Harleys unhappy with in-season change

MADISON, Ill. -- In the span of only one week, the balance of power has taken an abrupt shift in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class within the NHRA POWERade series.

Just a week ago at the K&N Supernationals in Englishtown, N.J., Andrew Hines enjoyed a thunderous weekend of dominance, qualifying No. 1, winning the race -- his third of 2004 -- and running the two quickest elapsed times in Pro Bike history.

This weekend, Hines, and all riders campaigning Harley V-twin engines, are desperately trying to play catchup to the Suzukis thanks to a new minimum weight rule imposed this week by the NHRA. Rather than the 25-pound weight break the Harleys have enjoyed up until now, allowing the bikes and riders to total 575 pounds vs. the Suzukis' 600 pound minimum, the V-twin-powered Harleys must now be 615 pounds with riders aboard, an increase of 40 pounds.

Going into Friday's first qualifying session at the 8th Sears Craftsman Nationals at Gateway International Raceway outside St. Louis, nobody knew for sure how much of a downturn in performance the Harleys would suffer with the added weight. After two qualifying sessions, the answer became obvious. No Harley had made the field after the opening qualifying round but the Vance & Hines V-Rods of Hines and teammate GT Tonglet were able to rebound on their second attempts, with Hines' 7.202/183.99 placing him 7th and Tonglet's 7.208/184.17 moving him into the No. 9 spot.

"We're definitely not happy about the added weight," said Hines. "What's the most disappointing about the rule change was that we weren't given any notice. One week after winning the race in Englishtown, we have to suddenly add 40 pounds. We weren't able to test with the extra weight and we don't know how much it will affect us."

George Bryce, owner of the Star Racing/G-Squared V-twin-powered Buell ridden by Fred Collis, echoed Hines' response.

"This race in St. Louis now becomes a test session for us," he said. "Our program wasn't as far along as the Vance & Hines operation and we were still in the process of getting our bike dialed in. Now, we have to basically start all over."

Opinions were mixed among the riders campaigning Suzukis, who now find themselves benefiting from the new weight rule a week after watching Hines take a 185-point lead in the POWERade standings. Craig Treble, who took the PSB pole after Friday's two sessions in St. Louis, believes the 40 pounds may have been excessive.

"I felt that making all the bikes 600 pounds would have been a sensible step to begin with," he said. "I have a Vance & Hines engine in this Suzuki which I bought from Matt Hines after I won the last two races of 2003 on it. What I really want to do is wind up on one of their Harleys so I can sympathize on how tough that 40 pounds will be to overcome."

Mark Peiser, crew chief for teammates Angelle Savoie and Antron Brown, had a different take. "I think they should have added more weight," he said. "Those bikes have extra cubic inches, fuel injection, and a lot of torque. They should have a few more pounds to really even things up."

But for the Vance & Hines team, the new weight rule has changed the way they race.

"We knew at some point the NHRA would take action," Hines said. "We've been in a class by ourselves. But we thought the changes would come for next season. We'll just have to work at getting back to where we were before with those extra 40 pounds."

Bill Stephens covers the NHRA for ESPN and ESPN.com.