Can Pro Flat Track Wake From Decades-Long Coma?

February 1, 2018

Randy from Western Flat Track Association (formerly CFTA) left a comment on our 'Massed Ranks of Indians' post and it was so insightful that he addd to it to make it into a post. 

 

As we've seen, AFT overshot on their preferential allowances to Indian, creating a dominating race-winning monster. Michael Lock claims that the reasoning was that it would take some time for the FTR750 (above) to become competitive.  Granted there is always some development time for new machinery, but his references were privateers building competitive Kawasakis, not a $7 billion company who has a reputation of playing to win. Michael's background is in marketing, not motorcycle R&D. Either he under-estimated Indian or he’s dumb like a fox and created the perfect setup. 

There is a certain historical example of this when Honda put their R&D resources to work on building a winning flat track twin, the RS750D, and hiring two top riders in Ricky Graham and Bubba Shobert. They so overshot expectations, that the AMA (under great political pressure from Harley-Davidson) imposed carburettor and weight restrictions to make the Harleys competitive again. Honda was understandably outraged at this rulebook engineering and pulled out of flat track in 1988 [never to return as an importer/factory team - GI].  Effectively the AMA and Harley legislated out the competition and it remained Harley's sole playground for decades.  And the sport withered.

It has now been proven twice, that with the proper budget, it's relatively easy to build a better XR750.  And selling the FTR to the privateer racers at the low price of $50,000 puts that well-built machine into the hands of many racers. While I'm no Harley engine builder and I don't know the maintenance cycle on the FTR, my strong hunch is that the total budget to race an FTR over a few years is substantially less than maintaining a zeeked-out, grenade-prone, 1972-designed XR750. 

 

[In the '70s] Harley had to homologate the motor so they built 200 and sold them through their network of dealers for $3,200, which adjusted for inflation is about $20,000 in today’s dollars.  Add in the rolling chassis costs and you’re not terribly far from $50K. Where else in the professional racing world can you buy the best machine in the sport for $50K?  Yes, flat track has a history of low cost and grassroots racing, but you can only cut that grass so low and still maintain a semblance of relevance in today’s world. Indian is dragging Harley and the various builders out of their no tech garages and into the modern world of race technology. There will be some casualties along the way, especially if other manufacturers and professional race teams with deeper pockets join the fracas.

 

This year the manufacturers are ponying up big money in the way of contingencies. Well, big for flat track, that is.  Harley, Indian, Kawasaki, Yamaha, Husqvarna and American Honda have all stepped it up to a tune of $1.8M in total [remember that's contingency, not a guaranteed sponsor package. some manufacturers, like Husqvarna, might not pay a dollar if no one chooses to race their bike - GI]. 

 

It appears that the sport just might be pulling itself out of decades-long coma and it might just be the start of a real sea change.

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