NHRA: Hines Betters 1997 Winston Title Performance with Incredible 1998
12 November 1998POMONA, Calif. -- Despite all of his success, Matt Hines still acts like a kid let loose in the world's biggest toy store. For the second straight season, Hines, 26, comes to NHRA's Southern California finale with a Winston championship tucked neatly in his back pocket. If fans thought his 1997 performance was amazing, which included eight victories in 12 final rounds, wait till they check out his 1998 resume.
Hines, a native Californian who now calls Trinidad, Colo. home, was simply astonishing in winning nine of 11 final rounds to date and lowering the national elapsed time record to 7.245 seconds along the way.
For a kid who's quickly becoming recognized as one of the greatest Pro Stock Motorcycle competitors in NHRA history, he sure isn't letting the pressure get to him. Hines continues to be easy and care-free, eyes wide open with a big smile on his face.
"It's been a great 1998 season," Hines said. "We had a great 1997 and just carried that momentum right on into this season. No one really put any serious pressure on us this year. We raced with a lot of confidence and as the season went on that confidence just continued to build. In the last few races the pressure started to get to me a little bit, but we have a pretty rock solid program and that carried us through those final races."
Hines, who clinched his second Winston championship by qualifying for Houston's Matco Tools Supernationals, would like to finish the season with a victory at the 34th annual Winston Finals, Nov. 12-15 at Pomona Raceway. The $1.7-million race is the last of 22 events in the $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.
"Hopefully we can go back there and repeat and do what we did last year and have a great weekend and then go on to the awards ceremony," said Hines, who beat John Smith for the Winston Finals trophy last year. "We have a lot of family out there and all of the employees from Vance & Hines Racing will be there. We'll have 50 people hanging around my pit area during the weekend and my biggest challenge will be trying to stay focused on racing. It's a pretty special race because it's still like a home track for me. That's a great place for us to finish off the year on a high note."
While Hines displayed his dominant form throughout the season, he noticed by season's end that his competition started to gain a little ground. He knows that his days of dominance in the category may be short-lived if some of the younger riders continue to improve at a rapid pace. He knows that scenario all to well. In 1996, Hines was the rookie turning heads and gaining attention.
"You've got guys like John Smith and Greg Underdahl who continue to improve at every event and they're running great right now," Hines said. "We've got some talented rookies like Antron Brown and Tony Mullen who have made an impact this season. Angelle has got a little bit closer. I don't know if their performance has really stepped up. I think they've just now got to where they should have been all year long."
Seeling, a three-time winner in 1998, defeated Hines in two straight finals near the end of the season. The New Orleans rider is among the top threats to rain on Hines' parade in Pomona.
"Team Winston is on a roll," Seeling said. "When you have momentum like this going, you don't want to give it a chance to die down. Beating Matt two races in a row has definitely given our team the confidence we need and I think my performance on the motorcycle has improved because of it. I hope we can continue our hot streak and keep on winning"
Before those two victories over Hines, Seeling had lost to the Eagle One Suzuki rider in five final rounds. These days she's not putting as much emphasis on her rivalry with Matt. She's just trying to devote her full attention on the big picture.
"I decided a while back to stop putting so much pressure on myself to beat Matt," Seeling said.
"Someone asked me recently when I was in the staging lanes if I was gonna beat Matt. I told him I wasn't racing Matt. I've started only worrying about Team Winston. We can't control what Matt or any other rider does, so I'm only worrying about our team. I just focus on the task at hand, and that worked at Reading and Memphis. We'd really like to finish out the season with a win at the Winston Finals. That would really mean a lot to us heading into 1999."