Archives: A Review of American Flat Track 2019

Larry Lawrence | October 8, 2019

Archives: A Review of American Flat Track 2019

The 2019 American Flat Track Championship is now complete and we can assess, at least partially, how this season stacked up in the history of the series and who made moves in the AFT record books.

Archives: A Review of American Flat Track 2019

Briar Bauman is the first California native to win the championship since Chris Carr in 2005, and at 24 Bauman is the youngest champ since Brad Baker won in 2013 at the age of 20. (Courtesy American Flat Track)

Just a quick review. Many expected the 2019 battle to come down between defending champ Jared Mees and Bryan Smith, who was going back to the Howerton Kawasaki, which he’d experienced so much previous success. Instead it was another Indian factory rider Briar Bauman who came through to win his first AFT Twins No. 1 plate over Mees.

The 2019 AFT Twins season produced some significant milestones. Indian factory rider Briar Bauman became the fifth first-time AFT Twins (AMA Grand National Champion) in the past decade. Bauman is the first California native to win the championship since Chris Carr in 2005, and at 24 Bauman is the youngest champ since Brad Baker won in 2013 at the age of 20. Bauman has been racing the premier class of American Flat Track since 2012, so he won his first championship in his eighth year as a pro expert, showing that in spite of being one of the younger champs in recent years, Bauman was by no means an overnight sensation.

It was another dominant year for Indian Motorcycles. In addition to winning the AFT Twins Championship for the third consecutive time, Indian riders won 16 of the 18 nationals in 2019. All of this in spite of new regulations for 2019 – including lower octane fuel and the allowance of street-legal production engines up to 900cc – that were meant to help teams running other brands to catch up a bit with the incredibly dominant Indian FTR750. Indian went as far as to put out a statement after the new rules were announced protesting the decision. When it was all said and done however, Indian only lost two races in 2019, both TTs won by the superb TT rider JD Beach on a Yamaha. So if anything, it seems the AFT rules meant to level the playing field perhaps didn’t go far enough.

Speaking of Beach’s victories on the Estenson Racing Yamaha MT-07 at the Arizona Super TT and the Buffalo Chip TT, that marked the first premier class AFT win for a Yamaha twin since Scott Pearson won the Peoria TT in 1981! Beach also became the first rider to win a premier class national flat track race and a premier class national road race since Nicky Hayden pulled off the feat in 2002. Now if Beach can add wins in Short Track, Half-Mile and Mile he’ll be a member of the super-exclusive Grand Slam Club – riders who have won all four disciplines of premier class flat track and road racing. Only four riders – Doug Chandler, Dick Mann, Kenny Roberts and Bubba Shobert – have ever completed the feat.

With its 16 wins this season, Indian now owns 47 all-time AFT Twins wins. That puts them ranked seventh among all manufacturers. At its current rate Indian should pass Kawasaki and BSA to move into fifth next season. Harley-Davidson will remain the number one all-time wins leader (with 680 wins) for the foreseeable future, even though for the second season in a row, The Motor Company did not earn a single national victory.

Even though he lost the title, Jared Mees can hold his head high as the rider with the most national wins in 2019. Mees scored eight victories, leading the way over five wins by newly-crowned champ Briar Bauman. In addition, Brandon Robinson and JD Beach each scored a pair of national wins and Bronson Bauman took a single victory. If you’re keeping count, that’s five winners in 2019. Two of those, Bronson Bauman and Beach, were first time winners. That means there are now 162 riders in the history of the series who have won nationals.

Mees also swept all six Miles this year. The last time that happened was in 1989, when Scotty Parker won them all.

Briar Bauman leading the pack at the Springfield Mile on his factory Indian FTR750. It was another dominant year for Indian Motorcycles. In addition to winning the AFT Twins Championship for the third consecutive time, Indian riders won 16 of the 18 nationals in 2019. (Courtesy American Flat Track)

Henry Wiles’ astonishing 14-race win streak at the Peoria TT came to an end this year. He was injured and unable to race in the event. It was won by Briar Bauman.

Mees moved past Jay Springsteen to third on the all-time AFT Twins wins list this year. Mees now has 48-career wins. That puts him behind only all-time wins leader Scott Parker, who has 94 wins, and Chris Carr with 78. Obviously, Mees is the all-time wins leader among active riders. Bryan Smith, with 33, is second and Henry Wiles with 30, is third.

Briar Bauman moved up into a tie with Everett Brashear, Alex Jorgensen and Ronnie Jones who now all have 10-career national wins.

On the subject of the Baumans, Briar and his younger brother Bronson winning nationals in the same season is very rare. Flat track stats keeper Bert Sumner ( pointed out that the last time brothers won nationals in the same season was in 1981 when Gary and Hank Scott each won nationals.

At Sacramento a rider named Gary Ketchum made the record books by becoming the oldest rider in series history to qualify for an AFT Twins race. He was 59 and amazingly it was the first time he ever qualified for a national!

Briar Bauman’s tuner, Michelle DiSalvo (center), became the first female in history to win Tuner of the Year, which she shared with Bauman’s crew chief Dave Zanotti (right). (Courtesy American Flat Track)

While there is a lot of buzz currently with the recent growth of American Flat Track, Sumner also pointed out a few disturbing trends. In 2019 only 41 riders competed in AFT Twins nationals. That’s down from 73 riders in 2018. The maximum rider turnout at any AFT Twins national this year was 25. In 2018 the maximum rider turnout for a single event was 42. That stands in stark contrast to the heyday of the sport in the mid-1970s when it was not uncommon to have over 100 AFT Twins riders showing up to try to make a national.

American Flat Track also announced potential restructuring of who can participate in nationals starting in 2020, with AFT Twins being called SuperTwins. The new vision was met with almost universal disdain in the flat track community. The new structure would greatly restrict the potential participants in the series and also appeared to require quite high investment on the part of teams to even participate. Traditionalists decried the direction of the series as one that would exclude the man in a van with a plan, the low-dollar rider who would try to participate in the occasional national that came close to his or her home.

It remains to be seen how much of this new vision with actually be implemented, but one thing is certain, American Flat Track is moving towards a completely new business model, the likes which has never been seen in the 66-year history of the series.

Larry Lawrence | Archives Editor In addition to writing our Archives section on a weekly basis, Lawrence is another who is capable of covering any event we throw his way.