Article By: Tyler Porter
Photos By: Brent Pierce
Originally Published In The January 2019 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
The common phrase is, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” If the 2019 American Flattrack season is in any way going to be previewed, I believe this could be its main storyline… At the 2018 season-ending banquet, Bryan Smith announced that he was leaving the factory Indian team along with team manager Ricky Howerton, to try once again to turn the flat track world on its head with the backing of Crosley Motorsports and Kawasaki power. By 2010 several teams had figured out that the Kawasaki EX650 powerplant was a viable option for the twins series, but it was Ricky Howerton who really took the platform to the next level. Growing up around the Honda Factory race shop in the 80’s in Indianapolis, Ricky saw what true dedication to a product was all about. After many years of running a successful business that provided world-class parts to both IndyCar and NASCAR teams, Ricky honestly set t out to build his own street tracker. What happened from there was one of the most dominant performances on the mile tracks that we have seen since the Scotty Parker years.
First campaigning his incredibly different looking platform in 2012, success was imminent. Howerton signed Bryan Smith who already owned his own top-level Kawasaki’s, and from there, the race wins started to stack up. After a close championship fight in 2013, losing out on the title on the last race, the team nearly folded, only to develop what they called the “Generation III” bike. Over the next few seasons it was nearly unbeatable on the big tracks and won Bryan the GNC1 title in 2016. Always one to skirt the limits of what is possible, both Ricky and Bryan signed on as Factory Indian’s team manager and rider, respectively. Now, after two seasons, the “dream team” is moving back to their Kawasaki roots, in hopes of rekindling their championship magic. My inside sources have told me that Howerton has been a little upset at the hold-ups they have gotten from corporate R&D about making changes to the FTR750. While they have tried different frame designs, it’s widely known in the pits that Bryan hasn’t been extremely happy with the fit and feel of the motorcycle for his size and style. Essentially, I believe Ricky feels like he’s a bit handcuffed with the FTR platform, and from seeing Ricky’s past designs and the things his shop builds on a regular basis, you certainly can’t paint him into a corner. Innovation is his mantra.
Is this a good move? A lot has changed in flat track since the Indian FTR750 hit the scene. Mainly, absolute domination. Since the close of the 2016 season, only Briar Bauman, Jeffery Carver, and Henry Wiles have managed to win on anything but an Indian. Riders like Chad Cose, Bronson Bauman, and Jay Maloney have taken their careers from being top 10 riders on their best days to being in the top 10 nearly every event and on the podium in the right circumstances. Howerton and Smith both urge that they have a few new tricks up there sleeve for their new bike, but will it be able to conquer the Indian’s might?
Ricky Howerton has pledged to bring an updated platform to the table, one that is not only improved over his 2016 championship bike but one that is superior to what Indian has with the FTR750. They are calling the latest platform the 5th generation bike, and at the time of this writing, they have three rolling chassis ready to go, six fully built racing engines and enough spares for a 4th bike. For a season that doesn’t officially start until March, this is well ahead of the average race team curve, especially since they started with a clean sheet of paper. I believe that the level of trust that Bryan has in Ricky’s ingenuity will push his confidence much higher. And confidence certainly wins races. Multi-time champion Jared Mees and his future Hall of Fame tuner Kenny Tolbert will have a lot to say about this. While I’m not privy to what they have been changing on the bikes exactly, I do know, that over the season, they have made some modifications to the frames, and we’d all be insane if you thought they weren’t changing things around inside those motors as well. Jared and Kenny are two of the hardest working people in the pits, so I’m sure lots of off-season testing is going on to ensure that the Crosley Motorsports team has a moving target to aim for. Not to be forgotten, Harley Davidson started to move in the right direction towards the end of the season with their youngest rider Jarod Vanderkooi posting several impressive finishes. As of right now, their 2019 team hasn’t been announced, but I know they are probably pushing harder than anyone this offseason for some better results. It’s undoubtedly the offseason in flat track. People are forgetting once again about the most exciting sport on dirt, but rest assured in workshops from Indianapolis to the farm country just outside of Dallas, a lot of time and effort is being put in to ensure we have a title hunt to talk about. While Bryan Smith and Ricky Howerton aren’t getting any younger, in 2019 we will see if they can once again, fetch a title