American Suzuki has finally confirmed the long-swirling rumors that it will step up with a true factory-backed dirt track effort for the 2003 AMA/Progressive Insurance U.S. Flat Track Championships, thus becoming the first Japanese factory to field a full-fledged team since Honda in 1987.
In a phone interview with Cycle News today, Suzuki’s Pat Alexander announced that Suzuki has entered into a contract with Missouri-based Dave Burks Motorsports to field an all-Suzuki team with backing from Corbin seats and Samson exhausts. Suzuki has signed Pennsylvania’s Kevin Varnes (pictured) – formerly of the Memphis Shades/Parts Unlimted squad, and Oklahoma racing duo A.J. and Danny Eslick to the team. Varnes and A.J. Eslick will contest the Progressive Insurance U.S. Flat Track circuit full-time, while Danny Eslick will split his time between the dirt track effort and an as yet to be named Suzuki road race team.
“We’re still getting some of the details sorted out,” Alexander said. “The reason why we have gone in this direction is because we weren’t getting the support of the riders. You can have all the contingency in the world, but if the riders aren’t riding your bikes… We also want to show the performance of Suzuki in AMA dirt track, showcase our twins. The Grand National is the right place to do that. We have been looking at the Grand National series for a number of years. Now, we want a piece of it.”
The factory effort will include DR-Z-based equipment for the singles events, with TL1000-powered twins for the mile and half-mile races. Alexander said that while the team’s main focus is the AMA title, it would be free to contest select rounds of other events “for testing purposes.”
Testing is something that Varnes, 28, of East Earl, Pennsylvania, is looking forward to doing, and he may be just the right rider for the job. He won the Charlotte Half Mile en route to fourth overall in the 2002 Progressive Insurance U.S. Flat Track Championships standings, and he is one of the few riders with extensive experience on Harley-Davidson and Honda V-twins as well as being a former factory KTM flat track team member.
“I think that we’re going to be really competitive right off the bat,” Varnes said. “With our DR-Z’s, I’m going to Daytona to win it. We’re going to be right in the ballpark. On the miles, our TL twins will be really good, and we’re really committed to a testing program for the half miles. There’s a lot that we can do, and I feel like I have the experience to give them the right feedback to get us there.”
Varnes also pointed out that the team would benefit from its knowledgeable crew, which includes former Doug Chandler and Will Davis tuner Dennis Town, as well as budding tuners Ken Mohler and James Hart.
“I wouldn’t have done this if I didn’t think that we could win,” Varnes said. “We have a lot of resources to work with now. This is a great opportunity, and I just couldn’t pass it up.”