Photography by Steve Cox
AMA Grand National Champion Brad Baker won’t be 100 percent when he lines up for the Springfield Mile this weekend, but he will be racing.
“I may not be 100 percent, but I’ll be ready to race at Springfield,” said Baker in a Harley-Davidson team release. “The Springfield Mile may be the least physically demanding track we race on. It’s usually smooth and the corners are wide, so from that standpoint this is the best place for me to race after the injury.”
Baker won't be making his Harley-Davidson Screamin’ Eagle factory debut this weekend, but he will be making his first start as a full member of the team. Baker filled in for team regular Kenny Coolbeth for two races in 2012.
“It’s a dream come true to put your name on the list of legends and champions who have raced for the Harley-Davidson team,” said Baker, who turned 21 in February. “Those are some big shoes to fill, but I had a strong season last year and feel I can carry that momentum into 2014 and defend that #1 on the factory Harley.”
Baker won two races and the 2013 AMA Grand National Championship riding a Harley-Davidson XR750 for the Dodge Brothers Racing team. He won the AMA Pro Singles Championship in 2009 and in 2011 was named AMA Pro Flat Track Expert Rookie of the year. He has raced at Springfield six times as an AMA Expert, with a best finish of fifth place.
Baker is also recovering from multiple fractures to his left arm incurred in a training accident in mid-April.
Baker says Springfield does present a significant mental challenge for the flat-track racers, who circulate the mile dirt oval elbow-to-elbow at well over 100 mph.
“There is so much to think about while you’re racing at Springfield,” said Baker. “Your strategy, the draft, your position on the track and where you want to be on that last lap, which often turns into a real dogfight. Experience helps at Springfield, but I really want to get a victory there.”
The performance of Baker’s factory Harley and all of the other XR750 motorcycles in the series will be renewed this season by the rescission of an AMA rule that required them to run a 33mm restrictor plate in the engine intake, which limited peak horsepower.
“The restrictors were originally intended to help some other brands be competitive, but it’s time to race on a level playing field again,” said Craig Lager, veteran crew chief for the Harley-Davidson factory team. “We’ll gain some speed and notice a difference on the mile tracks, but it’s also going to put more stress on the rest of the motorcycle. This race at Springfield will be a good indication of where everybody stands, what everyone has accomplished during the off-season.”
Lager worked with Baker during two races in 2012 when he was filling in for Coolbeth.
“Brad felt comfortable with our set-up two years ago, and brought some notes and good input to a tune-up event this spring,” said Lager. “He has come a long way as a rider and has a lot to contribute. We have the pressure of defending his #1 plate this season, so I think you’ll see the entire team turn it up a notch.”
Joining Baker at Springfield as part of the recently announced return of the Harley-Davidson Wrecking Crew are Jared and Nicole Mees, the husband-and-wife duo who will fly the Harley-Davidson banner while competing on the AMA Grand National Twins series for independent, dealer-owned flat track racing teams with additional support from Harley-Davidson Motor Company.