The rumour we heard last week turned out to be true: Harley-Davidson have not renewed Vance & Hines to run their factory AFT and NHRA drag racing teams.
Vance & Hines are reported as saying they, 'will continue [our] racing tradition in 2021 with sponsored riders in a variety of racing series, and be the sole distributor for the sole licensee, manufacturer and seller of Harley-Davidson XG750R Production Twin motorcycles and Harley-Davidson XG750R SuperTwin motorcycles.'
The Milwaukee firm said, 'Harley-Davidson is harkening back to the foundations of the company’s competitive spirit by refocusing on building within the brand and celebrating the heritage of grassroots flat track racing by offering support to its entire dealer network through the development of contingency programs.
They added, 'Harley-Davidson’s heritage is rich with racing lore and legacy, and throughout our brand’s history, Harley-Davidson dealers have been the cornerstone of our racing programs. We are excited to continue to support the XG750R racing motorcycle and NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle efforts through our dealers.'
This means that Harley won't field a factory-supported rider in the Grand National Championship for the first time in decades. Does this matter? Well, to some people, yes, to others, no.
Those hit the most directly are the riders who had existing contracts. We don't know what contract situation of Vanderkooi and Smith, but we've been told Gauthier was in the first year of a two-year deal. So, he'll either be paid up, or ride for a Vance & Hines-run non-factory team, or, possibly, be found a ride with another Harley privateer team. We don't who that might be. We've heard rumours that Vanderkooi is lined up for an Indian ride.
V&H say their team members will be redistributed onto other projects. V&H themselves will lose a good contract, but they've worked in racing and for various factories over their 40-year history, and have proved resilient and adaptable.
It's not great for AFT, unless a factory-quality team running Harleys joins the AFT SuperTwins class. That could be Vance and Hines. I'm not sure who else could be in the frame. Former factory race engineer, and the tuner with the most wins in GNC history, Bill Warner was interviewed on Off The Groove recently and gave the impression that he thought the XG750R could and should be winning races. Who knows if that's the case? Not me. Who'd put huge investment into running a SuperTwins team and choose Harley over Indian? It would have to be someone heavily invested in the brand.
What must be noted, Harley were winning GNC titles up the end of 2015, and narrowly missed out on the 2016 title, then the world turned Indian-shaped. The point I'm making is, the last actual factory H-D rider to win a title was Kenny Coolbeth in 2008. Between '08 and Smith winning on the Kawasaki in 2016, Harley XR750 riders won every title and none of them were on a factory bike, all were on private teams. So, as Harley stated, this is their history.
Who could it be good for? Production Twins racers on Harleys. Harley are likely to put up good contingency prize money to encourage private teams to fly the black and orange flag. Teams like Latus, who won the 2020 Production Twins title with James Rispoli, and Black Hills H-D rider, Chad Cose. A large contingency fund could encourage more riders to move from Japanese framers to the XG750R.