Harley-Davidson is Upping Its Game for American Flat Track Racing

We spoke with Harley-Davidson about how the brand’s flat track team plans to be more competitive in 2018.

byEric Brandt|
Racing photo

After the Indian Wrecking Crew swept the top three spots in the rankings last season with Jared Mees taking home the Grand National championship, other motorcycle manufacturers are stepping up their game to not let this season be so decisive. One of those brands is Indian’s most direct competitor, Harley-Davidson. The Milwaukee brand has been losing ground in both AFT success and in market share to Polaris-owned Indian Motorcycles. 

Since the 2018 American Flat Track season is shaping up to be one of the most competitive in the sport’s recent history, Harley is boosting its efforts this season with an updated XG750R motorcycle that was introduced in 2016 and a new team consisting of Brandon Robinson returning for his second season with Harley and team newcomers Jarod Vanderkooi and Sammy Halbert. With opportunities to both attract new riders to the brand and energize existing enthusiasts, Harley-Davidson has a lot to gain with racing success.

We spoke with Harley-Davidson marketing director Scott Beck about the new bike, new team, and new AFT season. “We’re pretty excited about the combination that we have,” said Beck. “Racing is like a science project, its combinations of things and how they work together, particularly in flat track.” 

Beck talked a lot about making all of the pieces work together not just between the riders and the bikes, but even in engineering the bike itself. I asked how the XG750R has been modified for this season and Beck said Harley worked in partnership with Vance and Hines to deliver more power to the rear wheel along with getting the suspension, chassis, and weight distribution just right. “Riders have a lot of input,” said Beck. “We’re excited about where we are with the XG.”

Beck sounded confident about the XG platform and still feels good about moving forward from the tried and true XR of the past. “We could have easily gone back to the XR and probably seen a different performance characteristic overall, but we really were focused on the XG,” said Beck. “As we looked at the future of the sport we asked: Do we continue to approach this relying on the past, or do we look forward and evolve and modernize and build a bright future for the sport of dirt track going forward? It would’ve been easy for us to take our 40-year history of winning on the XR and white paper that thing and say ‘let’s just make it new and modern.’ We didn’t do that because we wanted to build our future around a production based motorcycle that we actually sell. That’s unlike most any of the competition.”

Indeed, the XG has quite a bit in common with the production Street 750 that anyone can buy from a dealer. The XG is obviously a racing bike lacking front brakes, a headlight, and other things required of a street bike, but there’s a strong resemblance in the overall look and in the engine. It’s always nice to see something on the track that at least somewhat resembles something you can buy at a dealership.

With a team that blends experience with youth and a bike that’s undergone some beneficial tweaks, Harley-Davidson likes its chances in this season of what AFT calls “America’s original extreme sport” and so do we. The season begins in Daytona on March 15.