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Voyageur's Best Sports of 2004

Car

Knocking at the door
 
Jason Line is...
 
by John Grones  | July 6, 2004
 

It’s the halfway point of the National Hot Rod Asso-ciation Powerade Series and not only has Jason Line become a household name in professional drag racing circles, but he is also the front-runner for Rookie of the Year. Everyone is talking about the new guy currently in third place. Fans pass by Jason and his car in pit row and they immediately scramble to get an autograph.

Jason, who grew up in Wright, Minn. and graduated from Cromwell High School, is living his dream. It’s a dream that officially began when he and his older brother, Lance, took a trip over to Brainerd to drag race – without their parents! “I still can’t believe they let us go,” said Jason. “We were just young kids.”

Lance was just 15, and Jason, 13. They loaded up Lance’s ‘69 Mustang and drove to Brainerd to win the race. “We were in a whole other world,” added Jason. “No parents and total freedom. What was cool about the whole thing was the fact that even though we were there to have a good time, we were there for the race.”

They raced alright – and won!

“That’s correct,” said Lance, who drove the car. “We won the whole race and we were hooked. We thought it was easy.”

Jason agreed, “Heck, we thought we were going to win all the time.”

It didn’t happen. Lance and Jason didn’t win again for five years.

It was in 1993 that Lance and Jason decided to travel the country and attempt to win the Winston World Championship. “Driving a ‘71 Buick, Jason won races at Gainsville and Brainerd and I told him I thought we should go and try winning the whole thing,” said Lance. “We traveled around the country in a ‘91 Chevy pickup and an open trailer.”

The two traveled to cities such as Atlanta, Denver, Las Vegas, Houston, Dallas, Phoenix, Pomona...“you name it, we were there,” Lance recalled. “I remember going to Pueblo, Colorado and we were so broke, we had just enough money to eat at Subway and we had to borrow money to get home.”

This was Jason’s first official Winston World Championship. He would later cross over and spend time at the Nascar scene.

Jason went on to work for Joe Gibbs’ racing team in 1998. Specificallly, he worked on cars for Bobby La Bonte and Tony Stewart. Jason had met Joe Hornick, head of Research and Development on Gibbs’ team, who was looking for a dynomometer operator (a computerized engine tuner). “He went down, interviewed, and they hired him,” said Lance.

During his five years on the team, Jason was a part of two Winston Cup Championships. The Winston Cup was a great experience for Jason, but his heart was still in drag racing. Toward the end of his employment, Jason began moonlighting by working for Greg Anderson, an up-and-coming Pro Stock racecar driver. “I went over to his shop and asked if he would like help working on the motor,” said Jason. “I told him I would work for free.” Jason was now working from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. for Joe Gibbs, followed by a 45-minute drive to Greg’s shop and back to work. He also dedicated weekends to Greg’s car.

The hard work paid off, because Greg finished third. Greg’s passion for stock car racing had Jason hooked.

It was at this point that Greg offered Jason a full-time job. “I said no initially,” Jason explained. “The only way I would do it would be if I could drive a second car.” A second car was in the plans, and Jason got the go-ahead. He quit Joe Gibbs’ racing team and prepared for his pro racing debut which took place in Colombus, Ohio in June 2003.

Jason’s debut did not go very well – just ask his parents, Lawrence and Maxine. His first four qualifying runs went okay, but his first round of eliminations resulted in a crash. “I started my pro career on a track that was a little tricky,” said Jason. “I was a little right of the groove when the car made a hard right. I overcorrected and caused the car to flip, crash into the wall and burst into flames. I sat in the car upside down, thinking, ‘Here I had waited my whole life for this moment and I screwed it up.’”

According to Jason, it wasn’t easy getting over the fact that he smashed up a brand new $100,000 car. It knocked his confidence down, but only temporarily. Jason got back in the car that very same year. It was Labor Day weekend in Indianapolis. Jason qualified 10th and lost in the second round, but all-in-all, it was a successful race. He raced twice more after that and qualified both times. Meanwhile, Greg Anderson blew away the field and won the National Championship.

The crash still lingers and there have been countless reminders of how lucky Jason really was. ESPN played it over and over again, and, unfortunately for Jason, it was on the highlight reel at the end-of-the-season banquet. “I was trying to impress a girl on the dance floor and they played the crash over and over again. Finally, I told her, ‘Yeah, that’s me.’” The girl’s name is Cindy and Jason popped the question on Thurs., July 1. She said, “Yes.”

In-between courting his new friend, Jason has been quite busy this year. He and Greg Anderson are on a roll. Greg won eight of the first 11 races this year and Jason has won two. Greg has a commanding lead in the points race while Jason is in third place, knocking on the door for second. He is in contention for Rookie of the Year honors as well.

Everyone on the team is rooting for him, and if he continues his first half performance, the title Rookie of the Year will be his. Eric Medlin is Jason’s closest rival. Eric feels that Jason is definitely the front-runner for the award. “He’s got to be in the lead,” said Eric. “He’s won two races and I’ve yet to win a race. It’s going to be exciting. There are a lot of World Champions that didn’t get Rookie of the Year. Tell Jason good luck and good job.”

When asked about the Rookie of the Year award, Jason tried to downplay it. It was evident that he was more concerned with the team. “I don’t care that much about it,” Jason said matter-of-factly. “My only goal is to see that Greg wins the championship.” Which is looking pretty good.

Ken Black is the owner of the race team that now has ten members. He is thrilled with his team’s performance at this point in the season. He realizes there’s a good chance Greg will win the championship and that Jason has a good shot at winning Rookie of the Year.

The past two-and-a-half years have been something else for Ken. His son, Kenny, talked him into starting this team and things have just fallen into place. “I never realized we would have this quick of an impact of this magnitude,” said Ken. “We started putting bits and pieces together in 2001. Everything just fell into place from there. The first year out, we finished third. That’s pretty impressive.”

Ken and his number one racer, Greg, are both in agreement that their greatest asset is the focus on team. Everyone is an integral part of the team and Jason has had a significant role. According to Greg, Jason is better than anybody at engine tuning. “All those years working with Gibbs, he learned how to operate a dyno (dynomometer). He was the main reason I won a championship last year and a big reason we will win again this year,” said Greg.

Jason’s success hasn’t gone to his head and he remembers where it all began – in little Wright, Minn. Jason credits older brother Lance for helping him get started. “Lance was always very responsible,” said Jason. “He took me everywhere.”

Jason also traced his start back to Steve Hutar. He remembers his dad teaching Steve a lesson in fast cars. “Steve is the one who actually got us started,” he recalled with a wry smile. “Steve always made fun of Lance’s Ford Mustang. He claimed his ‘65 Impala was much faster.” Jason went on to state that their father, Lawrence, promptly took Steve out on a quarter-mile track near Wright and beat him three out of four times. “It was precious. I have pictures of the whole thing,” said Jason.

Lance concurred, “The pictures are at my mom and dad’s. I guarantee, we still have those pictures.”

Steve claims it was two out of three. “Those guys are hallucinating. I really should have just raced the one time,” he said. He won the first race and then went for more.

Jason sits back now and soaks it all in. He’s come a long way from the day he graduated high school in 1987. He recalls the $1,000 he received as gifts for graduating. He took that money and bought a pair of cylinder heads for his car. They were worth two-tenths of a second.

Nowadays, Jason isn’t buying anything for his car. Everything is paid for and he receives a salary for driving the car. Money hasn’t been the driving force behind Jason’s drive to excel, but a passion for the sport has been. “I found something that I am good at,” he concluded, “and now we have a chance to do some things that haven’t been done before.”

This article first appeared in the July 6, 2004 issue of the Voyageur Press.