stupid thing and stayed in it.”

Pro Stock Bike was scheduled to lead-off the four professional class finals at 4 p.m., when the track’s temperature registered a blistering 139 degrees. Hines rolled from under the shade of the The Plex’s stadium-style tunnel into the staging lane on-time. Johnson, meanwhile, was nowhere in-sight.

“We were suited, we were ready to go. But it started with me,” said Johnson, who arrived about a minute after Hines was instructed by NHRA starter Mark Lyle to go solo. “If I had been on-time, none of this would have happened.”

With the victory, Hines overtook H-D teammate Eddie Krawiec after two rounds of NHRA’s six-race Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship. Krawiec had entered Sunday’s race with a 23-point lead over Hines after defeating Johnson in a stout side-by-side final of the problem-plagued and re-routed seventh annual Pep Boys NHRA Carolina Nationals here Saturday afternoon. Krawiec scored his third consecutive victory in 6.888-seconds at 193.49 mph, while Johnson ran 6.917-seconds at 193.29 mph.

The No. 1 qualifier for the Texas event, Krawiec’s Sunday ended with an upset, first-round starting line loss to Fred Camarena and his 1998 Suzuki GSXR.

Johnson defeated two-time/reigning world champion Matt Smith and his 2011 Buell XB9R in their Sunday semifinal while Hines trailered Scotty Pollacheck and his 2010 Buell XB12R. But Johnson’s win came at the expense of a detonated engine.

“It was $25,000-worth of catastrophic engine explosion,” said Johnson, 53-year-old owner of Alabama-based Steve Johnson Racing. “I don’t even know what it was. I have two A engines and then I have a B. One of my A engines blew up and what’s ironic is that in the first round our main A engine, in which we went to the finals Saturday, it had a problem with the transmission. So we took that out and put our other engine in as a backup.

“I had no idea that other engine was going to blow-up, none. I mean, I would have bet $25,000 that it would have lasted the rest of the race. I was licking my chops.”

Johnson said he had volunteer help from fellow-Suzuki riders LE Tonglet, the 2010 world champion whom he had defeated in Sunday’s first-round match, and Jerry Savoie in trying to piece together an engine worthy of the final.

“We’re kind of a lower-funded team and we never broke so many parts in one race,” said Johnson, whose bike is tuned by crew chief Tim Kulungian. “So we were matching parts up with other engines and we had literally three teams helping us do it. And Larry Dixon – three-time Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon – he’s holding the bolts and I’m picking them out of his hands. I said, ‘Are these the right bolts?’ He said, ‘I don’t know – these are the ones you gave me.’ He was in there getting oily and stuff. That was really, really cool.

“And the great thing about it was the Harley bike broke. It’s not a knock against them, that’s racing. But the point is it went a 7.50 or something like that. If I would have known that, I would have put in our B engine. I wanted to go tear their throats out. I wanted to win. I wanted to have the performance we had all weekend long. That’s what the guys work for.

“Obviously, you don’t know that the Harley is not going to go through all of its gears, so if I would have put the other engine in, my B engine, we would have won the race. Because we wouldn’t have had to split (engine) cases and put transmission from engine A into engine C, that kind of stuff.”

Hines, meanwhile, was keeping track of the mad scramble going on in Johnson’s pit area. “I don’t even know if they put that bike back together 100 percent,” said Hines, a 31-year-old resident of Brownsburg, Ind. “It looked like they put the body on it with a lot of parts missing. So who knows what would have happened if he made it up there?”

Hines does know, however, that he gave Johnson every sporting chance to roll into the burnout box and up to the Christmas Tree. “I never saw Steve,” said Hines, whose V-Rod is tuned by brother Matt, a three-time PSM world champion. “I sat there eight-nine extra minutes, something like that. Mark Lyle was holding me and finally, once he waves up you, you’ve got to go.”

But Johnson, who has maintained a loyal following as perennial underdog since making his NHRA debut in 1992, countered that the sponsors supporting NHRA and the fans deserved a better show.

“The fans buy tickets and the fans are here to see racing,” said Johnson, who won the 2014 season -opener at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, Fla., and is a two-time champion of the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals near Indianapolis. “And as much as I love NHRA and stuff there’s lots of things I don’t agree with. But I’m not going to trash them because they’re family to me, whether they like me as kin or not.

“Hey, this (Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex) is a big Harley town but there are tons and tons of Suzuki fans. And we’re the only Suzuki in the top- 10. It was clearly David and Goliath and, unfortunately, it didn’t unfold.”

Johnson spent several minutes after Hines made his run talking to three-time world champion Krawiec and members of the Vance & Hines crew in back of the staging lanes. “Eddie said, ‘Hey, we waited as long as we could until NHRA told us to start-up and go.’ I appreciated that,” said Johnson, who has six career PSM victories in 14 final-round appearances. “You couldn’t ask anything more from a competitor.

“Those (H-D) guys, they have lots of resources and tons and tons of talent. And to throw in sportsmanship on top of it _ that makes them a class act, you know? As corny as it is, I’m calling them great sportsmen. Yeah, they really did wait.”

Hines said he understood why Johnson was drag-ass tired and ticked-off on several levels. “But what am I going to do?” Hines said, rhetorically. “I went up there, I did my normal deal. We’re supposed to run behind Alcohol Funny Car and Dragster. I get ready and I sat there in my leathers for nine extra minutes. I even took my time rolling in the (burnout box) water. They told me to start it; they told me to start it a second time.”

Hines will take a 45-point (2,302-2,257)/two-round-plus lead over Krawiec into Race 3 of the Countdown, the third annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill., near St. Louis, Friday through Sunday. Johnson, who was fourth in points after the conclusion of the Carolina Nationals here Saturday, now is third, 104 points/five-plus rounds behind Hines.

“It probably makes Steve feel worse that my bike went out there and did that (broke a tranny). I guess it was fate,” Hines said. “I’m happy for our guys. But it’s just a bad deal all the way around.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 23 2014
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