ThunderPress East

EAST APRIL 2018

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6 April 2018 www.thunderpress.net THUNDER PRESS by James Hesketh Photos courtesy of Roland Sands Design Most forms of racing in the U.S. are seeing a decline in participation and with fans—grids are shrinking and stands are not fi lling up. The exception to this recent trend can be found on dirt tracks and small paved ovals all across the country. Flat track motorcy- cle racing is making a huge and rapid comeback in ways both predictable and unexpected. On the professional level the revamped American Flat Track series launched last year amid a load of hype, big-money purses, a television pack- age, and fan-friendly venues. New competition-only bikes from both Harley-Davidson and Indian fi elding factory teams revived the Harley– Indian battles of the sport's heyday and has brought new and old fans back to the major tracks. In the amateur ranks, small tracks are experiencing an upswing in interest as new racers are discovering a way to go racing without the huge investment in time and money most other forms of motorcycle racing requires. Then there is the new trend that seems to be redefi ning the sport— Hooligan racing, and its slightly young- er, fl ashier sibling—Super Hooligan. Hooligan racing is nothing new, although the name is. It harkens back to a time when any American could strip down a streetbike in the barn or a HOOLIGAN FLAT TRACK RACING THE GREAT EQUALIZER backyard shed, ride it to the track, race at a local track, and, if fortunate, ride it home again. It was American motor- sicle racin' at its most basic and it's been happening for a hundred years or so. But as anything fun grows, it gets organized and specialized and some- what sterilized and it loses its grass- roots foundation. A few years ago some Southern California fl at tracks began hosting "Harley Nights" at local races with the intent of reintroducing the fun factor along with a side helping of silliness by adding a class for street bikes. People could show up with dressers, baggers, choppers, bobbers, trackers, Softails with ape hangers, and other street-legal bikes, probably fueled with an equal mixture of PBR for the rider and pump gas for the tank, and race. The action was predictably wild and rowdy with lots of crashes and colli- sions. And the stands began to fi ll. Then a couple guys showed up on old Sportsters… and the race was on! A few decades ago Harley- Davidson sponsored a fl at track series for 883 Sportsters and those old bikes became the prototype for the new Hooligan class. The rules are simple: basically any street bike with a 750cc or larger engine, a stock frame, 19-inch wheels for dirt track tires, and no front brakes. (The bike's geometry cannot be altered; you can't change steering-head angle or triple trees to get sharper steer- ing. But if you happen to hit a wall at speed and bend the forks a bit and gain the same result, the bike hasn't been altered, it's been crashed, and you'll probably pass tech.) The perfect Hooligan starter bike is an old Sportster that's been sitting out in the rain for a couple years and can be had for a grand or two. Clean it up. Strip it down. Change the fl uids. Put on good rubber. Get the moving bits and the electric parts in proper order. And go racing! No license or prior track experience is required. But there is no umbrella sanctioning body for the series and some promoters may require racers belong to the AMA, or if it's a Harley-Davidson-sponsored race they may stipulate that only Evo Sportsters qualify for entry. The rule package is all pretty much ad hoc as far as promoters are con- cerned. Most Hooligan races are trophy races without any payout for winners with the intention of keeping it fun and casual. Most races are associated with other established fl at track events or one of the current motorcycle shows such as Mama Tried in Milwaukee. The Harley Hooligan series runs at the youth- orientated X Games, and got invited to race at this year's American Flat Track season opener in Daytona. Whereas Hooligan racing is a racer's series that fans enjoy, the Super Hooligan series is intended to be a show—"a party where a race broke out" Roland Sands Design calls it—for the fans, featuring prize money, known rac- ers and stricter rules. It runs an 11-race, points-paying series, with any rider's nine best fi nishes counting towards the championship. The race winner of each round gets a sizable purse, the rider who gets through Turn #2 fi rst gets paid for that achievement, and a cash award goes to the most dramatic crash of the evening. The series champion will receive a new Indian motorcycle cus- tomized by Roland Sands Design at the fi nal race of the season in October. Although Super Hooligan is strict- ly an amateur series, the prize pack- age, the status of racing with celebrity builder Roland Sands, and the novelty of racing such a new, exciting action- packed series has brought retired fl at track champions back to the grid. Famous road racers enjoy getting off their usual, highly-technical, 200-mph paved tracks to try their skills in the dirt, and current professional riders from the American Flat Track series enter occasional rounds just for the fun of it. And anyone is welcome to show up and join in on the fun. See "Hooligans," page 45, column 1

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