American Flat Track Racing – The Sacramento Mile

American flat track racing continued its resurgence when the fastest slideways riders in the world took over the Sacramento Mile. “Flyin'”Bryan Smith carried the #1 plate into battle on his Indian FTR750, spending most of the day fighting his teammates Brad “the Bullet” Baker and “Jammin'” Jared Mees. In the end the three would take the podium, deciding each of the three spots by less than a tenth of a second. The entire race was run with the three of them passing and re-passing each other for 25 laps, with no one seeming to have a clear advantage. And, with 3 of the next 4 events being mile races, we should expect to see more of the same.

Even a casual fan will notice that the purpose-built engine fielded by the Indian team is head-and-shoulders above the rest; similar to how Honda dominated the sport in the 1980’s with their purpose-built RS750. And while this may be Indian’s year in the spotlight, the paddock still has more than one story. Going to a flat track race isn’t all about flat track racing after all: it’s a human drama with a long history. Sacramento served up so much action between the races that we thought it only appropriate to highlight some of the many things happening at CalExpo’s fabled race course:

sacramento mile 2017 flat track paddock pits

The Sacramento Mile remained as it has been for several years: very hot, very fast, and won by Bryan Smith. The setting sun got the temperatures down to the 80’s, which felt downright cool after a day of dry, hot air. Photo:  Richard Nowels aka Mr_Head.

RS750 Honda Sacramento Mile American Flat Track 2017

Harley-Davidson’s XR750 has been winning titles for decades. In fact, until Bryan Smith won last year’s title on a Kawasaki, you had to go back to 1993 for the last time someone beat the mighty XR. The Honda RS750 had one mission: beat Harley. Indian obviously took notes from Honda when building their FTR750 (both use purpose-built race engines), but strangely, it was Harley-Davidson themselves that chose to unseat their own venerable XR. They retired the iconic machine and and replaced it with a street-based engine. Harley’s XG750R is still struggling to find its way, but it deserves a nod for trying to find speed the hard way; racing a street engine is harder than a clean-sheet design. Trouble is, Yamaha is doing the same thing by way of Sammy Halbert’s FZ-07; which has earned two 4th place finishes so far. Halbert also got an XR750 onto the podium at the Charlotte Half-Mile, proving there is no replacement for a skilled right wrist, no mater what you ride. Photo: Johnny Killmore.

XR750 Harley Davidson Sacramento Mile american flat track

Overnight the Harley-Davidson XR750 went from a synonym for flat track racing to a rare sight. As stated above, “Slammin'” Sammy Halbert took one to a 3rd place finish in Charlotte, but it’s becoming rare to even see an XR750 at the track, let alone in a main event. Although expensive to operate, they are still capable weapons in the right hands. Photo: Johnny Killmore.

Harley Davidson XG750R flat track motorcycle. Scaramento Mile

After decades of carburetors, seeing Harley mechanics troubleshoot a running racebike by looking into a laptop will take some getting used to. Here, Jake Johnson’s #5 XG750R is being tended to after developing a misfire during the semi-final. Photo: Johnny Killmore.

Harley Davidson XG750R flat track vance & Hines Sacramento Mile 2017

Despite being based on the Street 750 model, the Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team has a seriously racey looking machine in the XG750R. But despite aviation style quick-disconnect fittings (purple) and the stub for the remote-starter poking out of the crankcase, at idle the engine sounds extremely docile and smooth. On the track, however, power delivery seems harsh, evidenced by the way each rider dances out of corner exits. Standing trackside it is hard to tell what the XG750R is lacking. All three factory riders seem to be making more mid-corner corrections than those around them, but it could be only because I’m looking closer when they go by. There is no lack of talent under the Vance & Hines banner, nor is there a lack of talent behind the visors of Kenny Coolbeth, Jake Johnson, or Brandon Robinson. Photo: Johnny Killmore.

Joe Kopp TZ750 Yamaha flat tracker Sacramento Mile

Joe Kopp knows the only way to launch a TZ750 on dirt is with the throttle open and your eyes closed. The bike threw more dirt and made more noise than any other bike in attendance. Photo: Johnny Killmore.

TZ750 Joe Kopp Yamaha flat track Sacramento Mile

Joe Kopp traces the plywood exiting turn 4 at the Sacramento Mile. The TZ750 powered machine did a few exhibition laps, filling the arena with a shriek that reminded onlookers what it means to search for speed. Photo: Johnny Killmore.

Kenny Roberts at Sacramento Mile

The 1,000 yard stare of a man who has raced the devil… or a flat track bike with a 4-cylinder, 2-stroke GP engine shoved in it.  Same difference. As the engine cools from Joe Kopp’s exhibition run, we can see Kenny Robert’s trying to shake some kind of haunting memory of brushing hay bales at 120mph. Or at least that’s what it looks like to me. After winning the Indy Mile in 1975 on the bike in dramatic fashion, Kenny famously said, “they don’t pay me enough to ride that thing!” Photo: Johnny Killmore.

shayna texter american flat track sacramento mile 2017

Shayna Texter was on the ball all night, topping the list in her qualifying, heat, and semi. What counts though is the main event, where Texter battled Tristan Avery and Kevin Stollings every inch of the way. She took the win by 0.065 seconds. Here, Texter talks business in the paddock while trying to stay cool in the 95°F weather. Photo: Mr_Head.

The Sacramento Mile does not have the legendary status of Springfield, but it is building a legend of it’s own. On the Cal Expo Fairgrounds, the course normally features horse racing, meaning a thin, 1-bike line will form form freshly laid rubber. Maintenance crews keep putting water down to curb this, but draft moves on the straight and insanely close, dive-bomb passes on the entrances of corners are the only way to really make a pass stick. On the infield though, ducks and geese paddle along the ponds, unimpressed with the noise. Photo: Mr_Head.

sacramento mile american flat track

It was going to take a bigger fire extinguisher to knock a few degrees off the thermometer at Sacramento. As hot as it was, I remember much hotter years in the past, due most likely to lower humidity. California is not known for humidity, but the capital is at the junction of the American and Sacramento rivers, which sometimes influence the local weather. Photo: Johnny Killmore.

bryan smith indian flat track motorcycle

File under traction: mechanics scuff in the rear tire of Bryan Smith’s FTR750. Photo: Johnny Killmore.

Bryan Smith Indian FTR750 Sacramento Mile 2017

He may be a factory rider now, but Bryan Smith is not above adjusting his own suspension. In fact, he prefers it. Here, Smith works the forks to test rebound, a screwdriver visible in one hand. Every tenth counts. Photo: Johnny Killmore.

indian mechanics fuel generator sacramento mile american flat track

“Quick, fuel up the generator before anyone notices it’s a Yamaha!” Photo: Johnny Killmore.