(Photos courtesy NHRA)

NHRA: With 5 titles already, Andrew Hines just starting to hit stride

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Winning NHRA championships is becoming old hat for such a young guy like Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Andrew Hines.

At 32, Hines is the first racer in NHRA history to compile five championships in any pro class at such a young age.

He won his first PSM title at the age of 21 (2004) and followed that up with additional crowns in 2005, 2006, 2014 and a little over a week ago earned his fifth crown in the season-ending AAA Finals at AAA Raceway in Pomona, California.

Hines, who passed No. 2-ranked Angelle Sampey on the PSM all-time wins list with his 42nd career victory at Pomona, has come a long way in a relatively short period of time on his Screaming Eagle/Vance & Hines Harley Davidson.

“In the beginning of my career, I came in really as a true, true rookie,” Hines said on a recent NHRA media teleconference. “My first year in 2002, I think I made eight full runs on a Pro Stock Motorcycle before I went to Denver my first season. I ran that half a year there in 2002 on the Suzuki, and Harley decided they wanted a two-bike team in 2003, so I was still in the learning phases of that.”

Hines finished seventh in his first season with Harley and second overall season in PSM in 2003.

Then came 2004.

Andrew Hines
Andrew Hines

“After (2003) it was like a landslide, you know?” Hines said. “We had three championships come in a row, real easy. I shouldn’t say really easy (but) really quick. We won some good races there through those years and just had consistency back then, too.

“I look back on it now and there’s a lot of stuff that I was doing wrong back then, not focusing on the tree, focusing on who I was racing in the other lane and doing things like that, giving away rounds on red lights. We had a few mishaps with race engines back then, obviously with growing pains.

“So those three championships, I was young, and I still say I was naive back then, because I didn’t really know any better. I won a championship, won a second one, won a third one and was like, hey, what’s going on here? This is happening really fast!”

Hines almost earned a fourth straight title in 2007, but one mistake cost him another championship.

“’07 was the first year of the countdown format. … I entered Las Vegas as the number one seed and went to Las Vegas and won that event, and I thought I was looking pretty good again,” Hines said. “I had about a 40-point lead when I got to (the season finale in) Pomona.

“I lost my focus and I threw that race way on a red light; I believe it was second round. I will never forget that. I turned the throttle and rolled backwards out of the beams. It wasn’t because I let the clutch go early, it was because I wasn’t doing any proper procedures on the starting line, and I backed out of the stage lane.

“That was tough, and ultimately that cost me a championship, because had I gone probably one more round, I might have been able it take out the guy that won the race.”

Coming up short in 2007 was devastating to Hines. He lost the ability to win championships. Call it an edge or advantage, but whatever it was, Hines no longer had it.

And he didn’t get it back for seven more years, finally earning his fourth crown in 2014.

“I just got in a funk after that (2007),” Hines said. “I was still able to win races but, man, at the end of the year I would start getting that pressure on me, and I would crumble.

“In 2010, L.E. (Tonglet) and I were battling for a championship, going to almost every final together in the (Countdown to the Championship) and same thing in Pomona, I messed up and had another red light, so I didn’t learn from my past experience on that one.

“But this year I brought the mentality back. I did the same thing last year (when he won his first championship since 2006), brought the mentality back that I’ve got to forget about what people can say or people want to think. I’ve got to go out there and prove I can win rounds, and that’s going to ultimately lead to winning races, and hopefully championships.

“So the pressure from those situations, I learned from that and converted that into a positive focus for me and it worked out great last year and this year, and I was able to push through those hard situations and figure out how to get my team at getting another Wally (race-winning trophy) on Sunday.”

Given his young age, there’s likely a lot more races and championships to win in Hines’ future. But he also envisions a day where he may go from two wheels in PSM to racing upon four wheels in Pro Stock.

“Right now I’m loving what I do, I grew up around motorcycle drag racing and always a fan of drag racing in general,” he said. “Not a lot of people know, but I hadn’t really intended to riding a motorcycle. We were going to go down the Pro Stock Truck route years ago, and we were really, really close and unfortunately, that class was cancelled.

“So back to motorcycles, because we had a bunch of parts laying around the shop. So like I said, I have the passion for four wheels, just got to find the right opportunity, I guess.”

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Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.