The scene on the fronstretch of Gas City Speedway in Indiana was an excited one, filled with shrieks of jubilation, a fist-pumping driver, and smiles all around. The driver who finished second, Jon Stanbrough, quickly arrived to offer his congratulations, and former series champ Jerry Coons, Jr. did the same, even after fading to sixth from an early lead.
The winning driver was no stranger to victory lane, however. In fact, it was Tracy Hines, the active leader in USAC Sprint Car wins – his win on this night had moved him in front of Sheldon Kinser into sixth on the all-time list. So why did this one mean so much to the 2002 champion?
“I just worked really, really hard to get there. The win happened pretty quickly, really, but after getting everyone together and getting the equipment and then bustin’ my butt at my house, which is our shop, to get everything ready…it was a great win,” Hines said of the win on Friday, April 16th.
Hines had raced for the last two seasons, in all three major USAC divisions, for Tony Stewart Racing. Hines won seven races overall for TSR in his return to the USAC ranks after a foray into NASCAR, but things initially hit a setback shortly after his homecoming when he sustained serious lower-body injuries in an off-road motorcycle crash.
“The injury has not affected me a whole lot on the track, but especially in my situation now, it has made it difficult to do the things I used to do. I’m in great condition, but doing a lot of work or walking a lot brings some pain – just have to deal with it,” Hines said.
Bouncing back after a six-month recovery period, he took two wins at Eldora in 2008 but lost the USAC Midget championship by a single point. In 2009, he took four total wins, including Sprint Car races on the banks of Salem and Winchester, where he set a new single-lap mark, the first one under 14 seconds. At the end of 2009, he was left without a ride in any division and had to piece things together for the fast-approaching season.
“I never thought about retirement, but I did think about cutting my schedule a little bit. Not racing for points - maybe doing some things other than just driving. But everything came together, and now we’re racing full-time in all three divisions,” Hines said.
Hines’ connections for this year should ring a bell in USAC fans’ minds. His winning mount at Gas City is helped along by Dave Calderwood – a winning USAC car owner who had been away from the sport for a while. His pavement Sprint Car and Silver Crown car will be fielded by Johnny Vance, another long-time car owner who tasted victory again last fall in Phoenix. Bob Parker fields the midget program and even has another dirt Sprint Car at Hines’ disposal.
And Hines has secured sponsorship from his former owners, too, including former Midget owner Corky Wheeler, and the owner of his 2000 champion USAC Silver Crown car, Terry Riggs.
“They’ve given me the stuff to do this. I just have all the sweat equity involved. We got a Toyota midget engine deal, and Gary Stanton is doing the work on them, so that helps us. Johnny Vance connected me with Mark Lightfoot about his dirt Silver Crown car to run, since he bought it from Johnny. I work on Johnny’s cars a couple days a week at his place, and I keep the midget program and the dirt sprint cars at my house,” Hines said.
Hines currently sits second in Midget points, as he chases his first title and the elusive “Triple Crown.” He is also fifth in both Sprint Car and Silver Crown points. What may be more intriguing is Hines’ ascent to the highest rungs of the All-Time win list. His Gas City win, putting him at 38 career Sprint Car wins, only 14 behind leader Tom Bigelow and within striking distance of such greats as Gary Bettenhausen, Pancho Carter, and Larry Dickson. He has even climbed to 16th on the Midget side.
“Passing my hero Rich (Vogler) on the Sprint Car list was my first goal. Now, I’d really like to chase down Jack (Hewitt, who stands second) before I’m done, since he was such a good friend and mentor. It just depends on how long I’ll feel like doing it,” Hines said.
For now, though, Hines is too busy logging 14-hour days and driving the semi-truck to each race on the USAC circuit. But he seems to be having as much fun as ever.
“I have all the tools I need to win. This stuff is all top-notch, and it’s meant a lot to have people willing to make this happen. And honestly, I do get a little enjoyment out of doing it this way – showing some guys who maybe haven’t been around very long that a guy can work hard and do it himself. It is possible to win without huge operations and paid mechanics…”