The 2016 champion was missing from the So Cal Half-Mile on Saturday, the second race he, or his team, have decided to sit out this season. Giving the Super TT a swerve was somewhat understandable if they were struggling, and they seem to be. Bryan Smith's weakest discipline are TTs, but missing this half-mile was harder to fathom. Smith is well known to be a mile specialist, but in his title-winning season he scored a first, second and fourth at half-mile tracks. He did fail to make it out of an 11-rider semi to qualify for the main at the Texas Half-Mile, the third race of this season. I don't know the circumstances of that semi.
As far as title aspirations go, the season's already a write-off, no doubt about that, and that is a real shock because it's the rider, bike, team, everything, that won the title in 2016, the last season before the FTR750 showed up*; the last season before Smith joined the 'Wrecking Crew'.
From our understanding Smith chose to leave the Indian team, he wasn't pushed. He felt the move back to an independent team, and a bike built exclusively for him, would give the advantage needed to beat Mees. And in time, it might, but in the meantime, the Bauman brothers have moved in the official Indian team, replacing Smith and Brad Baker, and Briar Bauman is leading the championship. Despite the FTR750 having to run smaller injectors than the opposition (see our post about the 2019 rules changes) it is still the bike to be on. Five races down this year and FTR750s have won four of them with three different riders, and filled 12 of the 15 possible podium places.
Smith has been very up front about the absences. He posted this on facebook before this weekend's race at Perris:
Hey Crosley-Howerton #4 flat track fans! Just letting you all know that Bryan and Team have taken some needed time to sort out the 2019 bikes. The Team felt that it needed to be done or we would continue to chase the performance needed at the track to be at the front. Team #4 will not be competing this coming weekend at the Perris Half Mile and will instead be working to prep for the upcoming stretch of Mile racing that lies ahead. We will miss seeing every one at the track and look forward to Sacramento and Springfield!
It's already an intriguing season. I'm a fan of Smith, Rick Howerton and the radical bike. I hope they come back strong at the SacMile this Saturday.
*We know Joe Kopp debuted the FTR750 at the final round of 2016. We were there to witness & ride it. See the full story in Sideburn 27.