by Scott Hankins
This is how the big boys play — American Flat Track motorcycle racing.
The 2017 national tour just made its annual stop at the Sacramento Mile, in mid-May — the fifth of 18 races for this season.
This is a sport that hasn’t changed much since its inception in the post-World War II era. Sure, technology has increased the speed, but the appearance, the excitement and the pure nerve is right out of the days when men were men and the sheep were, well, sheep.
Not that flat track is a purely men’s sport. Shayna Texter won the single-cylinder support division. But overall, flat track is mainly a man’s domain.
The well-dressed flat track rider is decked out from head to toe. Starting with a full-face helmet; the body is covered in a leather suit, with matching back brace. Moving down, you’ll see knee-high boots with one little accessory on the left side – a piece of steel, called a hot shoe, that goes from toe to heel. This keeps the rider out of the emergency room as he will be putting that foot down at speeds more than 90 miles per hour.
Until recently, only Harley Davidsons dared to roam the dirt tracks across the country. But challenges from Kawasaki, Yamaha and Indian have the Harleys struggling for dominance. These highly customized machines all reach speeds of up to 140 miles per hour.
Bryan Smith is the reigning Grand National Champion, and is one of those who helped push Harley off the top of the heap on a Kawasaki Ninja. This year, he is riding an Indian, which he squeeked to victory at Sacramento — his seventh straight win.
The popular Indian (which placed one, two, three in Sacramento) re-introduced the storied Scout this year, making it eligible to race in the 750 cc division.
Triumph is also running a limited schedule.
Now the stage is set, it’s time to fire up the bikes for some exciting motorcycle racing.
Mile tracks are unique for their pure speed.
The track is normally a horse race track, except once a year, when it plays host to a different type of steed — one with a hundred-plus horses.
Lap averages are right around 100 miles per hour. That means riders are reaching speeds upwards of 120 mph before entering the turns.
That is accomplished by throwing the bike into a sideslide, which is maintained throughout the quarter-mile long turn — with speeds never dropping below 90 mph.
Exiting the turn, the rider “goes under the paint,” leaning as low as possible to reduce wind resistance.
The dirt that comprises the track has a way of not staying in place. With the exception of the leader, riders are pelted with 100 mph dirt clods; so much so, that they have multiple layers of plastic sheeting on their visors that they tear off periodically so that they can see where they are going.
Eighteen riders started the 25-lap main event. Eighteen riders finished – this time.
With the race over, it’s time to pack up the entire show and take it to Springstown, Ill. for next week’s race. Just another stop on the 2017 circuit.