BYRON HINES CHATS WITH DWIGHT:
When you see motor mogul Byron Hines (Vance & Hines) at the drag strip he is usually working. When I first called him in Trinidad, Colorado he was busy putting an engine together. When I called him back, he worked the time in to answer my many questions. Byron Hines didn't become a racing name in motorcycles by standing back or lounging when there was engine work to be done. Vance and Hines products have widespread acceptance in motorcycle racing because of function and service. Someone has to work to achieve that goal. Under the roof of Vance and Hines many labor to supply the best product for their customers. As Byron told us in this interview…"Any one of Vance & Hines motors can qualify in the top five and win." Byron sets an example of quality work by spending much of his quality time working.
Tap into this phone line and listen in as Byron Hines answers my questions…
DOB-9-11-49 Birth Town: Laurel, Nebraska Home Town: Trinidad, Colorado
Do you have a nickname?
Who would you most like to be like?
"Dale Armstrong. He's thirty years a friend, and knows how to keep the feet on the ground."
What do you like most about your job?
"I get to be my own boss, and do my own Research and Development. I enjoy being high-tech in the industry and at the upper end. I'm not done. It seems that when you get there, you never get there. Everybody here enjoys their job, and we have long term employees. Enjoying their job is the best an employee can ever have."
What do you like least about your job?
"A tremendous amount of travel. I've been traveling since the early seventies. Research and Development suffers the most when Terry and I are gone. We have a great crew, it just takes us to do the R& D."
(Byron excused himself to shut the door as one of the crew began vacuuming the shop in the background.)
If you could change one thing about drag racing, what would it be?
"I guess…more contentment. Everybody needs to straighten up. No cheating. Eliminate the innuendoes. When you lose, you lose."
Gary asked Byron how the Vance & Hines six-speed transmission came about:
"Our six-speed transmission was an engineering exercise. Terry and I built the first ProStock semi-automatic and fully automatic gear box."
What do you do to relax?
"Hang out and work on my ranch in Colorado."
(350 acre ranch)
Do you have time for a hobby?
"Not at this point."
What's most important?
1.Fame 2.Money 3.Thrill/fun 4.Achievement
"Thrill and fun and achievement. Money is short term. Money will follow the achievement. Fame will follow the money."
Do you have any special mental preparations to do your job?
"Any successful shop has a strong work ethic. Do what it takes. Find a way. Like Motorcycle road racing teams do. They work the hardest, they have to. I try to treat our customers the best we can, and give them the most power. When a guy is struggling we take the engine and put it in another guy's bike."
What ethic, what plan do you stress to your employees to get the most out of your organization?
"We don't hold back. We don't worry about the cost. Just fix it. If they need a tool or whatever…you just get it."
What would you call your best racing moment?
" A Top Fueler, the first bike to go over 200 and into the sixes in 1983. That occurred at a test session at Orange County Raceway. It was unofficial, but we had a time slip.
Are you happy?
What could make you happier?
"I'd like to see more of our customers win races. You hear the first win is the hardest. Nonsense. The second win is the hardest. Everybody is after the first one. The first one is easy, the second harder."
When Frustrated, What do you do first?
3. Try to be cool.
"Try to be cool. It doesn't do any good to start screaming. Use the energy for a more constructive positive purposes "
Gary asked Byron how he is involved with Doug Vancil:
Doug Vancil on the V&H Top Fuel Harley
"Terry follows the Doug Vancil Harley racing. It's been real positive for us. He has a new combination this year."
Where do you find the most peace in your life?
"Seeing all the employees at the shop when everything clicks as expected. When everything works out the way it was expected to work. Also, my wife Janice is involved in the shop, so we share this."
What got you started in the Drag Racing business?
"Love of motorcycles. I bought my first bike as a sophomore in High School. I worked for Russ Collins."
Gary asked: "Were you at US 42 Dragway in Salem, Ohio when Russ Collins went off?
"No. My daughter was born at that time."
Gary added: "I was there at the finish line when Paul Gast grabbed my head and turned me in the direction of the track where I saw Russ go off at 169.7 mph doing cartwheels. I watched the rear fender fly over me. That was it. From that point on I(Gary) went behind the scenes."
When do you sleep well?
"Hopefully every night. When everything is operating smooth, and there are no family illnesses or woes."
What worries you the most?
"Not being competitive. If you're not competitive, that's depressing."
Can you describe your self in three words?
"Very lucky individual." (Byron spoke these three words almost as fast as one of his engines cranking) "I've had a lot of timing and luck."
What's your favorite time of day or night?
"Twilight time…late afternoon between five and seven. In Colorado that's as late as eight thirty."
What do you miss the most when you are not at home?
"Peace and quiet at the ranch. I grew tired of LA"
What really means the most to you?
"Just having a good wife and three good kids."
You're an owner. When you are at the track. What scares you the most?
"Any rider getting hurt. They are way out there, and we have some unstable shut-off areas."
What personal attribute that you know you possess, would you want to pass on to others?
In racing that's knowing when someone is giving you a snow job. It's the ability to filter out all the rumors and noise…and get to the heart of the matter. Bill Hann was a genius and a master of that."
You have to put up with many egos…many people pulling you in different directions. How do you deal with these twisting forces?
"Normally, I avoid difficult people. I employ basic trust and honesty in dealing with people. Dishonest people make it tough. They bounce around and get different engines, but they don't improve. You have to have a little bit of integrity to stick it out."
How do you decide which phone call to answer and which call to put off?
"Normally I try to answer the call. If I'm in the middle of the work, I call back later. I try to avoid time wasters. They want to talk, but they don't buy anything, but they will call back to talk."
Gary asked…How did you get to know Puppet (James DiTullio)?
"Through Pizza John. Puppet is quite the fabricator."
The racing task…if you could control anything totally…what would that be?
"That every competitor was on a level playing field."
"Back to the Six speed transmission. The Internet is too powerful a tool for someone who is not knowledgeable. Rumors and false beliefs can spread easily. Our six-speed transmission was an engineering tool. We engineered it, and did the testing within the rulebook. We were criticized when we announced the six-speed, after all the testing and sporadic use over two years. I was on the rule committee. That rule was on the books and sat dormant for ten years…'Six Speeds Forward.' Any other racing manufacturer could have built one too."
Byron Hines' life is built on speed and work, so I was fortunate to slow him down long enough to answer my questions. He makes it clear that Vance & Hines is a name in motor sports because of a relentless work ethic and dedication to service. There aren't many words that can keep up to speed with Byron, so when I searched for one to cap off this interview I had to employ my own work ethic and keep digging. I dove into the dictionary and finally surfaced with one word for Byron. Gary agreed…Byron Hines is…
People behind the scenes at Vance and Hines:
Cylinder Head Specialist
Chief Mechanic, Cylinder Head Specialist, Research and Development
Joe Vander Brink
Race Team Director, Head of Customer Service