Our friends at Indian shared this film of American multi-discipline racer Tyler O'Hara's recent busy weekend. The Californian competed in both the AFT SuperTwins class at the Atlanta SuperTT, on an Indian FTR750, and at the first round of the 2021 King of the Baggers on an Indian Challenger, and can he ride a motorcycle? That's rhetorical, he can ride like a mofo.
Bagger racing is a great concept. I remember, about 20 years ago, looking into the possibility of the magazine I was working with at the time, Performance Bikes, entering a GoldWing at the Isle of Man TT, but it wouldn't have passed scrutineering I was told. King of the Baggers shows how well these heavyweights handle, and I didn't doubt it, because, since the Honda GoldWing GL1800 was launched in 2001, my mind was changed about what a super tourer can do, even though I haven't had a lot of experience with them since.
Indian won the 2020 KOTB race, with Tyler O'Hara on board one of only two Indian Challengers in a field of Harleys. It was another discipline where Indian could legitimately say they out-performed Harley, useful ammo in the marketing war.
But I have an issue... Yes, the script is peppered with clichés and a thick coat of hyperbole that isn't needed in a story that is this interesting, but perhaps that is what a particular target demographic responds to. What caused my double-take, headshake, followed by a hasty rewind was when Gary Gray, Indian's VP of Racing and Technology, someone I personally have a lot of respect for, explains that bagger racing is important to the company, because 'it has become the pinnacle of racing in America.'
Now hold on a minute. Yes, 2020's King of the Bagger's race at Laguna Seca was a spectacle. It got people talking, and excited about road racing. Gray says it was the most watched race on two wheels in the United States that year and I don't doubt it, it was social media catnip, something everyone from bagger owners to sportsbike squids could relate to and enjoy. It drew new eyes to the Wayne Rainey-helmed MotoAmerica series that hosted it, totally overshadowing the struggling production bike classes, and there's no doubt it did enough to warrant a reprise. What it actually was rewarded with is a five-round series for 2021, of which O'Hara's Road Atlanta race was the first race. But 'the pinnacle of racing in America'? Come on. There seemed to be six bikes on the grid at the Atlanta round.
Can't bagger racing just be what it seems to be on the surface, a fun distraction, entertainment, a memorable spectacle, a great marketing tool? Those things are all valid, and impressive when rolled together, but is it much more than the 'new' Superhooligan series, a fun quirky race series. Is it going to be around in three or five years time?
And if it really is being regarded as the pinnacle by someone as influential as Gray, what does that say for AFT, the NHRA, and MotoAmerica's bread and butter Superbike and Supersport classes?