The 2015 AMA Pro Flat Track series is shaping up to be a close one.
For 61 years, the AMA Grand National Flat Track series has basically been a one-horse show, and during those years the winning horse has been painted (with 13 exceptions) orange and black. That’s a winning average of 79% for Harley-Davidson, which is pretty good run by anybody’s standards. Clearly, other manufacturers have always had their shot and, in at least 13 cases, hit the mark. But there’s no denying the obvious, which is that any race series that’s dominated by a single brand has, for all intents and purposes, turned into a spec class, and spec classes, no matter how deep the talent pool, just aren’t as exciting as races where everyone that feels froggy has a chance to jump.
That being said, change is in the wind, and this year’s Grand National series is shaping up to be one the most intense in years, in large part because the venerable Harley-Davidson XR750, the winningest dirt tracker in history, is no longer the only game in town. Although three-time national champion Kenny Coolbeth is in the thick of the points chase aboard his Zanotti Racing XR750 Harley (as I write this), he is surrounded by some hungry young talent, and not all of them on Milwaukee mix masters. To start with, there’s Bryan Smith on his wicked-fast Crosley Kawasaki. Smith took home all the marbles in 2013 and almost won the 2014 GNC as well, until a technical DQ at Calistoga cost him second-place points and allowed Jared Mees (H-D) to add a third notch to his championship belt. Other hot shoes include Brandon Robinson, who’s already finished second twice this season on his Latus Motors Castrol Triumph, Johnny Lewis on the Lloyd Brothers Ducati, and Shawn Baer riding a KTM990 Super Duke.
Whether youth and enthusiasm or a motorcycle built outside of the shores of USA will be enough to wrest another championship from the Harley-Davidson wrecking crew remains to be seen, but I wouldn’t bet against it.
A Short Guide to GNC Engines
Harley-Davidson XR750 The XR is the only purpose-built race engine in the series. Loosely based on Ironhead Sportster architecture, the XR is an air-cooled 45-degree V-twin with pushrod-actuated valves (two per cylinder). Although a bit long in the tooth, and exceedingly expensive to build and maintain, it’s still the engine to beat.
Kawasaki 650 The parallel-twin 650 features liquid cooling, fuel injection and DOHC with four valves per cylinder. It’s powerful, fast and very reliable, but best of all you can buy two of these engines for less than the price of one XR750 crankshaft. A proven winner, the Ninja motor is the heir apparent.
Triumph Bonneville another parallel-twin configuration, the oil-cooled, SOHC, four-valve engine is modified by Bonneville Performance; they’re bored out to 995cc, feature a 270-degree crank, and develop somewhere between 95 and 104 horsepower.
Ducati 748 and Yamaha FZ-07 These engines—the first an air-cooled 90-degree V-twin (in 748 or 848cc versions), the second a 700cc liquid-cooled parallel-twin—are both capable of winning races, though whether they have the chops to take a whole championship is questionable.