Royal Enfield sent out this interview with Johnny Lewis, for media to share, so here you go. It starts with their own intro...
For Johnny Lewis of the Moto Anatomy X Powered by Royal Enfield team, it’s been an exciting season so far in the 2022 American Flat Track Championship. Johnny and the Moto Anatomy X team, together with Royal Enfield, are developing the Twins FT motorcycle in the Production Twins class, and have effectively brought the INT650 motorcycle into the world of competition. Through his efforts, Royal Enfield has become a competitive force in AFT Short Track, TT and Half Mile racing, and most recently, the Mile. The journey has been an exciting one for Royal Enfield and for Johnny, full of rewards, challenges and milestones including a historic win at the Lima Half Mile in 2021—a first-ever feat for Royal Enfield.
With the highs inevitably come the lows, the most recent being a knee injury that kept Lewis on the sidelines for several races earlier this summer. But the ever-resourceful Lewis turned the setback into an opportunity, both for emerging young flat track racer Cameron Smith, and for himself to step into a bigger role as race team manager.
Since coming back from injury, you’ve had some good races. Tell us about the last three rounds.
JL: I was excited to come back, just based on how the bike has developed. We got a second-place with Cameron Smith at Weedsport, and it was awesome having someone else on the bike and inspiring to see the progress of the new chassis. Prior to that we felt like the development was good, but I got hurt at New Hampshire, which I felt was a podium track. And then we were up to third at Lima, but I came back way too early from my injury and had to pull out of the main event after I re-twisted my knee. So felt like we missed out on two podiums in a row. But to come back and have Cameron Smith get a second-place finish on a track that he won at the year before was pretty inspiring. We were in the right direction with the motorcycle. As a development rider, as team manager, as the racer, it was very rewarding seeing that.
After having Cameron Smith substitute for two rounds, you finally came back at Peoria TT. How did that go?
JL: I came back with a second-place finish. We actually rode the old chassis there, just based on the chassis being a little stiffer. That’s such a big jump. The jump is pretty aggressive. You’re hitting it third-gear wide open. Landing, you don’t want to twist up the motorcycle too much. So we rode the old chassis and we were able to finish second there. That was pretty good for my return ride, despite people kind of questioning my return because of having an injury and that being my first race back. Everybody thought I was crazy, but I knew I personally could do it.
The Rapid City Half-Mile wasn’t so great, but then Castle Rock you were back on the podium at another TT. Talk about that.
JL: We had little issues at the Rapid City Half-Mile. We finished ninth which was disappointing, but it was also a learning process—the motorcycle and the characteristics of it. And then we capitalized on it, coming back with a second place at Castle Rock TT a weekend later on a very slick, one-lined track. I didn’t feel comfortable right away at the beginning of the day at Castle Rock, all day long I felt a little off-pace. But things just clicked for the main event. That track, you had to ride about 85 percent. If you rode harder you’d miss your mark. We were actually leading; Jesse [Janisch] pressured me the last six laps pretty hard, and then there was a red flag. He got me off the line on the restart, so I was a little frustrated.
For me to start on the front row and lead the race until two laps to go, and then just get beat out on the re-start, personally I felt like I missed out. But it was a big couple of weeks for Royal Enfield Moto Anatomy X team. We’re now back to where I felt we should have been—getting podiums consistently. It’s good to return and be where I feel we should be, both on the development side, and for myself, physically. It’s a good way to finish out the season. At both TTs we got seconds—Peoria and Castle Rock. Those are our best TT finishes for Royal Enfield. Last year was two fifth, this year is two seconds.
Mile racing is a new frontier for the Moto Anatomy X powered by Royal Enfield team this year, and you had some positive takeaways from the Sacramento Mile. How did that go?
JL: It was our second attempt at a Mile for the Twins FT. The Cal Expo track wasn’t the best and we had a pretty tough semifinal but we ended up second. That was promising. We were getting everything out of the motorcycle we could that day. For the main event, the track was getting a little faster, and we were also getting faster. We were running third early on, and then coming up on the fifth lap, broke the shifter off in fourth gear. Coming out of the corner I was at the rev limiter. So I had to manage the throttle down the straightaway and gave up a few positions to finish sixth. It was eventful, but the positive is that we finished our first Mile race. It wasn’t ideal conditions for us, but in all, it was a positive experience. It would have been cool to podium on a mile, and we know that the potential is there.
On top of putting together your own race program, you’re really carrying an entire brand into uncharted territory. What has that challenge been like?
JL: Before I rode the Royal Enfield, I had the record for putting the most different brands in main events in American Flat Track history. But doing it for a brand such as Royal Enfield that doesn’t have a racing history, is a unique challenge. We started with the INT650, which is a 47-horsepower motorcycle, that is now capable of being consistently up front, week in and week out, with motorcycles that are 90-100 horsepower. To be able to develop a motorcycle and represent a brand that never had a big racing heritage, and to be in the hunt each weekend with brands that center their efforts on racing is pretty rewarding.
Talk about the Royal Enfield Slide School. This program has taken on a life of its own!
JL: Yeah, the Slide School has been rewarding in itself. We’ve taken the 411cc Himalayan and turned it into basically a concept motorcycle, eliminating the headlights and all that, and building a motorcycle that’s capable of putting people on a flat track helping them understand the technique. Through our program we teach the theory of flat track, which then also builds fans into riders and racers. It’s been neat to see.
Some of the people come because they own a Royal Enfield, some people come because they flat track and they want to learn to do it better. They get the chance to ride the Himalayan and realize, this thing is a pretty cool motorcycle. Or you get these people that show up just because they want to ride a Himalayan for the first time. And they experience flat track at the same time, going man, this motorcycle that’s only 26-27 horsepower can be ridden to 100% of its ability around this little oval which then translates to riding their motorcycle better, whether it’s on the road or off-road or adventure riding.
How long has the Slide School been going on now?
JL: We started the program in August of 2020, so it’s been 24 months now, and we’ve taught 400 people how to flat track through the slide school program just in the U.S. alone. And then we started the UK version and we also have the Italy version now, too. We’re expanding the horizon, internationally, of people learning to flat track with the Himalayan that’s converted into a flat track bike.JL:
Royal Enfield has always been about is accessibility. And this is making flat track, an otherwise intimidating sport, very accessible to anyone who wants to try it.
JL: It's showing people that a motorcycle that’s just over $5000 brand new can be ridden in multiple disciplines, too. It can be ridden on the street. The cool thing about the new Royal Enfield Scram 411 is that it comes with a 19-inch front wheel, which is what we use on the front on the flat track bikes. It’s the accessibility of it, and people getting the experience on it, and also showing people that you don’t have to buy a $10,000 motorcycle, then convert it over; you can get into it at a very reasonable price and have fun and that’s kind of what the whole Slide School program has been about so far.
Click for details of Johnny's Moto Anatomy US Royal Enfield Slide School
Click for details of Dirt Craft's UK Royal Enfield Slide School