The Motor Company Ceases Sponsorship Of Factory Racing Teams

Harley-Davidson has always been a brand associated with racing, in many forms. Whether road or dirt, drag strip or hill climb, and everything in between, at some time in their long history, Harley has raced it all. Over the years, the Motor Company has sponsored and supported official factory race teams, partnering with AMA, NHRA, AFT among others. In recent years, that scope has narrowed to NHRA and American Flat Track (AFT), yet with great success- the Harley team partnered with Screamin’ Eagle/Vance & Hines, and has won 107 races and 10 championships in NHRA Motorcycle Drag Racing, and their factory Harley-Davidson flat track teams have won numerous AFT races and even the 2020 Production Twins championship this season.

All that changes for the 2021 season. Harley-Davidson announced they will no longer sponsor factory race teams in these nor other series. The company has been undergoing a large-scale reorganization under the leadership of CEO Jochen Zeitz, with hundreds of layoffs and over 70 dealership closings this year. They have continued to struggle with losses and are narrowing the focus of their target demographic, as well as dropping several new models they had planned to introduce (Bronx, etc.). This has been an extra difficult year in motorcycling, for obvious reasons, and Harley’s moves to weather the storm are not unexpected.

The news has been hard for those involved with Harley’s factory teams, however necessary the changes might be for now. Vance & Hines founder Terry Vance stated, “We thank Harley-Davidson for being a partner with Vance & Hines for 20 years. Together, in AFT and NHRA, we have celebrated 116 wins and 11 championships. Harley-Davidson has been one of the best partners we’ve ever had.” In an emotional post on social media, NHRA champion drag racer Angelle Sampey shared her sadness at having made her last run aboard her winning bike, named the “Harley Quinn” saying, “I’m going to miss riding for Harley-Davidson and Vance & Hines, they have been so good to me.”

The Motor Company plans to redirect efforts and resources toward supporting local dealer race teams via a contingency arrangement of some kind. For example, in American Flat Track, Harley will support the Latus Motors Harley-Davidson team with their XG750R bike in the Super Twins class. In NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle, Vance & Hines will continue to build and support a race team, as well as providing XG750R bikes in AFT Super Twins and Production Twins qualifying teams. This was also evident in the premier of the “King of the Baggers” race class in MotoAmerica, with H-D supporting several teams that built and raced custom Street Glides in the season closer at Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca. Look for that class to quite possibly return to MotoAmerica in 2021.

“Harley-Davidson’s heritage is rich with racing lore and legacy, and throughout our brand’s history, Harley-Davidson dealers have been the cornerstone of our racing programs,” said Jon Bekefy, general manager of Brand Marketing. “We are excited to continue to support the XG750R racing motorcycle and NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle efforts through our dealers.”

So Harley-Davidson might be leaving factory sponsorship of race teams, but they clearly won’t be leaving racing. Here’s hoping that they can return to full factory racing at some point down the road, in hopefully better times.

*photos by Harley-Davidson, American Flat Track, NHRA & MotoAmerica

10 Comments

  1. Avatar

    I have been riding and wrenching Harleys for 50 years and think that Harley withdrawing from all racing is a big mistake. To abandon all factory support is suicide. The little money that they spent on supporting factory backed teams is a drop in the bucket. Don’t they realize all the advertising assets winning gets them? Winning means selling all their products from motorcycle sales to merchandise. Withdrawing factory backed racing support will turn out to cost them in every aspect of business.

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      Thanks for chiming in, Joey. What they appear to be doing, amidst their losses over the past several years and radical reorganizing, is moving to support local and regional dealership sponsored teams. I know many of the brands did a lot of that back in the 60s-70s, if I’m correct. Hopefully they will return to factory support some day, in better times for them.
      Good hearing from you,

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        Let’s hope HD switch to dealer level race sponsorship works better for the Motor Company this time around. That tactical move back in the he ’60s-’70s was followed by “The AMF Years”. Not a fond memory for Harley devotees.

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          That’s true. But of course, the AMF years weren’t a total loss. They gave H-D the Evo engine, and invested enough in the brand to make them solvent enough to “buy back their freedom” so to speak.

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        I have been riding motorcycles for 57 years now. 3 years as a District 36 Class “C” competitor. I still do track days regularly on Dirt tracks and paved surfaces. I no longer endorse street riding due to a near fatal blow administered to me by and innatentrive truck operator. Harley Davidson’s mainstay is street oriented. I am sure other former participants in the motorcycle industry will also see the danger on todays roadways due to the scourge of the Cell Phone. Not Co-Vid.

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      I couldn’t agree with you more Joseph! ! I’ve been a fan and follower of the AMA / AFT racing venues since 1971 ! Always pulling for the Harley Riders , although sometimes pulling for Kenny Robert’s and do I dare say , his Yamaha . Those were great days ! I wish Harley Davidson would rethink this decision. It’s a terrible loss not having a Harley wrecking crew ! Extremely disappointed !

      Reply
  2. Avatar

    My first flattrack race was Berlin Raceway,big dirt half mile. Ronnie Rall,
    Bart Markel. Then in the 70s I-96
    Jay and Kenny Springsteen, and the whole Michigan Mafia. Would love to see all the dealers, mfgs, and riders get behind the sport of flat track.
    Had a great race at Mt. Pleasant a few years ago, although there was some promoter problems, great turnout.
    Hope to see some racing this year.
    Good luck to all the rider/racers, God bless you all!.

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      Looks like Harley is reentering factory support, in MotoAmerica’s King of the Baggers series. Should be interesting!

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      I idolized “Black Bart” and imagined myself riding as he was described in my favorite Magazine. “Cycle world”. Later of course after meeting King Kenny. I then wished someday a would actually ride against the likes of the new kids on the block. Never happened in my case.

      Reply

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