When AFT created the SuperTwins class structure there were historic parallels with other race series. AFT's management was following the lead of MotoGP. Until the mid-80s the premier road racing class was still the old 'continental circus' era of the '60s and '70s, a world championship that saw a mix of hard-living characters travel in convoy around Europe, competing with locals, racing at a ragtag mixture of races under the Grand Prix banner, but also competing in non-Championship events for prize and appearance money. The Grand Prix series visited some very suspect tracks (the image of Sheene crossing the railway tracks at Imatra, Finland springs to mind), and the riders were treated like the hired help, not the stars, by many of the race promoters, until they grouped together and fought for their rights, boycotting the most dangerous circuits. Kenny Roberts was one of the riders to shout the loudest for riders' rights, and former racer Mike Trimby formed IRTA, the race teams' association, to further organise the paddock for their own good.
Within a few seasons the series was elevated. International TV deals were organised; the teams, riders, sponsors, tracks, TV production, everything and everyone upped its game, and, for a long time, the money followed, allowing the series to ride global recessions and still retain their ranking as the most important international motorcycle race series. Riders were restricted from competing in non-GP races, but they didn't want to risk their GP careers anyway.
On paper, SuperTwins appeared to be following the same template. Like MotoGP there was a guaranteed place on the grid, as long as the rider's qualifying time was within a percentage of that of the polesitter's. The SuperTwins teams had to up their presentation, though many of them were already at the desired level. Teams had to commit to the whole season, or take the wild card route and risk not getting entries to the races they wanted (which, it seems, happened to former champ Jake Johnson).
But the dawn of SuperTwins coincided with Covid and a downturn in industry spending, and now, going into just the second season of the class, it's looking like bad timing. Harley have pulled their factory team, which would have happened SuperTwins or no SuperTwins. Indian's dominance has scared off most other manufacturers. Only Estenson Yamaha and Latus Harley are racing them in 2021. This isn't a problem for the fans or quality of racing per se, there have been seasons, before the coming of the Werner Springsteen Kawasaki ushered in affordable Japanese framer twins, where the whole grid were on XR750s, but, commercially, it's not great. And there are more riders leaving SuperTwins than joining.
Which brings us to the Production Twins class, and news that two former AFT Singles champs have dropped out of SuperTwins to ride in the class. Dalton Gauthier (HD) and Dan Bromley (Yam - read our exclusive Dan Bromley pre-season interview) will join 2019 Prod Twins champ, Cory Texter as three recent champs looking to add to their tally of titles. Additionally, Ben Lowe is confirmed to be racing a Harley XG750R; race-winner Ryan Varnes is sticking with his Kawasaki (and hoping for better reliability); Johnny Lewis is on the still improving Royal Enfield, plus there's talk of a Bonneville Performance Triumph entry, and a roster of riders, varying in quality, to make the grids look healthy enough in these tough times. Only James Rispoli, the 2020 Production Twins champ, has moved into the SuperTwins class, with the Latus Motors Harley team.
It's hard to pick an outright favourite for the 2021 Production Twins title from list, but just seeing the variety of machines, and the talent is encouraging. Few of them could beat Bauman or Mees, even on the same machinery, but the quality of the racing isn't diminished.
There seems to be an unpredictability is Production Twins that isn't apparent in SuperTwins, even though, in 2020, both classes had the same number of different winners - five each. There were four different manufacturer winners in Production Twins (Harley, Yam, Kaw, Enfield), but only one in SuperTwins. Few would argue it's harder to pick a champ in Production Twins that SuperTwins, which seems to be a two-horse race for the overall title (with all respect to Sammy Halbert and Brandon Robinson).
There isn't the same barrier to entry for the Production Twins riders. A local rider could, theoretically, turn up as a one-off entrant and win the race, the rare, but romantic, hope many dirt track race fans seem to want to cling onto. There are rumours Jeffrey Carver might compete in some Production Twins races, he has a suitable Kawasaki, that he's raced in the top class before. How cool would it be for Carver to turn up in a van to Springfield and win the Mile?
The first round is at the Volusia half-mile, a track that doesn't seem to benefit one brand over the other. Varnes and Texter won a race each there at 2020's double-header.
What about AFT Singles? you ask. Well, yes, the depth of talent is perhaps even deeper, the number of potential winners is bigger (the Singles class had the most different winners in 2020, with seven), but the look, visual variety and sound of framer twins just have more of a draw for me, and Sideburn, than the DTX 450s, so the Production Twins edges it. GI
The AFT season starts THIS FRIDAY. American viewers can livestream the series from just $1.99 per month. Go to www.americanflattrack.com
Details on international streams to follow.
Photos: American Flat Track
#AFT2021 #AmericanFlatTrack #AFTProductionTwins