Article and Photos By: Tyler Porter
Originally Published In The March 2020 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
The year is 1981, and inside the Oval Office Ronald Reagan addresses the nation about his new tax plan. It will reduce spending, reduce the federal income tax, and reduce government regulation. Nicknamed “Reaganomics,” it was built around a “trickle-down” system, where the wealthy and businesses got tax breaks in hopes they would reinvest those savings back into the economy, helping us working joes with stable employment and all that comes along with that. Did it work? This is a motorcycle magazine, not politics. However, this outlines what I feel is happening with AFT today. Will it work? That remains to be seen.
There’s no denying that there are two factions in the sport of flat track right now. There’s AFT and there’s Hooligan. Most people enjoy both, which is only going to fuel the popularity of our sport. However, it does seem that AFT is promoting a more “Trickle t Down” system of governance on our sport. With the new Super Twins class, it is thinning the herd so to speak, to increase the star power of the elite in our sport. In a bit of an unforeseen backfire, though, some of the star power went elsewhere. At this time, Jake Johnson doesn’t have a Super Twins ride, Henry Wiles has moved to the Singles class, Brandon Robinson has gone to the production twins class and Jeffery Carver will be a wild card entry at select events as part of a total privateer effort. Can Flattrack Survive “Trickle Down”? Is our sport more willing to adopt a “Trickle Up” philosophy?
This idea hit me very hard over the holiday season while I made my yearly Pilgrimage to DuQuoin, Illinois between Christmas and New Year’s. 2019 represented the 12th annual Ethan Gillim Memorial race, celebrating the life of a young racer that I was very close to, that we lost far too early. I’m not the only one who makes this a part of our holiday tradition. Well over 100 racers and their families showed up to spend the weekend at the race track. With a practice night on Friday, and then both Short Track and T.T. races Saturday and Sunday, there was more than enough racing action. Heck, we even had an intermission Stryder bike race to cap off the family-friendly atmosphere. Under unseasonably warm temperatures with a few dashes of rain, racers from as far away as South Dakota and New York State battled inside the Southern Illinois Center. It’s a phenomenal race track, one of the largest indoor short tracks in the country. As previously mentioned, attendance seemed to be up over year’s past and my favorite thing to see? Large youth classes. That’s the health of our sport!
Amateur racing has taken the hardest hit in flat track. Even when I was chasing top amateur status in the early 2000’s, it was a big deal just to make a main event during the annual Amateur Nationals. These days? Budgets are slashed, and the Amateur National championships are a shell of their former selves. Several AFT pro riders have attempted to answer the call and boost the popularity of the Amateur Grands. Cory Texter has raised a lot of money to get kids to the races. Johnny Lewis has hosted races that awarded riders the chance to attend. Many local clubs host fundraisers as well, but, as of late, nothing seems to hit. I am hoping though, that I am starting to see a change here. Take a gander at Hooligan racing, though, and you see a sport that is literally successful based on the “Trickle Up” effect. Let’s look at facts: It was born about 10 years ago as a fun, “run what you brung” half time show at the local Costa Mesa speedway races. Crews from Roland Sands, Hot Bike Magazine, Burly along with other industry types, got in on the fun and it started to evolve. The bikes were modified, the riders became social media wizards. It was fun, dirty, and had all the makings of true hooliganism. Here we are in the New Year and we basically have different levels of Hooligan racing within itself. We have the “fun” guys who are racing “amateur” classes, we have regional series that are slightly more serious, and then what I consider to be the “Grand Daddy” of Hooligan racing is the Roland Sands National Championship series which has adopted strict enough rules to keep things fair without being uptight, and features a lot of former AFT pros doing battle. It literally started from a half-time show, not so unlike Freestyle Motocross.
To bring all of this together to a central point, though, yes, we MUST have the AFT series. We have to have something for our amateurs to strive for. The steps AFT are making right now will hopefully propel our sport to new heights. Hopefully, by using their trickle down mentality, their top stars can all make a very nice comfortable living, which will increase participation in the Production Twins and Singles classes. Racers are always going to chase the money! What I am urging, though, is for you to get out and find your local track, whether you race or not. If you race, Great, dust off that bike and find a class. If you don’t, Load up your truck, SUV, car, even motorcycles with your best friends. Tailgate. Walk the pits. Ask questions. Buy food at the concession stand. That may, after all, go further in our sport than anything. A wise promoter once told me, “The most profitable person at a flat track race is the spectator!” So, keep those dollars flowing, and be entertained all at the same time. Sure doesn’t seem like a bad way to spend an evening to me.