As an accredited journalist who has reported on AFT flat track, I'm on a mailing list for much of AFT's less publicised emails, the real backroom stuff. I'm not implying I have special access, I don't beyond what any other journalist would have, but I do look at most of it when many probably don't.
When the email with the rather dry title, 'AFT Tech Log for Springfield Mile II' came through I was especially interested. I watched much of the racing, on Fanschoice, because Springfield was an afternoon race in the Midwest, so I could keep my eyes open. The late night races are just too late for me to watch, and since AFT's deal with NBCSN, this is sole opportunity for foreign fans to see the race. Before the TV deal races used to be posted on Youtube very quickly, but it's a minor complaint and I'm delighted the sport is on TV in the US.
Anyway, before the final race of the day the commentator, Scottie Deubler, noted that rider 21 had been excluded from the main because his bike had been checked after the semi and it was under the lower limit. The rider was Stephen Vanderkuur (not to be confused with factory H-D rider Jarod Vanderkooi). Vanderkuur and his Kawasaki 650 were flying and I doubt the odd kilo/lb he was under made any different to his performance, but obviously rules are rules.
It would have been only Vanderkuur's second main of the year, after coming 16th at the Red Mile in Kentucky, and the 26-year-old would have been the sole Kawasaki in the main, because there were 15 (FIFTEEN!) FTR750s in the main and three H-D XG750Rs. The top Harley was Vanderkooi in 9th. Vanderkooi was 16s back from the winner Bryan Smith, who was back to his brilliant best. Halbert and Robinson were both lapped on a track that was running at 35s lap pace. Jared Mees came in second, enough to secure him back-to-back titles on his Indian.
I compared the 2018 Springfield II with the corresponding 2016 race, the very last race before the FTR750 made its competitive debut - at Santa Rosa with Joe Kopp on board (read the story in Sideburn 27).
The 2016 race was won by Kenny Coolbeth on a privateer XR750 (with a lap time of 34.7, 0.5s quicker than Smith's best lap in 2018).
There were 19 riders in the 2016 main (one must have used a provisional start card).
2016 Springfield Manufacturer breakdown
12 Kawasaki Ninja 650
4 Harley XR750s
1 Yamaha FZ07
1 Ducati 1100
1 Triumph Bonneville
Compare that with the 2018 race that had two manufacturers, both of them American. I guess if you can only have two manufacturers, they are the best two to have for AFT, but the FTR750 has all but wiped out the Kawasaki entry. The Ninja twins, in a variety of frames, were seen as a budget offering for privateers of all budgets, when compared to the Harley. Not all were built on a budget though. Bryan Smith's 2016 championship-winning Howerton Kawasaki was a huge budget bike (for this sport at least), likely to have cost numerous times more to develop than an off-the-shelf Indian.
So has AFT's gamble to allow Indian's ground-up race bike into its series backfired or was it worth it to get Indian involved? It seems a good move, but only time will tell. It does fly in the face of AFT's much repeated policy of trying to bring more manufacturer's into the top class of pro sport.
There was much trumpeting of Ducati offering $180,000 of contingency at the beginning of the season, but they haven't paid out a cent. Why? Because, as we pointed out at the time, they only pay if a Ducati gets in the top five and very few races have had the one and only eligible Ducati entered into it. Ducati didn't back the Lloyd Brothers' program so this respected, but part-time private team can't afford to compete or have much hope of developing their bike to compete with the onslaught of FTRs.
So now Ducati are sponsoring the last round of a series they've barely played a part in for three years. It must be some deal to offset the complete lack of prize money they've had to pay out. Why don't Ducati actually sponsor the only team in the sport, rather than offering this kind of barely credible incentive? And why is AFT making such a big deal about contingency funds from companies like Ducati? It was clearly worth next to nothing. 'But it encourages teams to consider Ducati as an option.' Yeah, right. Who on earth is going to risk buying and developing a new Ducati racer when they can buy a couple of FTR750s or the best of the now redundant Kawasakis? Perhaps Sideburn should offer $100,000 for anyone who podiums on a Suzuki to raise our profile (no one races a Suzuki, by the way).
One more thing I spotted on the 'AFT Tech Log for Springfield Mile II' was that a rider had been disqualified from the main, after the flag, and therefore scored zero points. It was Bronson Bauman, on a Howerton Indian FTR750 and he was excluded for failing the post-race noise tests. If that doesn't make every single FTR750 racer and/or team manager nervous, then they're not reading the tech logs.
#KennyCoolbeth #AFT2018 #AmericanFlatTrack #IndianFTR750 #JoeKopp #Springfield #Fanschoice #BronsonBauman #StephenVanderkuur #Kawasaki #Ducati #LloydBrothers