In Slide Line: Flat Track Tech

Article By: Tyler Porter

Originally Published In The May 2019 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine


I’ll level with you readers this month. Deadline time has come for me once again; I’m getting polite but stern texts from the First Lady of Cycle Source regularly. Even though I start thinking about my monthly column about two weeks before the deadline, this month, I couldn’t come up with anything. With the deadline drawing near and my main focus being an insane timeline to repair and sell three of my motorcycles within the next two months, I was starting to get a little worried. You see, the column I wrote last month was all about the Daytona TT. All new layout, all new season, all new riders and all new teams. That’s exciting stuff! Daytona has come and gone by the time you are reading this, but in magazine deadline world, the race hasn’t happened yet, so I have no other information or storylines to follow. However, what I do have is a hard drive with years of photos. I’ve i been writing about the sport in some capacity since 2008, so I thought I would open up the pictures folder and let the story come to me. The folder that caught my attention first was labeled “2011 Memorial SPFD Mile”.

As I’ve written before, the Springfield Mile in Illinois is not only a must-attend the event, but it always brings out the best in both riders and machine. Being a tinkerer at heart, just good enough with tools to be dangerous as many would say, the technical aspects of the bikes were something I always tried to focus on. In flat track, there’s just this odd mix of world-class builders, tuners and technology along with the shade tree “that otta do it” attitude that shows a lot of grass roots ingenuity. That’s what we will focus on this month. Now to preface everything here, these photos are from 8 years ago. Harley Davidson XR750’s were still the dominant bike, with Kawasaki stealing more and more grid share each race with their EX650 engine. At this time everybody was trying different chassis set ups. I remember that year, the “must have” Kawasaki chassis was from Scott Performance, and it used a linkage set up much like the Honda RS750 that was dominate in the late ’80s and through most of the ’90s before the Factory Honda squad packed up their toys and left the sport, leaving private teams to fight over the final stock of parts. Flat track is very monkey see, monkey do, and from what I have been told, it always has been.

Still, for the tech geek like me, these photos are still interesting. Everything from sharpie markers on the cylinder head to note which one is which, to some of the coolest machined bits on the planet all to make sure a bike can be whoa’d down in corners. For instance, if you look here,

You see the insane cleanliness of the Scott framed Kawasaki piloted at the time by Johnny Lewis. Note the safety wire on the brake hose and the custom guard over the oil level sight glass. However, for as advanced as these motorcycles are, they still were using manual cam chain adjusters, because the stock automatic adjusters could fail under extreme conditions. You can see the beautiful billet suspension linkage just in front of the rear tire, but then there’s still some mild steel, probably MIG welded exhaust pipes on the bike that look a little less than inspired by NASA.

A major departure from the Scott Performance chassis was the “factory” Kawasaki Ninja being piloted by Shawn Russell. While it was built by hall of fame tuner Bill Werner, I think we can all agree here that Bill’s build execution is much more go than it is shown

Here you see lots of hose clamps, lots of “here is where this can fit” engineering and more than a few zip ties. I can assure you that the bike went fast, but for some people, looks aren’t the most important and that’s what gives professional flat track such a grass roots vibe.

Of course, flat track is still nowhere near the “big time” so parts damaged in a crash are typically repaired rather than being replaced as you’d see in other forms of professional racing. Now, who is to say that this bike was “repaired” because maybe they needed to change the brake pedal for rider preference, but either way, you can see here the welding job near the tip of the brake pedal.

Shows another instance of what happens when things don’t quite work out. While looking at this picture you’re probably thinking about the exhaust heat shield, but Jake Mataya rode this “older” twin shock Harley XR750 in the main event that day without a left foot peg for about 20 laps. You may be saying “it’s just a flat track race, you don’t need a foot peg!” Just sit in your chair, hold your left leg off the ground for 12 minutes and also imagine racing at nearly 140 mph and drafting within inches of other riders.

How’s your left leg holding up? The most controversial part on any bike at this particular race was the “mud flap” installed on Jared Mees’ Roger’s Racing Harley XR750 that day. On the mile, every aerodynamic advantage you can get is a big help, and this carbon fiber “guard” was a hot topic in the pits that day. While Jared’s team contended that it was to protect the tacky Illinois soil from sticking to the quick change eccentrics on the triple clamps, other teams thought it could give Jared the upper hand in a drafting situation. Rules were quickly formed to address the issue, but let me tell you, the pits were buzzing!

As trick as the “mud flap” may have been, another team had its own issues the week of the race. The Weirbach Racing team transporter caught fire just days before the race and the team was scrambling to salvage everything they could to go racing that Sunday. Notice the number plates on Mike Labelle’s Honda here, still, smoke damaged from the fire! It’s hard to keep a good team away from the race track. When the bikes rolled through tech, you could still smell the smoke!

So, when you’re in the pits this year meeting your favorite racers at an AFT event, take a look at the bikes too. We’re lucky to have a sport with such open access to the fans, so take advantage of it while you can. Who knows, maybe you will spot some cool tech, or maybe even be inspired on one of your custom builds. Until next time, see you at the track!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *