Sunday, December 25, 2011

AMA Flat Track: From a Dream, to the Desktop to the Dirt-The Eaken Racing/Luke Gough & Rick Howerton-Built Kawasaki Twins Series Machine, Part 3

Eaken Racing's Luke Gough rolls out for practice at the rain delayed Springfield Mile I round of the 2011 AMA Pro Flat Track Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Championship Series on May 29 on the team's new #62 Kawasaki 650R-based mount, built by Rick Howerton of Howerton Products in Indianapolis, IN.  The Digger/Dick Ford/KK Cycle/Eaken Racing/Sakaida Trucking/Howerton-sponsored machine was making it's debut in the Twins Series after Howerton had started the build back in late summer 2010.  Gough just did miss the revamped program, coming up just .110 seconds out of the 6th and final qualifying spot on the day in the bike's first real test under real racing conditions.  By the end of the 2011 season, things were starting to look almost as bright for the new Kawasaki and rider as it's dayglo paint job.

Former AMA Grand National Championship Series competitor and National #31 Dan Ingram, talks with Cycle's Larry Lawrence at round 6 of the 2011 AMA Pro Flat Track Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Championship Series on May 29 at the Springfield Mile I.  The Clermont, IN. resident and former AMA Grand National Championship race winner did some testing with the team in preparing the Eaken Racing Kawasaki, along with current National #13 Dan Gedeon when they tested at the Circleville, OH. half-mile in early May.  Lloyd Brothers Motorsports was also on hand for the test, and then-rider and eventual 2011 Saddlemen AMA Flat Track Rookie of the Year Brad Baker also did some laps on the parallel twin for the team.

Ingram was within reach of the track record almost immediately after having not ridden in Expert competition since the early '90s accident he suffered racing.  Originally hoping to make his comeback at the Lucas Oil Indy Mile in August, Ingram is now racing some of the Steve Nace Racing indoor events at DuQuoin on an AMA Pro Singles license, and once he has amassed 100 points can move back to an Expert license per AMA Flat Track.  He's already gotten over 40 of those and could be back on a Twin by late spring 2012 according to Howerton Products' Rick Howerton.

As rider Luke Gough and team owner Skip Eaken discuss strategy the rest of the team gets the #62 Eaken Racing XR750 and Kawasaki 650R ready for the former Australian flat track champ at round 11 of the series at Lake Odessa, MI. on July 23, 2011.  Unfortunately, Gough missed the cut at I-96, but by the next weekend things had turned around for them at the renewed Sacramento Mile.  Gough won his heat to nab a front row start for round 12 at the Cal Expo Fairgrounds, and went on to bring the new machine home in the 9th spot.  Things were really starting to look up.  Expert rider Dan Gedeon from Ohio also tried to qualify the machine for the Lima race between Springfield I and Lake Odessa, but finishes of 7th in his heat and 6th in his semi kept him and the Kawasaki on the sidelines again.

At the next Twins Series round at the Springfield Mile II on September 4, Gough put the Rick Howerton-built machine into it's second-straight final.  Practicing in the top 17, he went on to qualify 9th on the Kaw, just .306 seconds adrift of fast man Kenny Coolbeth, Jr. on the #2 Harley-Davidson Motor Co. factory XR.  He then went on to finish 3rd in his heat behind winner Sammy Halbert and runner-up Bryan Smith, just .247 seconds behind what was virtually a dead heat between the top 2 for what was a very strong run.

On the warm up lap, eventual event winner Willie McCoy rolls off the line as Gough, Matt Weidman #20, Rob Pearson #27 and Jake Johnson #1 get the signal to roll from AMA Pro Flat Track official Kelly Bell.

Getting a rough start in the National main, Gough worked his way to the rear of the lead pack and was running in the lead draft of seven other riders when........

........the crank let go on the Kawasaki 650R-based mount with just 5 laps to go.  The season ended on a very bright note, however, when Gough took the bike home to a career-best 4th-place finish at the season's penultimate round at the Calistoga Half-Mile.

Rider Luke Gough, team owner and long time tuner to the stars Skip Eaken, and Rick Howerton, the builder extraordinaire of the Eaken Racing Kawasaki, pose for a team shot for Cycle's Larry Lawrence during the debut of the machine at round 6 of the 2011 AMA Pro Flat Track Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Championship Series at the Springfield Mile on May 29. 

After over 1700 hours of thought, work and sweat in getting the machine ready to race at Springfield, the team rolled out what is one of the finest specimens of current flat track technology out there.  With the advent of the Werner/Springsteen Kawasaki and the Scott Powersports Kawasaki of Johnny Lewis during the 2010 season, the Eaken Racing team also dipped their toe into the rule book to come up with a dry weight of around 285 lbs. for the parallel twin machine.  With vinyl graphics that reach out a grab you, the machine is a work of art, and is steadily gathering steam to be regularly competitive in the AMA Flat Track Twins Series for the upcoming new season. 

Rick Howerton told me on my visit to his shop last week that the team is working strongly to try and be a top-5 competitor with the Kawasaki.  And when talking with Gough at the Springfield Mile II just before he made the main, he was slowly but surely coming to grips with the power and handling of the bike.  It seems the high-spinning bike has plenty of power ('well over 85-90 HP' per builder Howerton), it's just harnessing that power to the ground that they are working on now.

With the release of the 2012 AMA Pro Flat Track Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Championship Series schedule the other day, we all will now have to wait until the first Twins Series event at the Springfield Mile round in May '12 to see if that work has paid off.  With this great team of people involved it should be fun to see the results, and if and when it happens, it couldn't happen to a nicer and hard-working group of folks!

Merry Christmas to everyone from Stu's Shots, and we thank you for making us a part of your virtual visits throughout the season!

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