Article By: Tyler Porter
Originally Published In The March 2019 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
One of the most obvious ways to distinguish a flat track racer from any other discipline is the steel shoe strapped to our left foot. We trudge through pit areas with a noisy clank and a noticeable limp. The numbers on our race machines are sometimes as iconic as the hardware on our feet. Numbers are part of a longstanding tradition. Many people have said the first motorcycle race was held immediately following the completion of the second motorcycle. While this has roots in the truth, once races were formally organized, they had to have a way to be scored. Enter the number plate. “They are just numbers.” You may say. However, in the flat track world, numbers are much more symbolic. Numbers are special; numbers tell a racer’s story. And behind all those numbers, of course, there’s a “number guy.”
Ever since Dennis Mahan painted some wild looking number tens on Neil Keen’s race bike back in 1960, flat trackers have been obsessed with having their own style of numbers. Some are vintage throwbacks to the glory days of the sport in the 70’s and 80’s while most of the current top racers have numbers derived from the motocross world. While the AFT attempts to kill this tradition with each passing season, they certainly haven’t sent any racers home for not complying with their irrational number rule. One man stands behind roughly 80% of the custom number plates in the AFT series. That man-Tim Handrich. Pro Plates was started by Paul Crumbling in Mount Wolf Pennsylvania in 1985. Paul was a flat track racer himself, rocking the number 2A in the pro ranks in the 80’s and 90’s. After Paul’s untimely passing in 1999, his widow put the business up for sale. At that time, Tim Handrich was working at a trucking company. Tim’s formal education was in design and in addition to his day job, he worked after hours lettering commercial trucks and race cars. Through mutual friends, Tim found out that Pro Plates was for sale. He knew he wanted to step away from having a “9 to 5” job and work for himself, however in reality Tim just wanted the equipment. He already had enough business in both the trucking and car racing worlds. But as fate would have it, after a few phone calls and a Uhaul trailer later Tim was the new owner of Pro Plates.
Now based in Baraboo Wisconsin, home of the Ringling Brothers Circus, Tim works every day in his basement creating iconic designs for the world’s fastest racers. In those first few years, Tim was lettering about 50 race cars a year as well as painting for some carryover business from Paul’s clients in the flat track realm. Today, flat track is nearly all of Tim’s business. Because the flat track universe can’t seem to get enough of his creativity, he hasn’t stickered a race car in several years. For nearly 20 years Tim has not only manufactured the number plates for the AFT’s top racers, but he also designs autograph stock, motocross graphics, team and business logos, end of season awards, canvas printed racer photos and if that doesn’t make him busy enough, Tim also hits several national events per year as a photographer. Some of his photos have been featured in previous InSlide Lines right here in Cycle Source magazine.
With his current client list including the likes of Harley Davidson, Indian, Jared Mees, Bryan Smith, Kenny Coolbeth and nearly all of the AFT racers on the grid, it’s safe to say that Pro Plates will be around for many years to come. You can find Pro Plates on Facebook, on twitter @proplates1 and Instagram @ proplates1985. Tim’s favorite challenge is still creating a “font” for a rider. It’s everything from the big “marker scribble” look of retired racer JR Schnabel’s 33’s to the stylized number 1’s on defending champion Jared Mees’ Indian FTR750 or the custom design number 4’s adorning the Kawasaki piloted by Bryan Smith in 2019. In Tim’s world, everything is custom. When designing, he takes the personality of each racer that he works with into consideration. It certainly helps that he has a long-standing relationship with most of today’s current racers. He may send four different options to a racer, and typically the number style that they choose follows them through their career and maybe beyond. When their time comes along, a member of the next generation of racer’s may say “I want Bryan Smith’s number 4’s!”. It’s truly a tradition rooted in the foundation of our sport.
One of the coolest things about Tim is that he’s not just in business for himself. Sure, a man has to make a decent living, but Tim’s door has been open to countless racers over the years, both during the racing season and away from it. The “underground” flat track world is basically a series of couches and garages across the country where racers can stay for free, have a meal, steal some WiFi, work on motorcycles and become part of the ever-growing racing family. The Handrich home is no different. As we sit at The Downtowner wolfing down their famous cheeseburgers, Tim tells story after story about Shawn Baer hanging out, and his most recent guest, The Wizard himself, Jeffery Carver. When Tim isn’t packaging an order or designing custom products you can find him doing typical Wisconsin things. He’s a fan of jam bands and hiking trails; paddleboards and kayaks. This weekend Tim decided to throw me into a curling competition, or as I learned this week, a “bonspiel.” Basically it’s a pay for play scheme on his part. I get an interesting story about a man behind the scenes in a sport we all love, and he gets to watch me slip and slide on a sheet of ice. After all, your best stories never come from sitting at home on your couch.
When you check out an AFT race or maybe even a local race, pay some close attention to those numbers on the bikes as they make their way around the track. There’s a lot more to it than just a number on a piece of plastic. It could be the heritage that runs deep in a racer’s family, maybe a tribute to a childhood hero or a memorial to a racer that was lost to the beautifully cruel sport that we all know and love. Behind those memories, behind the dust, the mechanics, the fans and the lights, there will always be the number guy.