Flat track racing by it’s very nature is fun to watch. You don’t need to know the names of the riders or their back story. There isn’t even a requirement that you have an interest in motorcycles. The thing about flat track is a basic human emotion that anyone can grasp. You are watching a massive pack of talented people who all thought they had a plan, funneling into a turn at 100mph while trying to come up with a new plan on the fly. If that doesn’t make you look up from your smart phone then the noise and the dust will. You know right away that something serious is going on.
As if that wasn’t enough, the final round of the AMA Pro Flat Track Harley-Davidson GNC1 presented by Vance & Hines class is chock so full of good stories that even Ron Popeil would think you’re getting too much for your money.
The venue is the Santa Rosa Mile, so it’s a no-brainer to attend if you are located anywhere from Humbolt county out to Reno and on down to King City. Anyone else is advised to come up with excuses to get out of obligations and not miss this action.
The Ramspur Winery Santa Rosa Mile presented by Triumph already gets the distinction of being the final round so there’s bound to be drama, but two big names will arrive separated by only two points. Talk about a dead heat.
Bryan Smith carries the narrow lead on his Crosley/Howerton Kawasaki®. However, Jared Mees carries the number 1 plate on his Rogers Racing Harley-Davidson® XR750 and he aims to keep it. This is double-drama for anyone following the action, as Smith had points reinstated last week when his disqualification from August’s New York race was overturned on appeal. People may arrive at the track wearing neck braces from doing so many double-takes at the rapidly developing news.
Not to be outdone by the riders, the manufacturers are looking to make some serious history as well. First off is the most obvious story, that of the reformed Indian Motorcycle® deciding to race their Scout FTR750 machine in competition.
We knew Indian® were serious; Jared Mees is contracted to lead the team next year and the engine is a ground up build, only vaguely sharing some basic layout with the street going Scout® that shares the same name. I’m not sure anyone expected them to be this serious though. It was not slated to compete until next year, giving them plenty of time to develop. And with a mile track we will be seeing extremely high engine speeds (and probably high temperatures knowing Santa Rosa’s climate).
With so much money and so much hype most people expect the bike to be able to podium from the jump. Development rider Joe Kopp is also a known quantity. Technically retired, he is nonetheless a staunch veteran who knows how to calculate: just the kind of person you need at the controls for a mile race. There won’t be many excuses to make if the bike does poorly or, worse yet, mediocre. If the machine eats a valve or stumbles around in the back of the field it can be called “development issues.” If it finishes in 10th or 15th then you have to stroke your chin pensively and say, “hmmm.” Maybe it just doesn’t have it? Maybe they got it all wrong? Can they make up the short coming? Clearly it performed as designed, but it just didn’t perform well enough. That would be the worst outcome.
But the story isn’t all about the return of a brand. What about the brand that never left? Or more important, the engine that never left? Harley-Davidson® and flat track are like short-shifting and wheelies: they just go together. Despite flat track racing (and Harley) being timeless, if ignored, time will make fools of us all.
And this has been shown true in the last few years with the rise of Kawasaki® engines. Despite no real factory support and a hard time finding traction on shorter or slicker tracks, people are using the Kwak engines because they can afford them. This proves once again the economic truth that having the best product doesn’t matter if no one can get their hands on it.
The Milwaukee boys know this and are developing the XG750R to supplant their iconic XR750. This comes straight out of their Street 750® bike that you can get from dealerships and is continually being developed. The writing is on the wall. For sure the XR has years left in its life, but how many?
On top of all this Indian® is already making noises about developing an engine based on the street-going version of the Scout®. It’s obvious they are in it for the long haul and, while they want to win out there, the real win for a manufacturer isn’t just having your rider standing on the top step of the podium; it’s having the top 15 finishers all mounted on your brand.
Both marques seem wise in understanding the advantages of building a race-ready engine from their street legal offerings. Not only do you keep costs down for privateers by being able to offer kit parts, but you can also involve dealers, giving their service departments much needed work installing those kit parts and rebuilding race motors. This also saves your racing division from becoming a mini factory (it’s all about the R&D baby), and allowing their racing arm to stay small and dynamic. Racers win, dealers win, the racing department wins, and the design team building the street legal engine gets reams of glorious, real-life data.
What does this mean to you, dear race fan? Not a lot. It’s the fun kind of stuff to talk about in between races while eating overpriced hot dogs and drinking beer with your buddies. Now you will sound like the smart one and your friends won’t make fun of you for having mustard in your beard. What’s important is you drag your butt off that seat and get to Santa Rosa this Sunday. Actually, there is action on Friday & Saturday too with amateur short track and then Pro/Am along with some Super Hooligan races as well. Check out the website’s ticketing page for info. Get some dust in your face, blow out your ear drums and see two titans of the sport battle for supremacy. Indian can only return to flat track racing after 50 years once in your lifetime, and that once is this weekend. There is too much going on to not be a part of it. See you there.