Article By: Tyler Porter
Photos By: Brian J. Nelson
Originally Published In The April 2019 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
At the time of penning this article, there are temperatures below zero in too many parts of the country. Builders, journalists, and motorcycle enthusiasts are traveling to various shows around the country to see the latest custom builds and new products. Dealers are placing orders in anticipation of warmer weather that is hopefully, just around the corner, and waiting to usher in the riding season. While all of this is going on in the street riding part of our industry, the flat track side of our industry is in full-tilt boogie mode getting ready for the 2019 American Flat Track season. By the time this column reaches your eyeballs, the Daytona TT will just be a few days away. Racers will be signing their last few sponsorship deals, and Instagram will be bursting at the seams with “big news” from every rider that holds an AFT license. It’s a fantastic time to be a flat track fan! Awaiting the riders in the sunshine state however is the biggest curveball that’s been thrown at racers since the 1950’s. Much like those times long forgotten, it’s all happening in Daytona Beach Florida.
Inside the tri-oval at the World Center of Racing, AFT organizers have laid out the most exciting track design in as long as I have followed the sport. I’d challenge any of you readers to write in with information that you may have on wilder national tracks. In talking with my many sources, it’s been a very long time since we have seen anything like this. Is it good? Is it bad? First of all, what is it? Asphalt. The entire “front” straight of the 2019 Daytona TT will run up on the banking. While asphalt racing is nothing new in flat track, there was an entire asphalt series for flat track racers over 20 years ago: this is the first time in over 50 years, to my knowledge, that asphalt has been incorporated into a Grand National race course during the championship season. What will this do to the racing? Will this be the magic elixir that ignites flat track and pushes it into the next level of popularity in the U.S.?
As with anything, everyone has their own opinion. In my opinion, this is simply a publicity stunt. Ever since the AFT (then called AMA Pro Flat Track) left Municipal Stadium close to 10 years ago, the Grand National level of racing hasn’t been that good at any track in Daytona. The track surface at the former short track just outside the banking of turn one was absolute garbage. I can call it that because I raced on it for several years. An occasional battle would break out at that track, but more often than not, it was a runaway victory for the rider who got the start. They tried everything there, packing the surface in and letting the racers lay rubber down, keeping it chewed up which led to massive motocross-style ruts in the track, but nothing seemed to work. When AFT moved the event inside of the oval, the track layout of course changed. It went from a short track to a T.T., and in my opinion, the layout has always been very cool. However, with the local dirt that is used, no matter the design, it turns into very one-lined racing. That is what the AFT is trying to avoid. Let’s hope it works.
Making the front straight asphalt, will give riders a lot more options. Riders will have consistent amounts of traction, to make moves, set up passes, and hopefully slice and dice through the field. Do you want to stay low on the banking and protect the inside, or carry your speed and create a wide arc? All of the racers that I spoke with are excited about the track changes. They think it will at least be fun, but they also have a lot of concerns about coming “down” off that banking at an extremely high rate of speed and making that transition from asphalt back to dirt. Remember, this isn’t your Springfield or Peoria Illinois incredibly tacky dirt. This is crushed seashells and limestone. They might find a little clay from a local spot, but I can promise you the coefficient of friction with that surface will not be very high.
Will this play into the road racers hands like JD Beach and PJ Jacobsen in the twins class? In the singles class, we have Jake Lewis and multi-time Supermoto (think road racing/flat track/motocross combo) champion Jeff Ward coming into the mix. Will their knowledge of both dirt and asphalt along with the mastery of the front brake and back shifting help put them on top of things? I say it will help them, but very slightly. Riding a road race bike and a flat track bike has minimal similarities. The riding position, delivery of power, and electronic aides all change the way a rider pushes the limits on each track. I think the series regulars are still going to have the upper hand. How can you count the champion, Jared Mees out of this race? There are absolutely no weak links in his game. Bryan Smith, though not particularly known as a T.T. specialist, has a lot to prove on his new Kawasaki and has captured a win in Daytona before. Harley Davidson has been doing work in the off-season as well. The XG750 platform continues to improve, and Sammy Halbert has already put that bike on the podium at a T.T., and I was able to see his teammate Jarod Vanderkooi ride in the offseason, and I believe he has elevated his game as well.
If you’re going to be in Daytona, you owe it to yourself to make it out for the AFT flat track national. It’s going to be unlike anything any of us have seen before. Is this a stunt, or is this for the betterment of the racing series? We will all find out soon enough. See you at the track.