The Moto Mosh Pit
A fan once remarked to me, “If motorcycle racing were a rock concert, flat track would be the mosh pit.” A humorous yet apt description. Racing handlebar to handlebar, wide open on mile and half-mile dirt ovals and TT courses, flat track is as close to the original form of closed-course motorcycle racing as one can experience. With a history dating back nearly 100 years, the racing is raw, loud, up-close and personal. Formerly known as the AMA Grand National Championship, the series was formed and sanctioned by the AMA in 1954. The GNC was the premiere motorcycle racing series in America until the late 1970s, when Supercross rose to prominence. Having acquired the rights from AMA Racing for 2017, American Flat Track has jumped forward “full throttle”, propelling the sport back into the mainstream of American motorcycle racing. The 2019 racing season is now well under way, with race teams running nearly every brand imaginable, but most notably this season, a preponderance of Indian and Yamaha teams especially in the Twins class.
Three classifications comprise the 2019 season, which began during Daytona Bike Week on March 14 until the closing round at Meadowlands, New Jersey on September 28. AFT Singles features production-based 450cc single cylinder bikes from all the major manufacturers, focusing on developing young talent. AFT Twins features production-based, larger displacement twin cylinder bikes, in several configurations. Running 90+hp and reaching speeds of 140mph, Twins is truly the premier class of AFT. Of interest as well, this year witnessed the debut of the Astro Invitational class, with racers astride old vintage Bultaco 360cc single-cylinder, 2-stroke Astros from the late 60s-early 70s. In all classes, there are large, corporate sponsored teams, with multiple crew members and full traveling shops, and small “privateer” teams, made up of family and friends, operating out of trailers. They all share the common bond of a deep passion for the sport, and share a camaraderie in the pits, if not always on the track.
I had the opportunity to attend the 2019 Atlanta round at Dixie Speedway in Woodstock, Georgia, March 23. Dixie is a 3/8 mile (approx.), high-banked, red clay surfaced oval, a unique track on the circuit. Motorcycle racing had not graced this track in nearly 30 years prior to AFT’s return in 2017. Now, the stands were packed with thousands of dedicated race fans. When I first attended in 2017, I rode a Triumph Bonneville Street Cup on loan from Triumph North America (eval article to come on that), then rode in on my own Street Cup this year. I parked and picked up my press creds, then wandered the paddock, snapping photos and talking with riders. I happened upon MotoAmerica pro road racer Trevor Standish, a contender in the popular Junior Cup series, enjoying the racing with his father. Trevor observed, “Many of us road racers got our start in flat track racing, which gives you a great skill set of traction management and control that translates well to road racing. I still enjoy racing flat track whenever I can.”
The red clay dust, the engine exhaust, the crowd noise, the moto-thunder, it’s all addicting. There is simply nothing like a day at the races.
I was granted infield access for the races all day, given to several members of the press. The engine roar across the track and stands was immense, and watching the race heats in 360 degrees was exhilarating. I stood right along the fence at several different points, for photos and to feel the racing. To say it’s an adrenaline rush is an understatement. Flying by at speeds well over 100 mph, almost within arm’s length (or so it felt), is indescribable. The red clay dust, the engine exhaust, the crowd noise, the moto-thunder, it’s all addicting. There is simply nothing like a day at the races.
Between race heats, I talked with several AFT members. One AFT senior official I talked with reflected on the draw of the sport. I asked him about the appeal of flat track, and he mused, “I love the long history of this type of motorcycle racing. American through and through. It predates motocross, road racing, you name it. The only thing older is board track.” Twins class racer and top-10 finisher Robert “Bugs” Pearson quipped, “I love the Dixie short track. So exciting and fun to race on. You’re hard on the throttle, then up that red dirt embankment, sliding the rear around hard,… just such a thrilling track to come to.”
The racing was intense on into the night, in all three classes. Multiple crashes across the afternoon and evening saw multiple restarts and time delays, but worst, several injuries, a couple severe in the Singles class, which required medical evacuation. It’s a dangerous sport. The Astro Invitational final was won by an injured, 55 year old Davey Durelle, who went down hard early, restarted, then took the Main Event win. One tough little dude, David has been racing since he was 10 years old, and still going strong.
The Roof Systems AFT Singles presented by Russ Brown Motorcycle Attorneys final saw an exciting, dominating performance delivered by no. 122 D&D Cycles/Gobert Smash rider Dalton Gauthier taking the checkered flag on a Honda CRF450R, pretty much running away from the pack to take an unchallenged checkered flag. Dalton won here in 2017 when I last attended, then endured suspension last year, so the victory was sweet- “It’s a crazy feeling,…I got the holeshot, led every lap, and won the Main. It’s a pretty awesome feeling.”
In the premier AFT Twins presented by Vance & Hines class, the battle to the finish came in the form of no. 44 Kennedy Racing/Ambruster Racing rider Brandon Robinson besting 5-time and defending Grand National Champion Jared Mees to the finish line. The champ had broken out of the pack early, taking a commanding lead. Robinson methodically battled his way to 2nd, finally on Mees’ rear wheel with 5 left of the 25 lap race. On lap 22, Robinson snatched an outside overtake, then held off Mees to take the Main victory by a mere 0.621-second margin. That, was one thrilling race to behold.
Fans of American Flat Track come from many walks of life- young and old, white collar and working class, city slickers and country hicks, all bound by a love for this primal form of motorcycle racing. The stands and lawns around Dixie were packed, and the fences lining the perimeter will covered with faces and fingers, all wanting to get as close a view and feel as possible. Event planners and Dixie Speedway officials estimated the total attendance at over 6000. The racing did not disappoint. If you ever have opportunity to attend a day of flat track racing, you really should take advantage. You’ll find it a day well-spent. For information and details, go to www.americanflattrack.com.