Interview with NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle Team Owner Byron Hines
Words by Gabrielle Stevenson – Photos by Matt Polito
In March 1987 Terry Vance rode up to the starting line at Gainesville Raceway. He was riding a Suzuki and Byron Hines was making the tuning calls. It was the first time the two-wheel category was a professional category after years of being a top sportsman draw. Vance and Hines were quick to make their names stand out. Vance ran an 8.092-second pass at 165.04 thereby setting the first NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle national record. It was the start of a decorated career for both Vance and Hines and they quickly became Vance & Hines Motorsports. Not only did the two join forces to create havoc on the race track, but they also started an exhaust pipe company that would soon be known worldwide. That national record set in 1987 would be the first of 24 that Hines has tuned with several NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle competitors so far. Since that ride in Gainesville, Hines has tuned three riders – Vance, older son Matt Hines and younger son Andrew Hines – to 14 national E.T. records and 10 national speed records. By the way, he’s tuned some victories as well. With original Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson factory rider GT Tonglet thrown into the mix, Byron Hines has tuned his riders to 63 national event victories in 90 final round appearances. Oh yeah, he also has five NHRA POWERade championships to his credit. Just for fun, you should know that he’s also claimed the No. 1 qualifying position 65 times.
The man behind all of those stats, however, couldn’t give you the numbers himself. The team owner and lead tuner for the two-bike Screamin’ Eagle/Vance & Hines Rod team is too busy trying to make the bikes go quicker while seeking a third consecutive title with the younger Hines. Byron Hines has never been one to brag, boast or make a fuss. Those are just a few reasons why the Screamin’ Eagle folks tabbed him to create a Harley-Davidson program from scratch. Now Hines and the rest of the Pro Stock Motorcycle class are preparing for their next event – the FRAM Autolite NHRA Nationals at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., July 28-30. In this Q&A session Hines talks about why he left his job at the U.S. Post Office to pursue racing, what his biggest challenge as a team leader continues to be and why he would have made a great doctor.
Q: What makes you tick as a person?
HINES: I enjoy the competition. I think I have a very competitive spirit in everything I do.
Q: What makes you tick as a tuner?
HINES: I want to have the fastest motorcycle on the track. I strive to be the best of the best at that time. That doesn’t always happen so that goal keeps bringing me back. I also have a great passion for the sport. I enjoy keeping up with the latest technology and that’s all part of what it takes to do this job well. Having an association with good people keeps you interested in the sport too. The people keep you involved.
Q: Have you ever considered retirement?
HINES: Sure, I think everyone does when you’ve been involved this long. But I want to finish out the Harley-Davidson program first. I want to continue this program with Harley-Davidson for as long as we are mutually happy and striving for similar goals. I also want to wait until the business we have is to the point where it can operate without me being in the shop everyday.
Q: Why did you choose racing?
HINES: I thought motorcycles were easy to work on, a lot easier than a car anyway. One person could manipulate a motorcycle and yet they were more of a high-performance vehicle at the time. They were all about performance. It was a natural fit for me. I always loved motorcycles
Q: Who encouraged you to start a racing career?
HINES: I just really wanted to race. I read the magazines and thought that was something I could do myself. I kept reading about what people were doing at Lyons Dragstrip back in the late 60s before I went into the service. When I was in the service (Army, during Vietnam) I told myself that when I got out, that was one of the things I was going to do. Three days after I got out of the military, I went out and bought a new 750 Honda. That was it. That was the real start of it. We had raced on smaller bikes before, but that Honda really started the pursuit of a racing career.
Q: Who were your role models growing up?
HINES: My grandpa, John Junk. He was such a hard worker. He was stern, but he was always an upstanding person in the community.
Q: What made you decide to give up riding the bike and focus just on tuning the bike?
HINES: I knew that the equipment was better than the rider at that point. Lots of guys won’t admit that but it was pretty obvious to me. I ran one calendar NHRA season (earned the victory at Topeka in 1992) and that was enough. I knew at that point when I had won just one race when the bike was capable of winning six that it was time to get off the bike. It’s pretty grueling. It’s a grind riding and building and tuning. I couldn’t make excuses on either side, so I had to make up for my deficiencies as a rider by tuning the bike better. I knew I had to hand that job over to someone else at some point.
Q: What made you choose Terry Vance?
HINES: Terry was obvious because he was energetic and he could really ride the bike. Terry always did well under pressure and he had goals in mind. All of that set him apart.
Q: What is the best thing about your hometown in Nebraska?
HINES: Laurel, Nebraska was where I was born, but I was raised in Coleridge, Nebraska. We were young when we left but I always remember farm life being tough but OK. We had a lot of fun out there. But it’s a lot of work. To be a farmer you have to be a self-starter. Someone could easily sit in the house and do the least amount of work to get by, but you have to be self-motivated in order to maximize crops. My grandfather lived in town and he was always active, always busy. I never saw him sitting around much.
Q: What does the Screamin’ Eagle team do better than any other team in NHRA competition?
HINES: The fact that we race Harley-Davidson and can represent a company that is No. 1 in its category (motorcycle manufacturer) makes us want to be received in the same manner when it comes to racing. It took a while for us to do what they wanted – become competitive, introduce a new product to motorcycle racing and more – but I think we’ve done a good job of it so far. I think we represent Harley-Davidson with a good image.
Q: What does this team need to improve?
HINES: Our communication is always a constant battle. We have so many people that all have competitive spirits and it’s difficult to communicate between each other at times. The team chemistry is as good as it can be. We have great people. Any team in the world can get along when you are winning races and doing well. But teams have a tendency to self-destruct when you are not doing well and don’t seem to be getting the breaks. That’s when overall team management has to be effective.
You have to show some leadership at those times and that comes down from myself, Terry and Matt. You can’t freak out when things aren’t going your way. You have to create a method and plan to correct the situation and then move forward. As long as you have a procedure in place, a team can get through anything. But if the leadership lacks direction and everyone doesn’t see the same direction, the team can get in trouble.
Q: What other jobs have you had in your lifetime?
HINES: I worked at the post office for a while. I was a mail carrier in high school. I realized quickly that wasn’t something I wanted to do. I worked at TV Guide at the printing facility for TV guide. I was worker and I just moved stuff around. It was a union kind of job. It was very interesting and a great environment. There is a lot that goes into processing that item and I liked that. I was a tool and dye maker at Dutch Fasteners. That was a very tedious but somewhat interesting job but I still knew that it wasn’t what I wanted to do for a lifetime. Every job I had I just saved enough for a motorcycle.
I also worked at RC Engineering in1971. I worked with Russ Collins and I’m pretty sure I was his first employee. He had a motorcycle shop and it was the very beginning of the high-performance motorcycle era. I did a lot of different jobs there from mounting tires, laying spoke wheels, tune-ups, basically whatever it took to make the customer happy. Russ had a really creative period in the 70s. At that time, no one had any formal training but everyone wanted high-performance parts and I had the unique opportunity to be part of that era.
I learned a lot from that job. I met Terry at the dragstrip probably six months after I went to work at RC Engineering. I would go to track on Wednesday nights and I kept running into him. I would race against him in bracket series and then Terry came to work at RC within a year of when I was there. He came in as the phone sales guy. He was just 18 or 19 years old and the next thing you know, he realized he had a knack for business. He was a shining star and Russ recognized that early.
Q: What would you be doing for a living if you weren’t a professional tuner and team owner?
HINES: I would have liked to been in the medical field. I think it would have been nice to be a specialist, something in the bio mechanics field or maybe an orthopedic surgeon. I have an interest in it but whether or not I would have had the ability is something I question, of course. I would have had the discipline to go to school, but I’m not sure I would have been able to stomach it, but it would have been an aspiration.
Q: What are your career goals and how can you ensure they will be accomplished? Why are you still out here competing?
HINES: I’m still out here because I have the desire to make the business a success. That’s very important to me. Whether we are working on Suzuki’s or Harley-Davidsons, I want to have a nice place to work with enthusiastic employees who really want to work here. I want the boys (Matt and Andrew) to learn from their experiences and I want them to enjoy what they do and turn out to be decent individuals.
I get a tremendous amount of help from influential people like Terry and the people from Harley-Davidson, enthusiastic people who have been on the team and helped start this project. Originally we were just a loosely knit bunch of guys building race engines. Then we stepped up to the plate and took on the concept of producing a finished product and that was really cool. We have at many times pushed beyond the point of what we thought was possible and what we thought we were capable of doing. Once you do that, it gives everyone self-confidence and that is a great thing to see. In order to reach your goals in a competitive arena, everyone has to not only understand what the goals are, but they must also believe those goals are possible and that’s a neat concept and something I work on building everyday.
Q: What do you do well as a tuner?
HINES: I don’t think there is any one particular thing. I look at the overall scheme of things see how everyone is doing. You have to know how to get the right people on your team and then you need to be able to appreciate their opinion. I think a good team leader knows when to intervene and when to let the other team members work out the issues. I try to pay attention to trends and know where performance is going and understand the global picture. I listen to the rider, understand what Matt, Scott (Scuerman, team mechanic) are saying and I think I know when to bring all those bits of information together.
Q: What do you do well as a team owner?
HINES: I try not to act like a team owner and stay involved with the projects from the ground level. That may not be the right way to approach it, but it seems like it is for us. The interaction between our team and Harley-Davidson for example, I believe, is very important. But we let Terry do all the talking because he’s the best one for that job. I think it’s important to be able to delegate specific tasks to the right people.
Q: What is your weakness as a team owner?
HINES: That will always be the way I handle some of the things that come with being a father to Matt and Andrew and dealing with Matt as a crew chief and Andrew as a rider. I know I can step in and really get on them and get in their face and they won’t quit. It does make it difficult having immediate relatives on the team. It can make the decision process more difficult.
Q: Did you ever imagine both of your sons would have championships so early in their careers?
HINES: I knew how tough it was out there because I raced myself. When Matt started racing, I was astounded at how well he did. We planned to run him for just three races because I figured he would get tired of it he wouldn’t want to do it any more than that. I had faith in him but I had no idea he would jump on that deal so quick and do as well as he did. He performed way better than anyone had anticipated. We went to three races and I knew right away we had to keep going. He really amazed me.
Meanwhile, the other kid was watching all of this, wondering if he could do the same thing. When Matt started, everyone was running in the 7.50s. When Andrew started racing, everyone was running in the teens already. He had a steeper learning curve and he had to get up to speed a lot quicker. But the technology was there to help him. I am still amazed that they both have done as well as they have. Matt probably amazed me the most because it came out of no where. I thought Andrew had to be at least as good as his older brother and he ended up being pretty darn good.
Q: What made you and Terry Vance such a good team?
HINES: He has a good grasp on the big picture and what is out there. With everything he does, not just motorcycle stuff but the business aspect as well, he has a really broad view of life. We trust each other and have been friends for a long time. We’ve been friends for more than 35 years.
Q: What will it take to remain competitive for a championship this season?
HINES: Main thing for the team is not to lose confidence. We have to continue to test and develop and find
some more power. We’re going to keep working on our combination, refine the combination and step outside the box a little and try to take a chance every now and then. It might lead to something bigger. The main thing is not to give up hope. When you get in those trenches it’s easy to throw in the towel. The rider has to believe 100 percent that they can win rounds even if the bike is not that good. He has to know that some days he has to carry the bike and some days the bike will carry him. We’re lucky because we have two great riders in GT Tonglet and Andrew and they both are capable of leading this team to round
wins on any given weekend.
Screamin’ Eagle Performance Parts are inspired by and built in the spirit of the raw adrenaline and power of motorcycle racing. Screamin’ Eagle Pro parts are specifically designed for race-use applications, while Screamin’ Eagle parts offer street-use performance options for the Harley-Davidson motorcycle owner. Visit www.harley-davidson.com
The Screamin’ Eagle/Vance & Hines Pro Stock Motorcycle team is sponsored by Ford Truck, Dunlop, Matco Tools and S100.