By Briar Starr, NHRA Staff Writer
In the final edition of the “first-seasons” story in 2022, Kickin’ The Tires catches up with former Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Matt Hines. Hines competed in the class from his rookie year in 1996 before retiring after the 2003 season to become a crew chief on the Vance and Hines motorcycle team in 2004.
During the interview, Hines discussed what it was like entering the class at a young age with a team with such illustrious history from the beginning of class history. Additionally, Hines went from being a rookie rider in 1996 and went on to win three consecutive championships from 1997 through 1999. The now Indianapolis native discusses his early success, getting his license, and what it was like racing against former riders and the late David Schultz and John Myers.
Hines entered the Pro Stock Motorcycle class at the age of 23 and competed in the first race of the season at Gainesville. He explains if it was a dream come true for him to race in the class knowing the team already had a lot of history.
“I’ve never really dreamed of being a Pro Stock Motorcycle rider, even though I grew up in the sport with my dad (Byron Hines) and Terry Vance racing for many years,” Hines said. “It was only after he had stopped racing (Byron) Yamaha back at the end of ‘93. We didn’t do anything in ‘94 and I was just itching to get back out to the track.”
“My dad and Terry scheduled me to go to the Frank Hawley Drag Racing school (located in Gainesville, Florida) at the beginning of the ‘95. At that point, I did go to the school and it was all about getting the bikes together, and the program together for the ‘96 season. So, when I got to Gainesville, I had dreamed of wanting to duke it out with Dave Schultz and John Myers all through my years of growing up. They were the guys to beat.”
When Hines went to test a motorcycle at Gainesville, he recalls being nervous about it.
“Yeah, I was pretty nervous,” he said. “When I first popped up a clutch with a wheelie bar and a big tire, I was like ‘Woah.’ The instructors work you up really well in the course, just to get you comfortable with your riding style and critique what’s going on in the motorcycle. As I got to half-track, I thought to myself, ‘this is pretty serious’ and then when they let me go, I just couldn’t believe how fast these (motorcycles) went at half-track. It was totally mind-blowing.”
In ‘96, Hines was thrust into the spotlight competing in a full-time schedule as a rookie rider after only a few tests runs on a motorcycle rider. The three-time champion remembers what kind of expectations he set for himself.
“I think it was a combination of both (winning races and championships) when you go out there and be competitive,” Hines said. “We had to get our engine program going and see if we could compete in the top half of the class with Schultz and Myers. It was basically a steep learning curve and we all knew that going in.”
“We had to get good results and we wanted to focus on our thing, and make the right steps moving forward.”
Despite having a few tests runs on the same track he would later make his debut on (Gainesville), Hines recalls that he was still anxious about making his official debut in a Pro Stock Motorcycle.
“I was pretty anxious,” the Indianapolis native said. “For most of the ‘95 season, I was just prepping the bike and we made some passes here and there at a track in California. After testing in Gainesville, I did an exhibition race in Phoenix and at that point, we put in a good engine at that test session in Phoenix. We saw we had some decent horsepower and I knew if we made go runs at Gainsville, we would be consistent.”
After qualifying third in his first start, Hines was paired with former rider Redell Harris in the first round. He would get the victory after Harris’s bike broke. From there on, he made it to the semi-finals before being eliminated by John Myers. Hines talks about what he remembers from Gainesville that year.
“From what I remember, we went in there with a good bike, and we wanted to go rounds,” Hines said. “The highlight for me was going to the semi-finals and racing John Myers, and then I popped the clutch so I had a better light than he did. But, my bike wasn’t as fast and he (John) ended up winning instead. It was so close and I was like if we could’ve had the bike go faster, we would’ve won that round.”
Growing up, Hines said Myers and Schultz were some of his idols in motorcycle racing. Being able to race against them in his rookie season was “star-struck” to him.
“Yeah, I was pretty star-struck because you’re on the same level as they are or at least doing the same thing,” Hines added. “I think when I went to the semis, that was an eye opener for them because I don’t think both of them ever anticipated I would be out there racing. They knew I had the horsepower, but they weren’t sure if I was able to get the job done.”
“However, when you start winning racing, those guys start looking at you a little differently.”
In just his second career start as a rider, Hines took home the No. 1 qualifying spot for the first time in his career at Houston by qualifying with a pass of 7.464 seconds at 178.57 mph. However, the qualifying spot wasn’t an easy one for Hines.
“(Earning my first No. 1 qualifier) was so awesome,” Hines recalled excitedly. “We came off Gainesville feeling really good and I believe we made some brief tuning changes. We got the bike and going .46 was a good run, and I couldn’t believe that stuck on the board.”
“I did have a case of food poisoning Friday night and I had to go through Saturday, and actually bounced off the wall in Q3. Then in the final round, I think I sat out. After that, I felt okay by Sunday and I went to the semi-finals there, and my bike didn’t shift into fifth gear racing against John (Myers). I really wanted that race.”
Hines continued to be successful in the summer with respectable finishes at Richmond, Englishtown, and Ohio before eventually winning at Denver. The three-time champion discusses what was preventing him from getting over the “hump” of going into the final round.
“It was all gaining experience,” Hines said. “It’s easy to look at drag racing and say ‘go out there and win.’ It seemed like there were a lot of races that I didn’t due to not shifting. For example, at Atlanta, I rolled back out of the beam when I hit the throttle and it all stacked up. Another example was Ohio.”
“I was in the finals at Ohio and popped the clutch. It was just my heart rate because I was so anxious. I just messed up. I anticipated the light instead of reacting to the light. I had a long sit-down conversation with Terry Vance and that conversation changed how I focused moving forward.”
Eventually, Hines got his first career win at the Mile High Nationals in Denver, Colorado in ‘96 racing against John Myers in the finals. He explains the significance of that victory.
“That victory was huge,” he said. “We were going to build a shop out in Colorado at that point. It was a really cool event with the way qualifying stacked up. I was going to be running down that track as the first qualifier before Schultz and Myers due to the qualifying order.”
“I just remember my parents being there because they had built a house in Colorado in the summer of ‘94. I was still living in California, but I knew I was going to be living in Colorado eventually. So, to get out there and win was amazing. I couldn’t believe winning that race and so there were many emotions winning there.”
When the ‘96 season concluded, Hines finished third in the championship points standings with two victories at Denver and Brainerd. The Indianapolis native talks about whether or not he was satisfied with his first season.
“I think we were really satisfied,” Hines said. “We were happy with the way we ended the year by qualifying No. 1 at Pomona and the bike was super fast. I had another issue of shifting into a higher gear and I ended up losing to John Smith. We were totally pumped. I think it (‘96 season) couldn’t have gone much better.”
“We wanted to push harder and do better after that race, and maybe a championship could happen if we continued to be consistent.”
Following a successful ‘96 season, Hines believes that a championship was possible in the ‘97 season.
“We were going to give it everything we had (for the ‘97 season),” he said. “We built a brand new motorcycle for Gainesville. We picked up power for the last race of the season in Pomona and we worked on our stuff. We weren’t able to go testing prior to Gainesville due to finishing up a few things.”
Following Gainesville, Hines and his team won at Richmond, Englishtown, and Ohio before winning five more times that season. He recalls when they became championship contenders that year.
“I feel like we had the power on everybody,” Hines said. “We went the Winston Invitational at Richmond and the race was rained out after qualifying. We came back a week later to run the race. In the first round, we blasted off the first ever 7.20-second pass and I knew after that race, we had the power and the dominant motorcycle. We just had to keep going in the right direction.”
At the last race of the year in Pomona, Hines would not only win his first of three championships, but he also won the race itself by eliminating John Myers.
“To go with all those race wins and battling it out with Angelle (Sampey) and John Myers, Schultz throughout the year, that was awesome,” the former motorcycle rider. “To end your season on a high note with a win and a championship, it doesn’t get any better than that. I didn’t know what to expect and what a championship meant.”
All these years later, Hines still has some memorabilia that reminds him of his rookie years but notes that he’s not much of a collector and doesn’t like to live in the past too much.
“I don’t really collect anything, other than I have my trophies and diecasts (a replica model car), and I do have a Superman sketch that they did in the comic book,” Hines said. “I don’t like to live in the past, but it’s always cool to reflect every now and then. I’ve been looking forward ever since I stopped racing.”
Additionally, Hines also discusses what his favorite Wally and championship are in his collection.
“My favorite Wally would have to be my first Wally (1996 Denver) and my favorite championship would be the ‘97 season.”
After reflecting fondly on his rookie season, the now Indianapolis native thinks about if there’s anything he could’ve done differently in his career.
“I think I would tell him to enjoy the ride and not think too much about what you have to do,” he said. “Go out there, have fun and the race wins will follow. Entering the class as a rookie rider, I didn’t know what to expect. (My career) happened so fast. To go from a rookie and duking it out with John Myers and David Schultz, and all of a sudden to be the guy.”
“After the ‘97 season, I basically had a target on my back for the next five years. To go from a rookie to a guy winning all the races, and winning three championships consecutively, it’s unbelievable. However, it’s hard after winning three championships and not getting the job done necessarily. I still enjoyed all the years that I raced and try to carry that wisdom moving forward.”