Here is what you need to know about the upcoming 2019 American Flat Track Championship
Anticipation is high for the 2019 American Flat Track (AFT) Championship, which kicks off with the Daytona TT this week, Thursday, March 14, and runs through September via 18 rounds, wrapping up with Meadowlands Mile in New Jersey, September 28. There were some exciting off-season developments, which promise to change the look of both the AFT Twins and AFT Singles Championship races.
2019 American Flat Track Twins
Easily the most significant news over the off-season was Bryan Smith’s announcement that he was leaving the factory Indian squad to be reunited with owner/tuner extraordinaire Ricky Howerton and run Kawasaki machines with sponsorship from Crosley Brands. Crosley Brands is best known for making nostalgic radios, turntables, and jukeboxes.
Even though flat track fans have to appreciate at least the dominating fashion in which Indian has come into American Flat Track, many are looking forward to seeing a little competition from other brands of motorcycles. Smith and the Howerton-built Kawasakis are a proven combination. Smith won the AFT Twins National Championship in 2016. The team is developing a new machine for 2019, and, according to Smith after testing the new bike, it’s already one of the fastest, best-handling flat-track motorcycles he’s ever ridden.
“Everything’s going real good,” Smith said when asked about pre-season preparations.
The heavy favorite coming into the season has to be Indian factory’s lead rider, Jared Mees. Mees is the two-time defending champ coming into 2019, and this year he will be gunning for his seventh AFT Twins Championship. Mees, a rider who once earned titles by merely being consistent while not winning that many races, has become an absolute beast at arriving at the checkered flag first at a near-record clip over the last couple of seasons. Mees is on course to start eclipsing some of the long-held records in the historic series. Behind him is an all-star crew with Crew Chief Kenny Tolbert, mechanic Bubba Bently and suspension specialist Jimmy Wood.
We asked Mees how he’s approaching 2019 after having been so successful in last year’s title run: “Pretty much the same approach to the last couple,” he said. “Just put in the work in the off-season and approach each race individually and do the best I can in each race and move on. The goal is to go and win as many races as I can, but more importantly, it’s to win the championship. So, I guess at the end of the year, if I only win four races or three races and I still win the number one plate, we got the job done, and we move on. It’s damn nice winning 10 races—don’t get me wrong—but the big picture is the number-one plate.”
Brothers Briar and Bronson Bauman are joining Mees on the Indian Wrecking Crew this year.
“We’re excited to bring back Jared, and his championship pedigree, as we embark on the next chapter for Indian Motorcycle Racing. We welcome Briar and Bronson and are proud to have them represent our brand on and off the track,” said Gary Gray, Vice President-Racing, Technology & Service for Indian Motorcycle. “When it comes to racing, we’ve assembled some of the most talented professionals in the sport, and we’re looking forward to the upcoming season.”
Speaking of beasts, what can you say about the Indian FT750, to this point, the fastest flat-track motorcycle ever built? It came out of the box winning in 2017, and last year it was another season of sheer domination. It’s to the point that many were calling AFT an Indian spec series. If you didn’t have an FT750 or weren’t Henry Wiles at Peoria, you had little chance of winning last year. So AFT modified the rules package to level the playing field. One of the new rules allows competitors using production-based machines to run 40mm throttle bodies while the built-for-racing-only FTR750 is restricted to 38mm throttle bodies.
Indian, as you would expect, did not like hearing this bit of news and put out a statement denouncing this particular rule change for 2019. Longtime flat-track racing fans had flashbacks of 30 years ago to when Honda left the series in 1988 after the AMA imposed intake restrictors to level the playing field. However, after winning 17 of the 18 AFT races in 2018, Indian could not have been terribly surprised by the AFT’s actions to help the other manufacturers be more competitive.
Indian has a host of talented privateer squads with riders capable of winning, such as former factory Harley-Davidson rider Brandon Robinson, who now rides for Kennedy Racing and, once again, has the expertise of former AMA Pro Racing Tuner of the Year Brent Armbruster in his corner. The combination, now on Indians, poses a formidable threat in AFT Twins.
Henry Wiles is always a leading contender, and with seven combined Short Track and TT Nationals on the schedule this year, that plays right into his strengths. Remember, he was runner-up to Mees in the championship last year. He’s likely again to ride a combination of Indian (on the big tracks) and Kawasaki (on the TT and short tracks) and is still the man to beat every year at Peoria.
Jeffrey Carver Jr., of the Roof Systems Indian team, is mentioned by many experts as a rider to watch in 2019. He was ranked fourth in the series last season and took a victory at the May Springfield Mile. AFT Twins rookie Brandon Price joins Carver as his teammate. Both athletes are going to ride Indian Motorcycle FTR750 machinery.
Harley-Davidson has a factory team again in 2019, although it has yet to announce who its riders will be as of this writing. Returning riders Sammy Halbert and Jarod Vanderkooi are rumored to make up the Vance & Hines-sponsored squad.
One of the other major off-season announcements was MotoAmerica Supersport road racing champ JD Beach coming into race AFT Twins full time on an Estenson Racing Yamaha MT-07. The Estenson Yamaha MT-07 has some Yamaha factory development behind it and might rival the factory Indian FT750 and the Howerton Kawasaki as the trickest motorcycle on the grid. Beach will ride double duty by also racing MotoAmerica Superbike on a Yamaha.
Team Owner Tim Estenson has been following Beach for the past few years and had Beach ride with the team at the final two AFT races in 2018. Estenson has long felt that Beach is a top contender for a Grand National Championship title and is happy to have him join the program for this season.
“I’m excited about next season and to have JD as a part of our program,” Estenson said. “I met him through Kolby [Carlile] a couple of years ago and have watched him race. He’s extremely talented, both in dirt track and road racing, and I’m so happy to have him on board for 2019. It’s so rare that a rider can perform at a high level in both championships, especially in the modern era, when every discipline has become more and more specialized. So, although our original plan was just to go flat track racing with JD, I’m really happy to be able to put this together and have him ride for us both in American Flat Track and MotoAmerica. We have a great partner with Attack Performance. Richard [Stanboli] is one of the best in the business with a lot of success in the sport. I think it’s going to be a great year.”
Jake Johnson is returning to the Estenson team for his second season, and he brings a wealth of experience to the table. In addition to his two Grand National Championships, Johnson is part of the sport’s elite group to complete a dirt track Grand Slam, and he sits 16th on the all-time win list with 21. Last season, the veteran scored win number 21 at the Buffalo Chip TT, which marked not only his first win since 2016 but also the team’s first AFT Twins win ever. Johnson hopes to build on the late-season momentum he had last year and looks forward to another year with the team in 2019, as well as campaigning a Yamaha MT-07 for the entire season.
Estenson Racing’s youngest rider and its longest-standing member Kolby Carlile is joining the two veterans on the AFT Twins team. The “Flying Tomato” joined Estenson Racing midseason in 2017 and brought home the AFT Singles title in the team’s first season. The three-rider Estenson Racing is undoubtedly one of the deepest teams in the AFT series.
Former World Superbike rider PJ Jacobsen says he is going to participate at select events in 2019. Jacobsen is returning to his flat-track roots onboard a Team Nila/Coolbeth Racing Indian with three-time Grand National Champion Kenny Coolbeth as his team manager.
Bringing even more promise to the series is KTM coming on board this year with a factory-backed AFT Singles effort. Their entry can be construed as a prelude to its participation in the AFT Twins class soon, perhaps as early as next year.
The AFT series is going to be without two of its biggest star—Brad Baker and Kenny Coolbeth Jr.—for the first time in 2019.
Baker, a.k.a. “The Bullett,” and the 2013 National Champion, suffered what appears to be at this point a career-ending spinal cord injury sustained while competing in the X Games last year. The series is going to miss the amazing talent and wide-open riding style that endeared Baker to so many. Thankfully, you are going to see Baker at the races still. He’s returning to the Indian team as its technical advisor and rider coach.
It is going to be strange not to see three-time number-one plate holder Kenny Coolbeth Jr. not lined up on the grid this year. Coolbeth announced his retirement at the end of 2018.
2019 American Flat Track Singles
Let’s face it. Historically the 450cc motocross-based motorcycles raced in AFT Singles have never rivaled the popularity of the thundering AFT Twins. However, by all indications, 2019 might be the year flat-track fans sit up and take notice of the smaller bikes. After all, you have a full-blown factory team competing for the first time with Red Bull KTM stepping in, as well as factory-backed entries from Suzuki and Honda. You also have some of the sport’s biggest stars such as Shayna Texter, Dan Bromley, Mikey Rush, Chad Cose, and Ryan Wells. Moreover, the icing on the cake is going to be provided by wildcard appearances by motocross legends Jeff Ward and Ryan Sipes! No doubt about it, this is must-see racing.
The talent pool in AFT Singles is so deep this year that there has been some criticism by long-time fans of riders whom you would expect to see racing in AFT Twins. Instead, they are selecting to race in what is shaping up to be a highly competitive Single series, just as it was last season when 10 different winners stood atop the podium.
It would be hard to bet against defending series champ Dan Bromley. Now riding for the factory-backed Red Bull KTM Team, Bromley could be in an even stronger position to defend his title. The only downside for the Pennsylvania racer is he’s built more like a college football player than a motorcycle racer, and his size might work against him at some of the larger tracks. However, the very thought of Bromley stalking you on a TT or short track has to be one of the most intimidating experiences in flat track racing.
Watching Shayna Texter ride feet-up, full-lock on a cushion half-mile displays one of the most picture-perfect styles in all of motorcycle racing. Her diminutive size also gives her some advantages on big tracks, especially the miles. At the same time, her ultra light weight means she’s sometimes spinning the rear wheel off the start and often has to charge through the field to earn a top result. Texter has spent some of the off-season training with legendary fitness trainer Aldon Baker and riding with motocross/supercross standouts Marvin Musquin and Cooper Webb in Florida. So Texter should be stronger than ever coming into 2019. Last season, she finished third in AFT Singles earning three wins along the way, including at the physically challenging cushion of the Lima Half-Mile.
Chad Cose was one of the leading riders in AFT Twins last year, and now he’s racing AFT Singles with backing from Suzuki. Suzuki currently offers the most substantial financial contingency commitment of any manufacturer to date for the upcoming season. This generous offering influenced Cose’s decision to commit to racing aboard a Suzuki RM-Z450.
American Honda is back in flat track racing by way of support for the Richie Morris Racing (RMR) with rider Mikey Rush and Cameron Smith. RMR Honda’s Rush is an accomplished veteran, a two-time Daytona winner with more than a decade of professional experience in both the AFT Twins and AFT Singles divisions under his belt. Smith finished 13th in the series in 2018 and earned six top-10 finishes including a best finish of fifth at the Minnesota Mile.
Estenson/Yamaha is going to be another top AFT Singles entry with Ryan Wells and talented up-and-comer Dallas Daniels. Wells brings with him a wealth of experience including multiple wins in the class and the 2016 Singles title.
Roof Systems Yamaha is another talent-packed team with riders Jesse Janisch, Trent Lowe, and Oliver Brindley. Janisch won Peoria and had four podiums last year. The team’s Yamaha motorcycles are going to be wrenched on by 2017 Tuner of the Year Andrew Butler.
Of course, there’s Jeff Ward and Ryan Sipes racing select rounds. The 57-year-old Ward is a seven-time AMA Motocross Champion, AMA Supermoto Champion, IndyCar and NASCAR racer, Motorcycle Hall of Famer and one of the most versatile and successful competitors in the world of motorsports. It was a stunner to hear he was coming back to race AFT Singles at select rounds, mostly TT, on KTM 450 SX-F machinery with support from a fellow racer and Moto Anatomy riding-school owner Johnny Lewis. He’ll also have backing from Blackmore Ranch, KTM, Troy Lee Designs, Malcolm Smith Motorcycles, The W Training Facility, and Monster Energy.
“Most folks probably don’t know this,” Ward said, “but I started racing flat track and TTs as a youngster, and then gradually moved to motocross, so I’ve got some pretty deep flat-track roots. I’ve been riding lately at the Blackmore Ranch flat track facility in Southern California and enjoying it. I also watched all the AFT races on TV in 2018, and I got to thinking, ‘Let’s try this.’ And here we are!”
Sipes is a standout in motocross, supercross, and off-road competition. Last year “Mr. Versatility” won an AFT Singles round at the Buffalo Chip in South Dakota. He too is expected to make select rounds and is sure to be a contender whenever he shows up.
2019 American Flat Track Production Twins
AFT Production Twins class is going to run at 11 of the 18 American Flat Track events in 2019. The class is made up exclusively of production-based motorcycles, meaning no race-only specials. You’ll see a lot of Kawasaki Ninja 650 twins, Yamaha MT-07s and perhaps a few Harley XG750-based bikes.
The series does not kick off until late April at the Texas Half-Mile in Ft. Worth, so it’s not clear yet who will be series contenders, but top-notch riders like Cory Texter, Kolby Carlile, Ryan Varnes, Andrew Luker, Kevin Stollings and Ben Lowe are expected to be among the leaders of the series.
There is going to be a host of other contenders as well in all three classes, so it’s easy to see why the buzz for American Flat Track in 2019 is at all-time high levels. It all points to flat track not only satisfying the long-established fans of the oldest form of motorcycle racing, but with storylines like these, the sport is sure to bring in a new generation of flat track followers.
Tune In to 2019 American Flat Track
You are again going to be able to watch every round of the 2019 AFT Championship on television. NBCSN is returning its coverage with weekend afternoon programming slots within two weeks of each event. American Flat Track announced its telecasts reached 41 percent more viewers in 2018 than it did in its inaugural year of 2017. This spike in viewership delivered a record-breaking total of more than two million viewers tuning in during prime weekend programming slots (Click here to see all the Racing on the Tube on Cycle News) CN
For more information on the 2019 American Flat Track Championship, visit www.americanflattrack.com
2019 American Flat Track Schedule:
Round 1 – March 14: Daytona TT – Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, FL
Round 2 – March 23: Atlanta Short Track – Dixie Speedway, Woodstock, GA
Round 3 – April 20: Texas Half Mile – Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth, TX
Round 4 – April 27: Wild Horse TT – Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, Chandler, AZ
Round 5 – May 11: So Cal Half Mile – Perris Auto Speedway, Perris, CA
Round 6 – May 18: Sacramento Mile – Cal Expo, Sacramento, CA
Round 7 – May 26: Springfield Mile I – Illinois State Fairgrounds, Springfield, IL
(AFT Singles Springfield TT same weekend)
Round 8 – June 1: Red Mile – Red Mile, Lexington, KY
Round 9 – June 15: Laconia Short Track – New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Loudon, New Hampshire
Round 10 – June 29: Lima Half Mile – Allen County Fairgrounds, Lima, OH
Round 11 – July 13: New York Short Track – Weedsport Speedway, Weedsport, NY
Round 12 – August 4: Buffalo Chip TT – Buffalo Chip, Sturgis, SD
Round 13 – August 6: Black Hills Half Mile – Black Hills Speedway, Rapid City, SD
Round 14 – August 17: Peoria TT – Peoria Motorcycle Club, Peoria, IL
Round 15 – September 1: Springfield Mile II – Illinois State Fairgrounds, Springfield, IL
(AFT Singles Springfield Short Track same weekend)
Round 16 – September 7: Williams Grove Half Mile – Williams Grove Speedway, Mechanicsburg, PA
Round 17 – September 21: Minnesota Mile – Canterbury Park, Shakopee, MN
Round 18 – September 28: Meadowlands Mile – Meadowlands Racing & Entertainment, East Rutherford, NJ