Team Suzuki/Parts Unlimited Flat Track has announced that it has reached an agreement to hire former AMA Grand National Rookie of the Year Jake Johnson to contest the entire 2005 AMA Flat Track Championship season. As part of the agreement through Suzuki, Johnson may also be eligible to race in the support classes at non-conflicting rounds of the AMA Superbike Series.
Johnson, 20, of Deptford, New Jersey, posted one GNC win and finished a career-best fifth in the 2004 AMA Progressive Insurance Flat Track Championship series points standings. Since his rookie season in 2002, Johnson has won at least one race per year and has finished inside the top 10 each year. Johnson joins Pennsylvania veteran Kevin Varnes on the team. Johnson is replacing Oklahoma rider A.J. Eslick, whose contract was not renewed for 2005.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Johnson said. “I’m looking forward to working with the whole Dave Burks team. It’s going to be different for me, but it’s definitely a step forward toward road racing, which is where I want to end up. That’s pretty much Suzuki’s plan, for me to come and do the flat track and then slowly ween me into road racing. It’s pretty much fulltime flat track now. We haven’t worked out all the road racing details yet.”
Johnson said that he views his chance to ride the often-maligned Suzuki DL1000 twin as an opportunity and not a hindrance.
“I tried it out a couple times last year, and it felt really good," Johnson said. "I didn’t get to try it in a race situation, where you’d have to chase a guy down, but I know that they have been working really hard on it, and I would really like to help them out with it. I’d like to be the guy who is putting the DL on the box consistently. It will be tough, chasing guys like Chris Carr, Joe Kopp, and Kenny Coolbeth, but I’m sure we can run in the top 10 each week. I’d like to set that as a goal. And I’m sure that with the RM-Z450s, from what everybody is saying, our singles bikes will be right there with the Yamahas and the Hondas.”
Team Suzuki/Parts Unlimited Flat Track team owner Dave Burks said that the team is excited to have Johnson aboard.
"Jake is a really good short tracker and half miler, and he has a lot of potential," Burks said. "His talent is there, no doubt about that. We're also happy that Jake will have the opportunity to go road racing. That is what this program is really about."
In addition to hiring Johnson, Team Suzuki Flat Track announced that it has also hired Brown to be Johnson's tuner. Brown, 35, a multi-time former West Coast Flat Track Series Champion during his racing career, has spent the last three seasons tuning for California GNC campaigner Shaun Russell. Already known for his chassis tuning skills, Brown also brings a wealth of V-twin engine-building experience, having served an apprenticeship under celebrated GNC engine builder Jim Kelly, who has provided the horsepower for racing legend Jay Springsteen, Russell and several other top GNC contenders.
"I'm happy to get the opportunity to work with a team like this," Brown said. "This is an awesome opportunity for me, for the sport and for the future. The team workshop is first-rate. For me, this is a big step up. I am highly motivated to do whatever it takes to get Suzuki to the front in flat track."
Like Burks, Brown offered high praise for Johnson's abilities.
"Jake's riding says it all," Brown said. "He is a promising young talent, and he's the type of guy that Suzuki needs to put the thing on the box every week. He's very open-minded, and he rides the bikes the same no matter what. The kid has talent oozing from every seam."
For more information on Team Suzuki/Parts Unlimited Flat Track, checkout the team's official website at www.suzukiflattrack.com.