Flat track tuning legend Bill Werner has a goal of making AMA Grand National Twins racing affordable again. Ironically, the man who won his many Grand National Championships with Harley-Davidsons says the way to do that is to make something other than a Harley twin work on the dirt tracks of America.
Werner is attempting to do it with a Kawasaki Ninja 650-based flat tracker. But this is motorcycle racing and to make anything competitive on two wheels you have to have a top-level rider. With yesterday's signing of former Harley-Davidson Wrecking Crew member Bryan Smith, Werner now has exactly that.
Smith finished fourth in the 2009 AMA Grand National Twins Championship, was runner-up in the standings in 2008 and ended up third in both the 2007 and 2006 series. In other words, he's one of the top flat trackers in the country.
"It's something different for the sport and hopefully it draws some interest from some of the other Japanese brands," Smith said of his new ride today from his home in Michigan. "I'm excited because it's the first time in a few years where I can kind of be the full-on rider and not so much the mechanic like I've been the last couple of years on the Harleys. Me and my dad were pretty much building all the engines on the Harleys with the help of [Bill] Werner the last couple of years. Anybody who knows anything about those Harleys knows that it's 40 hours a week - minimum - between races. So to do that on top of training and practicing was a handful. Now I can just concentrate more on my riding and developing that bike."
Werner knows it will be a challenge, but he's not one to shy away from a battle. And he knows he's got the right guy to go to war with.
"Obviously it's a huge change for Bryan moving from Harley to something he's never ridden before," Werner said today. "The cost of going flat track racing now is so expensive and our goal is to make a production-based motorcycle capable of being competitive. That's my goal. That's the first step in bringing the costs down and getting more people involved."
Smith will ride the Ninja-based bike in the Grand National Twins class with Chas Springsteen, the nephew of dirt track racing legend Jay Springsteen, set to compete in the Pro Singles class on a Kawasaki KX450. Jay Springsteen, meanwhile, will serve as a team coach and mentor for what will be known as Werner Springsteen Racing Kawasaki.
"I don't know how hard it will be yet because I haven't ridden the bike," Smith said. "I'm hoping it won't be too much of a challenge. I hope I can just pick up where I left off, but realistically that's probably not going to happen. Horsepower-wise I think we'll be alright with what I've seen so far with the bike. The suspension and the wheels are all the same as the 750 [Harley] so it's just a matter of getting the chassis dialed in and Bill [Werner] already did a lot of that last year. He's already made a couple of new frames for this season that we'll be trying here in the next couple of weeks. If we do the testing the right way like we plan on doing, I think we can be competitive within a couple of races - especially on the miles and there are eight miles [on the 2010 schedule]."
Smith said having Werner on his side is the key.
"I would never consider getting off a Harley with anybody besides him spinning the wrenches," Smith said. "He's a guy who is smarter than pretty much anybody else in the pits put together and he's the guy who's not going to give up. If it needs a whole new frame halfway through the year and it means starting completely over the night before the race, he'll do it. He works and he doesn't care. He's in it to win it and I wouldn't consider doing it with anybody else."
Smith says he'll most likely ride the bike for the first time in a few weeks on the ice of Michigan. Then the team will head south for warmer weather and his first outing on the Kawasaki on a dirt track.
"Riding on ice isn't the best judgment because the traction is so good and anything handles good on the ice," Smith said. "But we'll do that to get the handlebars and footpegs situated and get me a feel for the engine and then we'll head south somewhere to get on the dirt and see what we're working with."
The team lists the following as its sponsors for the upcoming season: Werner & Springsteen, Kawasaki, Monster Energy, Wossner Pistons, Supertrapp, Millenium Technologies, Redline Oil, Web Camshafts, K&N, Sponseller Homes, Cometic Gaskets, Missle Enginering, Boughner Racing, Motion Pro, KK supply, PMP Sprockets, Decal Works, Shoei Helmets, Oakley, Tucker Rockey, Works Connection, MSR, Universal Coating, Rekluse, West Coast Hotshoes, Pro-Plates, EBC, Penske, Saddlemen, A&A, Terry Evertt, Rock Springs Land and Timber, Fluidyne Powersports, Barnett, Renton Coil Springs, Evolution Industries, Pilot Leathers, Daytona Sensors and Cycra.