Motorcycles are nearly as American as apple pie, and flat track racing is just as much a part of that American connection as anything. Whether it’s on the purpose built, but still recognizable twin cylinder monsters, or the singles that look like a lowered version of a dirt bike you can pick up at your local dealership. Flat track racing is constant excitement from when the green flag drops to when the checkered flag waves. Considered to be the longest running motorcycle racing series in America, flat track racing is rooted to over 100 years ago, when motorcycles were used to pull bicycles around a banked wooden oval track. It didn’t take long for those pilots to line up against each other to prove who was tougher and on the fastest machine. Board tracks were popular entertainment. Beverly Hills was even home to a 1.25-mile track that sat 85,000 fans for auto racing in the twenties, but as deadly accidents and fires on the wooden tracks began turning public opinion against them, promoters turned to dirt tracks as alternatives. Racing fans flocked to the sport, cheering on factory teams from legendary manufacturers such as Harley-Davidson, Indian and Excelsior.
Fast forward to the early 70’s with the release of On Any Sunday, and you’ll see flat tracking much like you’d have seen at the recent AMA Grand National Championship Flat Track Finals in Pomona, CA. Harley-Davidson is the only factory team on the grid these days (though manufacturers such as Triumph and KTM lend their support, and the Kawasaki engine has emerged as a serious challenger), but little else has changed as men and women with more heart than sense line up and pitch their machines sideways into the turns with throttle to spare. The AMA GNC circuit tours the country from March to October, and it’s difficult to find a race series that allows the fans more access to the action. Between the open pits in the center of the track, the grand stand view along the start/finish stretch, and the viewing areas alongside the inside of the turns, fans are right in the middle of the action.
While Harley-Davidson still campaigns a dominating factory team, a majority of the Harley’s on the track are piloted by smaller teams, as well as privateers. While many teams have multiple mechanics prepping multiple bikes, some racers are for the most part supporting themselves. Grassroots, full of heart, giving it their all.
Often associated with shorter 1/8 mile tracks, the Speedway bikes got to come play on the 1/2 mile course, bringing a methanol scent to the air.
For many fans, the opportunity to chat with their favorite racers and get an autograph is the highlight of their night.
Track lengths vary from “short” to over a mile, which requires an extensive selection of gearing options.
Brad “The Bullet” Baker carried the #1 plate all year but will be handing it over for the 2015 season. At Pomona, he took great pride in polishing up his race lid one last time.
Jared Mees will carry the #1 plate into 2015, having finished out the season a mere 3 points ahead the next racer.
Scott Baker on a Harley XR750 slides under Mikey Martin on his Triumph Bonneville.
Shayna Texter is a rookie in the GNC Twins this year, but no rookie to powering a bike around the track.
Taking the checkered flag in the singles class, Davis Fisher narrowly missed taking home the championship as well.
Bryan Smith nearly claimed the ultimate prize of the season championship, but had to settle for the checkered flag on his Kawasaki powered machine. Many fans were unhappy with the result, as a black flag early in the season left a points void that would have propelled him well past the 3 point deficit he was left with after 16 events.
The rules of the twins class allow for some flexibility in finding an engine combination that can unseat the Harley XR750 as the dominate force. This TL1000 powered bike is a prime example, though it’s debated as to whether the extra weight or excessive power kept it from being competitive.
Some of the more exotic power plants include the Austrian KTM LC8, while other racers have gone Italian, like this Ducati.