11-29-06-stock.jpg Over the course of the next two weeks, Torco's will feature the world champions of both the NHRA and IHRA. Senior writer Susan Wade delves into the behind-the-scenes stories that made each one of these champions the best in the their respective games during the 2006 season.

Our second installment features the NHRA Pro Stock champions - Jason Line and Andrew Hines. 

Line walks the line to his first championship 





Jason Line had tried for several years to put drag racing from his mind. But he knew he wouldn't -- couldn't -- forget the perspective he got in 2003 at National Trail Raceway near Columbus, Ohio.

DSD_2899.jpg The Wright, Minnesota, native had gone to the drag strip with dad Lawrence and mom Maxine when he was a youngster, and he went on to become the National Hot Rod Association's 1993 Stock Eliminator champion. But that night in Central Ohio, he saw drag racing from a completely new angle -- upside down.

It was an embarrassing introduction to the Pro Stock big-time, but it taught Line more than the obvious lesson of keeping the tires on the asphalt. It showed him what kind of an individual his new boss, Greg Anderson, is.

"We grew up not more than 45 miles apart, but I never knew Greg," Line said. Anderson had heard of him, though. Line had been the engine specialist for Joe Gibbs Racing and had been part of Bobby Labonte's and Tony Stewart's NASCAR championships. And that type of expertise is what Anderson knew would benefit his ambitious young program.

"We had the same direction, the same goals: to win races and win championships," Line said.

The stock-car racing refugee delivered, helping Anderson to three straight Powerade Pro Stock championships. In the meantime, Anderson delivered, keeping his word to Line.

"Greg brought me on board with the promise of an opportunity to drive a second car. He kept that promise. So thank you, Greg," Line said. "Without him, I wouldn't be standing up here."


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line-championshipDSD_6530.jpg "Up here" was the stage at Rancho Mirage, California, on which Line accepted $200,000 for ending Anderson's streak but keeping the Pro Stock title in the KB Racing LLC/Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac stable.

Anderson, who finished second in the standings to Line, called himself "a proud papa," unselfishly celebrating his protégé's success, even if it did come at his expense.

But Line might have been the proudest papa of all. Son Jack Vincent Line, born on the eve of the start of this banner season, gave him yet another way of looking at drag racing.

"All the championships in the world really mean nothing, compared to the joy of becoming a father for the first time," Jason Line said. "Thank you, Jack, for giving me a fresh perspective."

Jason Line gave everyone a fresh perspective of the Pro Stock class in 2006. The NHRA's factory hot rod division always has had its share of incredibly capable drivers, yet only a few truly dominated: Bob Glidden, Lee Shepherd, Warren Johnson, and Greg Anderson. And the drag-racing world had just settled into the mindset that Anderson was in his Glidden-like groove.

Then Jason Line came along and by mid-season at Denver startled Anderson by beating him in the semifinals at Bandimere Speedway and seizing the points lead, which he never relinquished.


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lineDSD_0177.jpg Line's defeat of Anderson in the final round at Bristol in April simply had been an indication of the way their dynamics would work this year. He beat his boss in the semifinals at Richmond and the fall Las Vegas race. By the time Anderson got the upper hand in the final round of the season finale at Pomona, Line already had clinched the championship.

"We raced each other heads-up. That's something everybody respects," Line said.

"I got knocked around pretty good this year. Jason had a fantastic year, and I had a good year," Anderson said. "But still, head-to-head, he mopped me up. He used me up like a spare tire."

Line took his place on the awards-ceremony stage and alongside the Pro Stock legends with four victories in nine final rounds. He qualified No. 3 or better in all but five of 23 races. And he went to the semifinals or better in but three times since the mid-June stop at Englishtown, New Jersey. He punctuated the season by leading the field in the NHRA Finals in November and setting both ends of the Auto Club Raceway record in the first round of eliminations with a pass of 6.634 seconds at 208.68 mph.

"It's quite humbling," Line said. "It's very strange to be up her and have my name mentioned with the other champions."

He certainly earned it, and he certainly deserved it. But Line didn't dominate like Anderson had. A testament to Pro Stock's parity was the fact that Line lost to a long list of competitors throughout the year: Larry Morgan, Warren Johnson, Mike Edwards, Kurt Johnson, Dave Connolly, Jim Yates, Richie Stevens, Allen Johnson, Max Naylor, and Greg Stanfield.

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Whether the team will earn its fifth straight Pro Stock title in 2007 hinges in part who will replace Jeff Perley, Rob Downing's co-crew chief who resigned at the end of the year for family reasons to become owner of a Goodyear Tire and Service Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. But the machine-like crew includes Line, who tunes Anderson's car as well as his own.

Line quipped, "I only work on the engine. They don't let me work on the complicated stuff."

But he said, "I call [NASCAR Nextel] Cup a chassis sport, not a motor sport. The engine's obviously important, but here [in drag racing], at least when you make a power gain, it definitely shows up on the race track. The big deal is getting power to the ground."

He said, "A lot of guys out here make good power. Just not everybody gets it to the ground as well as the next guy. That's why the crew chiefs are very important, for sure."

Although Line said winning the championship "isn't a life-changing experience" in the grand scheme of history, he did say that it "is probably the best thing that has happened to me in racing and the most fun I've had since starting Pro Stock. I'm proud of this team and everyone on it. They are a dedicated bunch of guys. I couldn't be happier. Cindy and I having our son, Jack, and winning the championship the same year has been awesome for me. I don't know what I can do as an encore."

It depends on his perspective.




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 Three-peating Hines Comes From Behind For Pro Stock Titles




Andrew Hines didn't freak out.

He's not the freak-out kind. Oh, he's young, just 23, but he's one smart cookie, calm in the face of rules changes that adversely affected his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team, patient through the early triumphs of the U.S. Army Suzuki tandem of Angelle Sampey and Antron Brown, and confident in the support from his father and brother and the entire crew.

DSD_2892.jpg In a Pro Stock Motorcycle battle that didn't end until Brown lost in the second round, Hines claimed his third Powerade Drag Racing Series championship by just 23 points. He joined older brother Matt and Sampey in claiming three consecutive crowns.

It might sound odd to talk about the youngest Hines' experience. He's husband to Tanya and father to son Rion, but he looks boyish enough to be the high-school quarterback or the kid who bags your groceries at Kroger's. But experience -- especially Andrew's -- is what dad Byron, tuner extraordinaire, focused on.

"There were times when Andrew carried the team," he said. " There were a couple of times when the bike was struggling and Andrew did a great job as a rider and helped us maintain our point position while we worked out the kinks in the set-up."

The Harley-Davidson team, which had wielded a wicked 1-2 punch with Andrew Hines and GT Tonglet, lumbered through the first part of the season, adjusting to new rules that empowered the Suzuki riders at the expense of the V-Rods. Sampey exploded out of the gate, winning three of the first four events while Brown grabbed the other. But Andrew Hines kept his eyes on that $50,000 championship payoff and a place in the history book alongside the brother he so admires.

"The Suzukis were dominating the competition," Byron Hines said, "and we all thought we were going to be in for a long, difficult season. For a while there, it didn't look good for our team. Our team stumbled a bit at the beginning, but we came back. And that's pretty cool. Andrew rode so consistently that he kept us in second place. He kept us in the hunt while we found our feet again and got a competitive combination back."



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hinesDSD_6674.jpg Both Byron and Andrew Hines give a tremendous amount of credit to Matt Hines, the three-time champion who waged equally persevering battles with Sampey in his time.

"Watching Matt was a great way to spend my childhood," the reigning champion said. "I never wrenched on his bike the way he does mine, but being able to follow in his footsteps means a lot to me. Matt is always helping me become a better rider. He always tells me to be a robot on the starting line." He said he learned much of what he knows from watching Matt make thousands of passes throughout the years, even though he described himself as a "punk kid" in those days who did nothing more than annoy his brother.

Andrew Hines also indicated that he appreciated his brother's unselfishness. "My brother wanted to tune the bike that would tie his record of three consecutive titles, and he did that," he said. "Dave Schultz is one of the greatest riders in the history of the sport. He won six titles. But he didn't win three in a row. My brother did, and now I have, and it's all because of our dad."

Byron Hines said the brother act has made the team grow. He said Matt "has helped Andrew become a better rider, and he was a big motivation to me this year, too. He was probably one of the biggest reasons we spent so much time testing and working on the dyno. Matt is a big reason why Andrew is the champion again."

Matt Hines said he "didn't know what to expect of Andrew when he decided to go racing in 2002. What he has done in a short amount of time is amazing. He had all he tools to be a great rider, and I think my dad and his knowledge of winning races and championships really helped him learn a lot in a short time."

Even Byron Hines said he had his concerns. "Never in a thousand years did I think this would happen," he said of each of his sons scoring three series championships in a row."



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hinesDSD_0078.jpg "The idea of a [Harley-Davidson] program was on a sheet of paper in 2001," Andrew Hines said, "and now we have three championships. The first and second championships were great, but I think the third is just above and beyond incredible for everyone at Harley Davidson, everyone at the shop, and the team."

The Vance & Hines operation definitely is a family and a team at the Brownsburg, Indiana, shop, but in November -- in Southern California, where Andrew Hines was born -- it was Andrew Hines' moment to shine . . . again.

Like Jason Line in Pro Stock, he took the points lead at Denver. But unlike Line, he didn't keep it in his grip, letting Brown envision his first championship. Hines was 3-for-5 in final rounds in 2006, but the champ said the difference in his points and Brown's came in qualifying. Hines was No. 1 only twice, but he started among the top three at 11 of the 15 bike events.

He'll open the 2007 schedule with eight career victories in 15 final-round appearances and 19 low-qualifier awards. By comparison, Matt Hines retired with 30 victories in 47 finals and 41 No. 1 qualifiers to go with his three championships. But no one can argue that Andrew Hines isn't a seasoned rider.

"He's so young, and he's still learning," Byron Hines said of his younger son, "but I think this championship will temper him well. He's going to have a new perspective on how your psyche works under pressure, and he's going to be a better rider for it."



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He said being the hunter instead of the hunted was a valuable lesson for Andrew and the team. "In 2004 and 2005, we had enough of a points lead that we were racing to protect the lead in the final two races of the season," Byron Hines said. "This year we were in attack mode because we had to get points back. And I think that not only helped Andrew but the entire team. We started to think aggressively about doing anything we could to take the win instead of being cautious.

"I think being in the points lead," he said, "can sometimes force you to over-think your decisions. This year we took advantage of being in a different position going into the final two events . . . and it paid off."

According to Byron Hines, "This team has so much experience now that when something does challenge us, we don't freak out. We keep our focus and just keep working until we find a solution."

And this year, Andrew Hines once again was the solution to Antron Brown, Angelle Sampey, S&S Buell V-Twin rider Chip Ellis and the rest of the Pro Stock Motorcycle corps.


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