Traction is so overrated.
Story by Shane Scott
Photos by Moto Anatomy
A motorcycle is not meant to slide. It’s unnatural. You have to make it happen. And whether it happens by mistake or by skill, it’s one of the single most exhilarating sensations a human body can experience. You are on the edge of traction – crashing, but not crashing. This is flat track racing.
I grew up racing motorcycles in Eastern Canada in the late ’70s and ’80s during a period when the American Grand National Championship flat-track racing was in its glory days. Roberts, Springsteen, Shobert and my favourite racer of all time, Ricky Graham, were legends in their prime. Although I’ve spent more than 40 years racing motocross, road racing, supermoto, ice racing, desert rally and off-road, the addictive sliding sensation of American flat track is what appeals to me most.
So in early March, I buy a little van, throw my old Honda dirt tracker and a bunch of stuff in the back and drive the 3,000 km from snow-covered Moncton, N.B., to be a part of the 78th Daytona Bike Week.
On March 14, the Daytona TT kicks off the American Flat Track (AFT) Championship series. The track has been moved to centre stage within the Daytona International Speedway in the same location that the Supercross track was a week before. Leading up to the TT, Florida becomes a hotbed for training, support racing, promotions and everything flat track. New race teams are gearing up to tackle the summer-long race series all over the U.S.A.
Resurgence of the Sport
Flat-track racing is enjoying a rebirth. AFT has reconfigured the classes to Pro Twins and Singles, added better and more venues and attracted an audience with online technology. You can watch every race live and for free on fanschoice.tv. With that renewed interest, sponsorship continues to grow. More motorcycle brands are involved than ever before. The fields are deep and racing is always bar-to-bar and thrilling. With all that, the series hasn’t lost its grassroots feel of Saturday night at the county fair.
After three days of driving down the eastern seaboard, I am rolling through the picturesque rural landscape of central Florida. The endless fruit production and pasturelands hide the fact this is a significant dirt-bike neighbourhood. First, I roll past the gates to Bakers’ Factory, where KTM’s professional Supercross racers train. Close by, there is El Chupacabra Ranch, the private training facility of pro racer Blake Baggett. I follow my instructions and let myself in at the private gate a little farther down the road.
This is home to Johnny Lewis and Moto Anatomy. You quickly see this isn’t farmland. Race rigs and trailers, dirt ovals of various sizes, motocross tracks and motorcycles of all breeds litter the compound. Racers from all over are here for one purpose: to get faster on a race bike under the tutelage of Lewis. Jeffrey Carver Jr., an AFT Pro Twins Championship hopeful, is pounding laps on a motocross bike. MotoAmerica road racing champion Alex Dumas, from Quebec City, is integrating dirt-track training into his program as he prepares for the Twins Cup Championship series. Pro Supersport road-racing champion Cory Alexander, from New York, is spending his days on motocross and dirt-track trainer bikes and putting the final touches on his new Kawasaki 450 AFT Singles bike for the Daytona TT. And me? Well, I’m just happy to be here, visiting the Lewis family again and going around in circles on my Honda.
I was led to Lewis a few years ago as I was preparing to race the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. I spent four days in a one-on-one dirt-track training program designed to improve my skills on a 200-hp mountain road racer. Lewis uncovered 40 years of bad body position habits on the first day back then that I’m still working on. And I never knew you could accomplish so much with a rear brake.
A transplant from a hotbed of dirt-track racing in Pennsylvania, Lewis moved his family to Florida in 2014 with the vision of offering professional racer training. Turning 30 years old this year, he is still a threat anywhere he laces on a steel shoe, as his recent podium at the Texas Half-Mile demonstrated. But his heart is more focused on sharing his riding and racer prep knowledge and helping to develop the sport.
We head to Orlando for the day for a special project. Motorcycle racing legend Jeff Ward, at 57 years old, has decided to race all of the TT-style races on this year’s AFT series, beginning with the Daytona TT – an idea spawned during an…