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Flat-Track Motorcycling, A “Dirty” Race Of Skill, Speed And Guts Makes A Comeback- Motorcycle companies are exceptionally invested in the growth of AFT

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In 2017, AMA Pro Racing unveiled the rebranding of the nation’s top dirt-track motorcycle racing series with the name American Flat Track, featuring a revised series of classes and formats to boost viewership, especially among younger and digital-savvy fans of extreme sports.

By most measures, the strategy seems to be working.  According to the sport, the 2018 season drew 2.5 million viewers to its NBC Sports Network broadcast, a 41% increase over the 2017.  More than half a million viewers watched live races streaming on, twice the number of a year ago. More than 100,000 tickets were sold at the eighteen races, whose locations reflect a broader national reach, compared with the earlier regional emphasis on the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states.

The sport traces its roots to the 1920s, when the first races were held, sometimes on mile-long ovals.

Though once the proud owner, many moons ago, of a BMW R75/5 motorcycle, I haven’t kept up with the latest models or competitions or riders. I hadn’t viewed or heard of any American Flat Track races – which is why AFT’s invitation to Daytona Beach to mount a motorcycle and get a feel for the dirt track shocked me. As a legitimate senior citizen and grandpa among automotive journalists, did the racing corporation actually mean to invite me?

Yes, as it turns out. “We’ll make sure you stay safe,” said a representative of the sport. “Johnny Lewis, one of our best instructors and a racer himself will show you the ropes.”

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Last Thursday, in the shadow of Daytona Motor Speedway, Lewis taught me and journalists Graham Kozak of AutoWeek and Ronald Ahrens, a contributor to Automobile and DBusiness, the principles of dirt-track racing. Our session was about two hours. I can’t say I’m ready to race anyone, yet I now understand the principles of sliding through turns and gunning straightaways, the posture needed to lay a bike close to the earth – and the skills and courage needed to relax, place your left leg back, away from the bike….and just skid.

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The sport is enjoying a resurgence under the sponsorship of Jim France, 74, billionaire chairman of International Speedway Corp. and scion of the illustrious France family, owner of NASCAR. France is a onetime dirt bike racer, his 250 cc. Bultaco still on display at the Daytona Speedway owned by his company.

France hired Michael Lock as AFT’s CEO; Lock’s a Brit with business experience at Ducati motorcycles and Lamborghini as well as a lifetime love affair, as he describes it, with motorcycles.  “The crowds are getting bigger, they’re more engaged and they are gaining a familiarity with our stars,” he said at an interview for journalist/amateur Flat Trackers.

Most prominent among the stars is Shayna Texter, an articulate 27-year-old who has been riding motorcycles since her father put on one at the age of three.  Yes, the distaff set is welcome to compete along with the men – and not just because they’re expected to attract female fans.  “I’ve always competed against men, so it’s not that big a deal,” she said. “My goal, the best thing that could happen to me, is to win a championship,” she said.  Last year’s champion was Jared Mees, 34.

Obviously, the motorcycle companies are exceptionally invested in the growth of AFT, providing bonuses to the riders whose machines are winners.  Indian, a newly revived brand; Harley-Davidson; Ducati; Husqvarna, KTM, Honda Yamaha and Kawasaki are the names that stand out among the two-wheelers.

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And, yes, the sport is dangerous.  I met a racer who told me his brother was killed in a race.  Last year, a racer took a spill and suffered a spinal cord injury and may never walk again.  We journalists were driving relatively slowly on a Kawasaki 125 cc. with limited power: it was plenty to get a taste for what racers face on every straightaway and turn.

I will be watching on March 14, the first of eighteen races this year, in Daytona Beach. The circuit winds across the country and back to East Rutherford, NJ on September 28, the last race of the year at the Meadowlands.

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