We heard about the new NKR Canada team through americanflattrack.com. The team's whole focus is to introduce young Canadian talent into AFT, starting in 2021 with Hunter Bauer (above). We realised we knew the force behind the NKR team, team manager, Niki Kendall, through the Vancouver Flat Track Club, in British Columbia, so we set up an interview to find out more about AFT's newest team manager and her plans.
When did you first become involved with flat track, either as a fan or more deeply? It all started road-tripping to Washington to watch some Vancouver pals race. Living in Vancouver, BC, we’re right across the border from some great tracks: Hannegan, Castle Rock, Rainier, to name a few. I loved being at the track. Watching the races, being in the pits with my buddies, the race community there…the whole thing. There also used to be a small track in Vernon, BC, where our friends, Lowsiders MC, put on an annual event every year with some good ol’ outlaw racing (RIP O’Keefe’s!). Long story short, I was definitely a trackside fan before anything else, just taking it all in.
Please tell us more about your flat track background. I became more seriously involved in the sport when a couple pals who raced discovered a oval dirt track not far from Vancouver on Google Earth. It was a stock car track and, after approaching the car club, they agreed to have bikes out for a test and tune to see what we were all about. Two wheels hit that track for the first time in 2015, and I really wanted to be involved in making that a regular occurrence and getting some local racing going. That was the first glimmer of what eventually became Vancouver Flat Track Club (VFTC). We’ve had a few folks come and go from the executive committee over the years, but Sam Villanueva, Keddie Brown and I have been involved since its inception. VFTC puts on races at that track, Pemberton Speedway, on an annual basis, and do our best to support the resurgence of the sport in BC. We organize the Northwest Championship series, which is made up of all Washington tracks and our track this side of the border, and we are also west coast delegates for Flat Track Canada. We put on riders clinics and do the annual Van Moto Show with them here every year. We have a very close relationship with our flat track fam in Ontario as well as here in the Northwest, and we all share the same common goal of growing the sport.
Niki and VFTC colleague Keddie Brown
I’m also pretty passionate about the history of the sport in BC. The riders, the tracks, the races… flat track racing was in full swing here back in the day. A few years ago, I organized a ‘History of Flat Track Racing in BC’ event as a VFTC pre-season bash. I spent the year prior meeting up with flat trackers of days-past and collecting photos, listening to stories and was in my glory. The event was my way of paying homage to our history; a passing of the torch if you will. It was such a cool worlds-collide moment, with both former racers (some who hadn’t seen each other in 20 years and were in tears seeing each other and talking about their racing days) and the new blood who were reviving the sport locally. We had a few old race bikes there, including Trev Deeley’s 1949 WR out on loan from Deeley Exhibition, a big photo display and a 500+ image slideshow… and lots of beers.
Niki with Sam Villanueva of the VFTC, and long-time VFTC event supporter, Duncan Fraser
Trev Deeley’s 1949 Harley WR from the ‘History of Flat Track Racing in BC’ event
Then there’s AFT. With not a whole lot of Canadian presence as of late, I became a bit obsessed with the idea that we need to get back in the mix in a bigger way. In all honesty, I had kind of hoped someone else would take the reins and I could just carve myself out a role. But after talking about it for the last few years, I made the decision to do it myself. I won’t get too into my background in the advertising / film industry, but I have a lot of experience with team management, budgeting, branding, etc, that translates well, and an education in Motorsports Management to connect the dots. And so began the NKR Canada venture.
VFTC's beautiful home track, Pemberton Speedway
Needless to say, I kind of went from 0 to 100 with my involvement in flat track. I am definitely a rarity in the sense that I don’t have a racing background myself, which I get asked about a lot. Between that and (I hate to say it because it’s 2021 for god’s sake) being a female, my validity has definitely been challenged over the years. As the President of VFTC and the Race Marshall at Pemberton Speedway, I’ve had to deal with all sorts who have questioned my authority. Luckily for me, the enormous support has by far outweighed the critics. That support has now further extended as I embark on being an AFT Team Owner/Manager.
You were running the VFTC - will you be stepping away from that, or can you fit it all in? Well, I’m still President, and the current plan is to do it all. Needless to say, VFTC race dates won’t conflict with the AFT schedule! Due to Covid, there are some very strict restrictions around gatherings and events in Canada so, we actually didn’t even have a race season in BC last year, nor did Flat Track Canada run a national series. We also couldn’t cross the border to race in Washington so, it was a complete dud of a race season for us in 2020. 2021 is a wildcard for us at the moment as some of those restrictions are still in place. We are gearing up to put on some races towards the end of the summer with fingers crossed. I know I’ll be really busy with NKR Canada, but VFTC has a great exec committee and support network, and we have worked hard over the years to build out a dialled program so, it’s definitely easier than in used to be when we were new!
NKR partners with long-established pro team Waters Auto Body Racing. Hunter Bauer (right) is the NKR rider, who will share a pit with Aidan Roosevans (left)
How will your role dovetail with that of Waters AutoBody? I’m so happy to have crossed paths with the Waters. I was trying to wrap my head around the logistical challenge of being in Canada and racing in the States. My original plan was to have our own bikes, hauler, etc and I was really struggling with where that would all live, who would work on our bikes, etc. There were definitely some sleepless nights around that one! Aligning with the Water’s alleviated that whole side of things and, what started as a solution to a logical challenge quickly morphed into an awesome 2-team alliance. Hunter rides for NKR Canada, and NKR has bought in to have him be on board the Water Auto Body Racing KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition this season. As Team Owner/Manager, I handle pretty much everything to do with getting Hunter as far as the starting line. Hustling for sponsor support, race registration, leathers, a support team, working with the Waters to get him on a bike that is ready to roll, etc…my goal with NKR was to always remove as many obstacles as I could for Canadian riders to properly compete, and I feel like I’ve done that. With Aidan Roosevans riding for the Waters, the two teams are working closely together to roll out as a cohesive and prepared 2-team unit flying the KTM flag, and we are all very excited to get the show on the road! Will you be at every race Hunter competes at? Yes, 100%! Wouldn’t miss it for the world. The NKR team is rolling 4 deep for the whole season. It will be Hunter, myself, Hunter's dad Robert who’s coming out as a Mechanic for us along side the Waters support, and Doug Lawrence as Rider Coach. Why is important to you to have Canadian involvement in AFT? I could write a novel about this one. We have some exceptional talent in Canada, and I really think it’s important that we represent in the "world’s premier flat track series” that is American Flat Track. Both to get our talent out there, and to also tip the scales, even if just a bit, in the American-dominated field of competitors. After Oliver’s injury, I believe Max Whale was the only non-American competitor. It’s extremely difficult for international riders to compete in AFT, as you and I both know. Doug Lawrence been the most recent Canadian that’s had any sort of presence in the series. Since then, there’s been the odd Canadian pro that’s been able to hit a race or two a season within their own means. Dominic Beaulac from Quebec won Lima in 2006, and that was the last time we were on the podium. I think Dave Sehl is probably the most successful Canadian to date, with 10 podiums (six wins, two 2nd's and two 3rd’s) in the AMA Grand Nationals in the 70’s. I remember being at Laconia in 2019, and I knew a couple Canadians were there so I went to find them to say hi. They were way back in the weeds of the paddock, no back up bike, just trying to make it happen, doing whatever they could trying to get out and race. That was the tipping point for me. It definitely drove it home that our national talent needs to be better supported in order to be competitive in the series. At the moment, NKR Canada is a small fish in a big pond, but this is the start of something that I hope will grow and have a long-lasting place in AFT. Where is the funding coming from? Don’t be deceived by the flashy name, NKR Canada. Haha. This is 100% me hustling for sponsor support to get us out there.This is a significant undertaking on a good day, never mind during a pandemic, but I’m doing my best! I guess this would be my opportunity to tell folks to get in touch if they would like to support us! Seriously though, for anyone who know what goes into competing in AFT, you know what we’re up against. This is a girl with a dream, not some big corporation that’s loaded. Drop me an email at email@example.com or visit www.nkrcanada.com to learn more about how you can support us as we embark on this new venture. How many riders were in consideration before choosing Hunter? I was originally going to bring out two riders for our first season, and I always wanted Hunter to be one of them. He’s busting at the seams with natural talent, has so much drive and determination and has such good demeanour and attitude. He’s young and this will be a whole new level of racing for him, and I can’t tell you how excited I am to be a part of his growth and progression. 100% the kind of kid you wanna get behind. I’d been keeping tabs on our national talent over the years and I try to get out east for races whenever I can. There is some great talent in Canada, which is why I built NKR. When I met with the Waters in Charlotte last year, they were unsure of their plans for 2021 so they were intrigued about me potentially bringing 2 Canadian riders to the table. At that point, I knew I wanted to bring Hunter, but was still unsure about the second position. Enter Aidan Roosevans. I’m glad things happened the way they did. For our first season, I’m happy to focus my attention on one rider. My goal for NKR is to establish a long-term presence in AFT and, if all goes well, I would love to expand our roster next season. Were Waters running a team with Roosevans in 2021, or did they add him after your approached them? I guess I kind of answered that one above already. Ha. But, in summary, I had conversations with the Waters about aligning, then shortly after, they were approached by the Roosevans, and here we are. The Waters were actually considering not racing in 2021 but, that was short-lived! A new twist with a Canadian team alliance, coupled with a keen American rider, and of course a new contract with KTM as the very sweet icing on the cake, and they’re back! I got the impression Hunter probably won't run a full season in 2021, have you decided the races yet, and if so, why choose those? Our goal is to do as many rounds as we can within our means. We’d like to exert our presence, but in a manageable fashion for our first season out. As of this moment, we’re aiming to be at every round except the two TT’s in Atlanta and Peoria, Springfield Mile and, the California TBD’s are just that for us.