It's the day the AFT 2021 season kicks off and Jeffrey Carver, one of the biggest and most popular characters in the sport, is nowhere to be seen. We caught up with him for this exclusive interview where he discusses 2020, the SuperTwins class and where he's heading. Copyright: Sideburn magazine. GI
SB: In 2020, you had a couple of podiums and a win, did you achieve what you wanted in terms of results? If not, why not?
JC: I was really happy with my team this past year. I believe they were the most equipped motorcycles to win on big tracks against Tolbert’s powerhouse. Adversity was huge, 14th one night and 2nd the next.
The competition right now at the top is thick to say the least, five winners [in 2020], others with potential. It was mentally taxing this past year having to be my own team director of an AFT SuperTwins team. Being able to conduct a plan that consisted of a collaboration of title support from Happy Trails Racing, DPC Racing, and Bryan Bigelow Racing, along with a huge support from the GoFundMe from the “People” - we are Happy Trails Racing.
It was amazing to win my fourth national at the legendary Charlotte Half-Mile, as the 'privateer racer' - the people's choice - I wanted that win so bad. To beat the elite, the ELITE, you have to dig deep. It's a mindset, and I manifested exactly what I wanted my next win to be.
I know you've been considering the risk versus reward of AFT, especially since the injuries of your good friends at the end of 2019. Where do you stand on that now?
In the sport of racing motorized vehicles at high speeds sideways, inches from the guard rail, rubbing another racer at 100mph, the possibilities and chances of death or life-altering injuries are high.
I’ve also been riding motorcycles since I was four years old. I live for this, this speed, this risk/reward, the mindset it takes to win a grand national, the love for life that is stronger than the fear of death. It's a double-edged sword, but it's a risk we take as action sport athletes to touch that spot, the feeling of accomplishment, taste of determination, overcoming obstacles, adversity. This feeling I just can't shake. I'll always be a motorcycle racer, and plan to compete in the 2021 AFT season at select races.
You don't have anything concrete lined up for 2021, but there was a hint that you tested for Vance and Hines. What happened there? Was it SuperTwins or Production Twins bike?
I was testing Vance and Hines SuperTwins XG with potential to race if both parties could come to an agreement. Unfortunately that didn't happen and I will not be racing Volusia on their motorcycle.
Does the Production Twins class have any interest to you?
Yes, I see merit in the contingency packages, the cash value of moving to the production class and the odds of winning. Just like a card holder in a game, I have to decide where to place my bets and where I can assist myself in making money as a motorcycle racer.
What about SuperTwins as a wild card?
I'm open to a lot of options. I'm like in a waiting room, it's the same state I was in when I won my national at Charlotte. The energy I was sitting in. I know there is promise in my future as an AFT racer. I am willing to put in the effort needed to be an independent team owner/racer if that's what I have to do to compete.
I have a feeling there is something in my future that will spark attention in the direction I want to go. I'm in a good place in my life, setting standards for myself, and I'm glad I didn't take an offer that didn't meet my personal worth this week with Vance & Hines.
Yes, I have interest in racing SuperTwins, at a select number of races this year where I have confidence that I can win. I know I have the potential to keep winning over the next five years, so I don't see myself stepping away completely. It will be on my terms, it's my life I'm risking, I’ll race when I want.
If you didn't compete in any AFT races in 2021 how would that make you feel?
As I type I'm sitting in my camper at Marion County Speedway in Ocala, FL. I have been here this last month to conduct motorcycle schools and promote Happy Trails Racing coming into Bike Week. We just had the last day of the AMA Winter Amateur Nationals that hosted the fastest amateurs from around the US. I was representing Hoosier tires and helping the grassroots amateur racing. I really enjoyed being here and at Volusia Speedway for the All Star and Amateur races the past week.
My placement is interesting, this race will be only the third and fourth national I've missed since I went pro in 2008. It brings up self-worth, makes me question my placement and direction in life. And through these emotions, I've learned to love my placement in life, and where this is possibly changing my direction for the best. For my purpose in life, I’m sticking to standing in my self worth, and it’s refreshing. Emotions are high at the moment but that's a part of it that I'm going to have to just go through.
Is the SuperTwins structure making it more difficult for you to be involved with the sport, if so, how?
Sadly, I believe it is. I see the direction [AFT] are striving to go, but it’s putting a lot of pressure and effort on the riders and teams to be able to stay afloat. I am one of five riders that won [a race] last year.
It costs $100,000 to go SuperTwins racing at a minimum for a full season of travel, motorcycle parts, mechanics, entry fees, all new spec tires, new spec fuel, with a $10,000 avg rider buy-in. Oh, and that's not the cost of the hauler and the two or three $40,000 proven-winning Indian motorcycles you need to do a full season properly. This is what I have to juggle. I’m supposed to train and keep my personal bikes - plus keep my life in balance on top of everything else.
Changing (It is a risk and reward and the thought of just living out my dream.) I love racing but this is why it’s hard for anyone racing [at] the top level: The 450 riders promise dedication and the singles with the factory teams showing interest. The OEM motocross built bikes are easier to work on, with bolt-on equipment, instead of the grassroots flat track style of building a purpose-built flat track bike and learning in the Production Twins. The REAL next level of flat track racing....a twins rider. With riders seeing an unclear future, they stay back in the singles class creating a generation gap. No more learning the art of building a purpose-built flat tracker.
Competing at the top level and having a fighting chance at the main event with the best around the United States. This is flat track racing, and I'm seeing a split form from their decision.
I support AFT and where they are trying to take the sport. I truly do, I wish the sport was at a level we had money for the riders abroad, but this is not Nascar/MotoGP/Motocross - this is flat track, the original grassroots sport. The teams and riders are pulling the wagon, it's so much pressure for the paddock to keep this ship afloat. It's slowly sucking the life out of it.
The sport of flat track is growing again, and in the process of growth we cannot overlook the key attributes that separate our sport from all other forms of racing and the true viewpoint of flat track - “The Privateer”. The real reason flat track is even at the awareness it is to the public. Grassroots racing.
It's not pretty, it's not about the big money and sponsors, it's about the love for the sport and the family we all have felt from the community, and in embracing that we can nurture the sport to a healthy place again.
So, if there's no racing in the imediate future, tell us about the Happy Trails Schools.
Happy Trails is a brand I’m building based around a mindset - a visionary style of living. Based on achieving what you want, whatever it is, and enjoying that path in life. Being happy where you are, “live the life you love, love the life you live”.
Happy Trails is a state of mind. With this being the core strength behind the brand, I'm really excited about my graphic design group to keep a fun, earthy vibe to any and all products or services we come out with.
Now to the schooling part: my background is motocross and woods racing from age 4-12. Went full-time flat track from there and I still cross-train weekly with my roots. With this background I have the broad capability to help educate multi-disciplined forms of motorcycle riding.
The idea is to be of service to the community, to the people who are just getting into motorcycle riding, or flat track in particular. I have a great baseline, a few archetypes to embrace, that will propel you forward as a motorcycle enthusiast.
There is almost like a secret society inside of the elite racers of the world, some things that are never talked about, never shared, only learned on the “battlefield”.
How to read the ever-changing dirt surface; unloading your suspension on a mile to allow your RPMs to catch up to set the wheels back in line to run the optimal dyno pull run off the corner; how to feel the draft in the corner on a half-mile, use it to keep the bike hooked up; the drafting game of watching the flags blowing as a cross-wind on the track and which side to draft up, or kissing the wall coming off turn two at Springfield Mile throwing dust in the air to effect the race behind you, giving you control over the others' mental state. These are things I want to expose - shed light on. There are certain things only the select few ever really get to learn, or can really even feel these things. I want to help this sport grow, give different tier classes over time. Maybe LV1-LV5 class structure.
I like to start my classes having the riders fill out an answer sheet for me to give me an idea on what they want to work on and with that I can specifically help each rider individually to fit their needs. I'm a lot of improv’ if you know me on a personal level, but isn't that what you need to do to be able to adjust and overcome obstacles in a race? Yeah, so we promote this, I will continue to grow and learn the art of teaching with the growth of this.
Happy Trails Racing is a team effort, everyone who takes a school/supports my racing program - “We are Happy Trails Racing”. This is a community I'm building, and excited to what it will bring. I'm setting up locations around the US and the world to host classes - retreats you could say - to embrace this type of vibe, and enjoy this vehicle we have in life. This vehicle propels us to where we would like to be. Racing is not the end goal, life is not about racing, but it's a vehicle to take you to the places we yearn for, the family it surrounds itself with, and the “winning” mindset each and every one of us feels.
Happy Trails, my friends. JC
Photos courtesy of American Flat Track