Monday, September 24, 2012

AMA Flat Track: This is For All the Lonely People That Think the Kawasakis Are Passing Them By in The Rolling Thunder Show

Round 10 of the 2012 AMA Pro Flat Track Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Championship presented by season sees 2-Time and defending AMA Grand National Champion Jake Johnson #1 on the Zanotti Racing XR and 2-Time AMA Grand National Twins Champion Jared Mees #9 on the Rogers Racing XR chatting up the newest member of the team-owners group in The Rolling Thunder Show, Ricky Howerton, who is responsible for building the #42 Crosley Radio/Howerton Motorsports powered by Eaken Racing Kawasaki-based mount that has taken the series by storm this season due to the mile riding capabilities of it's star rider, Bryan Smith.

Let's not get carried away too fast, as Rocket Ricky is a master at what he does and what he builds, no matter it be something he supplies one of his many IndyCar, NHRA or USAC teams that frequent his business, Howerton Products on Indy's west side, or whether he is building the latest missile to take the greatest racing series on wheels in the world by storm in just it's first outings and season on a mile oval.

But the real factor here when it comes to who does what and where in a 25-lap National mile main event on the AMA Pro Flat Track calendar belongs to the rider on the machine on the track with the other 17 or 18 riders who have fought it out throughout the day in order to put themselves in a position to race against the greatest in the world and in one of the most competitive racing series in the world.  Bottom line, no matter what you bring to the table in terms of innovation, newness and fan-fare, you still have to have that one rider who takes to the track and jumps in the seat.  And Howerton and Smith have combined for that one combination that has some in the series now crying foul and ready for the rules to be re-tweaked after just four of the team's five events in their maiden voyage together.

And no matter which way you spin what is happening to our great series now with the emergence of the Howerton/Smith rocket, and the re-emergence of the Werner-Springsteen Kawasaki Racing machines, the sport is finally celebrating and showcasing the parity that it has lacked since the early-mid '70s when factories like Triumph, BSA, Norton, and Yamaha went away, but also when Honda was forced to pack their bags and return to Japan in the late '80s.  And even with the leftover remnants of good machines in the early-mid '90s when Ricky Graham won his last title on a Johnny Goad-prepped Honda RS750 in '93 and Rich King won the last National Twins Series main event at the Joliet Half-Mile in August '98 on a Corbin Honda, the series went until May '10 before the Ohio-based Lloyd Brothers Motorsports broke out for their maiden win in the series with a Ducati 'L' twin at the hands of 2000 AMA Grand National Champion Joe Kopp at the Precott, AZ. mile event.

Of course, during the 2010 season, master tuner and former Harley-Davidson employee Bill Werner and his partner in crime, Jay Springsteen, had been working on and perfecting their new breed of Kawasaki 650R-based parallel twins, and it took all summer for their-then rider Bryan Smith to take the team's maiden wins in the long running series at the Lucas Oil Indy Mile and then eight days later at the Labor Day Weekend running of the Springfield Mile II.  But you didn't hear the wails from the other competitors then, as it seemed such a blip on the radar at the time, and the Werner Springsteen camp had a horrible season in 2011 that all but relegated them to 'also ran' status after their career season in that eight days time towards the end of the 2010 season.

But since that ground-breaking season, Howerton, USC Racing, the Scott Powersports team and several others have started campaigning the new breed of flat track speedsters and getting much closer to producing results that at least could at the time compare them to what the long-running and tired XR750 has done over the course of the last four decades.  And the LBM team is still trying to find that right combination with their big red Italian machine to get them back to the top of the box after several seasons of trying to perfect the power output of a new breed.  Just not yet in terms of long-running stat changers due to the fact that we are only in the third season of the new parallel twin being campaigned on the circuit, and by my count as of press time just four overall wins in the big bike class.

Of course, those wins have all come at big crowd and big racer turnout events, and have escalated the Grand National series to a new height of popularity with fans, sponsors and teams alike along the way.  Smith and Howerton's big wins this season in their second and fourth events together signaled the start of something new for the series, and also sent up a Coast Guard-sized flare to the legions of XR campaigners that has almost everyone doing the two-step and looking over their proverbial shoulders.  And of course, with one mile event left to run at the Santa Rosa event on September 30, their is a very strong possibility that their rocket could again blast to the win over the long and tired, but faithful XR camp.  And again, there is the possibility that it won't, ala the Springfield Mile I win that went to long-time XR campaigner Willie McCoy and the Lucas Oil Indy Mile win that saw Sammy Halbert finally claim that elusive first win on the big tracks to complete his grand slam of flat track.

There is a strong possibility that after this season that AMA Pro Flat Track will need to tweak the rules in the Twins Series for the 2013 season, starting with giving up another 1mm to the restrictors being required to run on the purpose-built XR, and maybe even mandating a minimum weight rule for the production bike-based Kawasakis, Ducati, Triumph, KTM and even the lone BMW/Rotax that has attempted several National mile events the last three seasons.  So be it, level the playing field and drop the green anew as the teams that are now knocking on the door of class dominance will just turn it up and bring their new game.  So it would and should be in any form of motor sports.  But is it time to start calling out 'dominance' or an overtaking of the series after just two wins?  I don't think so.

What we need to be celebrating is the new-look of vitality that these new machines have brought to the table, the new level of competition that takes the series away from the 'spec' look class that it has survived under in the last 15 or so years, and relish in the fact that there are innovators out there that are willing to bring something bright, new and competitive to The Rolling Thunder Show.

And the legions of long-time fans that can actually see real competition on and off the track after so long.  And as the Zanotti Racing, Rogers Racing, H-D Motor Co. and other top-level XR750 campaigners learn to tweak and for now, still dominate in the series on the other half-mile events and mile events that the so-far Ducati and Kawasaki haven't been able to get to the top of the box in, they have so far managed to make their long-running and 'tired' mounts still lead at the front in the long run and also will most probably still take the overall championship with at the end of this year.

Lap 1 of round 13 of the 2012 AMA Pro Flat Track Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Championship presented by season saw Jake Johnson on the #1 Zanotti Racing XR lead two other long-running XR teams in the series as the pack heads to the strip for the first of 25 go-arounds.  Following closely on his heels is Jared Mees on the #9 Rogers Racing XR and 3-Time AMA Grand National Twins Champion Kenny Coolbeth, Jr. on the #2 Screamin' Eagle H-D Motor Co. factory mount. 

JD Beach makes the first 'other' bike to get to the front on the #95 USC Racing Kawasaki, with Sammy Halbert on his #7 South East H-D XR holding off eventual-event winner Bryan Smith #42.  Behind them is Henry Wiles on the #17 Lloyd Brothers mount, Brandon Robinson on the #44 Werner Springsteen Kawasaki, Shaun Russell on the #28 XR, Stevie Bonsey on the #80 Werner Kawasaki, Jethro Halbert on the #69 USC Kawi and Matt Weidman on the #20 Scott Powersports Kawi bringing up the rear of the top-12 on the first go around.

Smith worked for the lead, which he finally took on lap 6 and continued to hold at the stripe when the checkers flew, but throughout the race was forced to also rider harder into the corners to make up for the lack of 'tractoring' that the XR riders have in terms of power output to the ground with the long-running and dominant make in the series.  While others admittedly had to ride harder and draft smarter on the straights, Smith has this mile thing figured out no matter whose or what make of machine he brings to the table, especially at Springfield where he now holds three wins, and easily could have been four if not for a disqualification at Springfield several years back due to a tainted fuel sample that saw his win taken away.  While riding an XR750.

In the end, with Smith taking the win, Halbert and Mees on XRs in the 2nd and 3rd-place spots, Beach in 4th, Johnson in 5th, Coolbeth and McCoy next in line, again on XRs, Jethro in 8th on the other USC Kawi, Robinson 9th on the Werner Springsteen Kawi, and Brad Baker filling out the top-10 on the #12 Dodge Brothers XR.  Four Kawis in the top-10.  Hardly something to yet get too worried about, but, in what could see some of the long-running XR teams bring something new and different to the table for the mile events for the 2013 season.  And great for them if they do!

The two men responsibile for starting it all in terms of bringing the new and innovative Kawasaki package to The Rolling Thunder Show look over the competition just before first practice gets ready to roll out at the Springfield Mile II on September 16.

13-Time AMA Grand National Championship-winning tuner and master wrench Bill Werner, and his long-time friend and associate, 3-Time AMA Grand National Champion Jay Springsteen paired together between the '09 and '10 seasons and signed Bryan Smith to campaign their then-new machines for the new season, and it took them just over 2/3's of the season to get their first win together at Indy in August, and then followed it up with another just eight short days later at the late summer running of the Springfield Mile II.

But as good as the 2010 season ended for the duo, the 2011 season also came apart at the seams for the team, never coming close to repeating or even finishing at the front for what must have seemed like the longest season ever for the legends of AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Championship racing.

But with the new year and some new vitality on the team in the form of former Expert Twins Champion Brandon Robinson on their #44 machine and the addition of '09 AMA Pro Flat Track Rookie of the Year Stevie Bonsey on their #80 machine at Indy and Springfield II, the pair are again seeing the fruits of their labor produce good, strong results.  Robinson has now scored two top-5s for the team, led a handful of laps at Indy and taken his best-ever Expert Twins result of 2nd at Indy, as well, behind Sammy Halbert.

And Bonsey won his semi races at Indy and at the Springfield Mile II round on September 16 to reward the team for his signing and to show that he, too, belongs on a top miler in the greatest racing show on wheels in the world.

But the question still remains, are any of them 'dominating' yet to the point of re-writing the overall history books down the road?  No, not yet, so it's still a little early to get your panties in a bunch over what is still just two wins in the 2012 season, again, by the Howerton/Smith rocketship group and rider.  If that were to happen, there would be many more 'crying foul' and then it may take a re-working of the overall picture in order to level the playing field.  But just not yet after two wins in the four mile events run so far this year.

Paul Carruthers, the editor-in-chief of Cycle News, wrote this great article in the most recent edition of CN about the cries being heard from a few of the XR750 competitors in the AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Championship Twins Series class after Bryan Smith took his 2nd win of the 2012 season on September 16 at the Springfield Mile II aboard the Crosley/Howerton/Eaken Kawasaki.

PC does a super job of comparing the parallels of the H-D vs. Honda battles in the '80s which eventually saw Honda force their hand and pull out of the AMA Grand National Championship after winning a slew of titles between the '84-'88 seasons.

Read on and thanks for looking this one straight in the eye and showing how good the competition, diversity and parity is in The Rolling Thunder Show now, thanks to what was started by Bill Werner several seasons ago in bringing a new player to the playground and what is being seen as the party crasher by some of the long-time competitors of the decades old H-D XR750:


  1. I think this is the best you've written in awhile. Nice work!

    1. Thanks so much, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did putting it together!

  2. Mike, I agree that this is one of your best yet.

    Jim Terchila/Mid-America Speedway

    1. Thanks Jim, always appreciate your kind words man. And thanks for coming by to check us out!


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