Andrew Hines, three-time defending champion of NHRA POWERade Pro Stock Motorcycle events, started the 2007 season with two first round losses.
Then the rider of Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rod logged two consecutive second round losses -- not exactly the way a champion would like to kick off the drive for a record-setting fourth consecutive championship.
That's when the team went testing. Hines and the rest of the squad made more than 40 passes at O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis in hopes of catching up with the team dominating the point standings and winner's circle.
"We want to make our big changes at the shop and in testing and just have to make the smaller, necessary changes at the track," Hines said. "We're learning how to be more consistent and testing made all the difference. The team is making great calls on the whole package and it's coming together. We're more confident about the motorcycle and what it will do when we make changes than we were at the start of the season."
The testing paid off. Hines won last weekend's NHRA event at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill., and earned a runner-up finish at Sunday's ProCare Rx NHRA SuperNationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park.
"We had another consistent weekend and that's what we've been aiming to find," Hines said. "We had to make tuning calls to adapt to the changing weather and we even had to change motors between first and second round (Sunday). We've done so much testing and work lately, we were able to make an educated guess about how to set up the new motor so quickly and it worked. We're making some good strides to where we want to be."
Hines qualified in the No. 2 position with a career-best 6.910-second pass at 193.57 mph. Teammate Eddie Krawiec qualified for his first NHRA event at his home track with a 7.023 pass at 190.14, good enough for the No. 13 position.
While Krawiec slipped from 12th to 13th in the point standings after his fourth consecutive first round loss, Hines gained ground in the race for the championship points. Hines was in fourth place and 169 points out of first place coming into the Englishtown event, but left 126 points out of first.
"We had a good weekend and we saw some good 60-foot times again which shows that we're moving in the right direction when it comes to getting the V-Rod off the line quickly," Hines said. "It's nice to know that we're making good strides at the right time.
"It's especially huge making a move up the point standings because the group of riders from fifth to 10th place was so tight. I knew that if I had a bad race, I would be at the bottom of the pack. It's nice to know that we made up some ground and we created a little distance. Now we can go out and concentrate on winning rounds without the added pressure of knowing the pack was right on our heels."
Hines beat Paul Gast in the first round. Hines rode his V-Rod to a 6.957 pass at 189.60 to beat Gast's 7.074 at 187.13 on his Fast by Gast Suzuki. Hines went on to beat Geno Scali in the second round with a 7.016 at 190.11 over Scali's 7.103 at 188.52 on his Performance Machine Suzuki.
In semifinal action Hines topped Steve Johnson and the Snap-on Tools Suzuki team. Hines recorded a 6.969 at 191.13 over Johnson's 7.045 at 189.90.
Hines fell in the final round to Craig Treble and the Team Tigue Suzuki squad. Hines came up short in his 17th career final round appearance by turning in a 7.003 at 190.48, falling to Treble's 6.990 at 191.70.
While Hines is disappointed the team wasn't able to score its second consecutive victory, he knows they are on the right path when it comes to seeking out success.
"The caliber of my team is the reason why I was even in the position to win two in a row," Hines said. "They don't like being down. They like being at or near the top and that's what has kept us so motivated. We have a great group of people working on the Screamin' Eagle V-Rod and we've discovered other ways of making changes that make the bike more competitive.
"It used to be that we were all about finding horsepower but now we've found other ways of making the bike quicker through clutch management. We're happy where we are at especially considering where we were at the start of the season. We would still like to be a little quicker and even more consistent, but the team has accomplished a lot especially since it's the middle of the season."
Krawiec -- an employee and long time racer at Old Bride Township Raceway Park -- lost in the first round Sunday. Krawiec went 7.298 at 153.86 in a losing effort to Karen Stoffer's 7.008 189.68 on her Geico Suzuki.
"It was so good to be able to race at home and qualify at home at my first national event," Krawiec said. "I had a lot of friends and family that were able to come to the race and it was exciting to have great support and be able to race on Sunday.
"The bike made four consistent passes in qualifying and I was hoping that would transfer over to Sunday's first round. But we had some technical issues that affected the bike and kept us from winning the round."
The next NHRA POWERade event is the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio, June 28- July 1.
The Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines Pro Stock Motorcycle team is sponsored by Ford Truck, Dunlop, Matco Tools and S100.