We’ve got the lowdown on the upcoming Progressive American Flat Track Championship.
By Chris Martin | Photography Courtesy AFT
Now entering its 68th season, Progressive American Flat Track has long been defined by the spectacular reigns of its greatest Grand National Champions.
But while successful defenses of the coveted number-one plate have been mounted 14 times in the sport’s history (including four times since 2010), only five riders have managed to capture three or more consecutive GNCs—legends Carroll Resweber, Jay Springsteen, Bubba Shobert, Scott Parker (twice) and Chris Carr.
Reigning back-to-back Mission SuperTwins presented by S&S Cycle Champion Briar Bauman now finds himself in position to add his name to that most exclusive list.
The biggest obstacle standing in his way is, once again, his factory Indian Wrecking Crew stablemate, Jared Mees. Mees notched up consecutive premier class titles himself in 2014-2015 and then again in 2017-2018. During the more recent run, Mees was an utterly dominant figure; he seemed all but unstoppable and destined for a Parker-like streak coming off his ’18 victory. That is until Bauman stopped him and established himself as the scene’s latest man of destiny.
The two are firmly established as the class of the field and are nearly perfectly matched. Over the past two seasons, Mees fell just a combined 15 points short of having two more titles to add to his Hall of Fame résumé as he continues to wreak havoc on the record books with every successive victory.
But since 2019, Bauman has been every bit as fast and even more consistent. That’s relegated Mees to the unfamiliar role of underdog as the two prepare to square off again aboard their works Indian FTR750s in ’21.
And yet it’s far from a two-man show.
Among the greatest outside threats are their former Indian Wrecking Crewmates, former Grand National Champion Bryan Smith and Bauman’s younger brother, Bronson.
Smith and long-time crew chief Ricky Howerton helped usher in the now accepted dominance of Indian Motorcycle when the resurgent marque took the series by storm starting in 2017. They have spent the last two seasons working to topple that dominance—first on a Crosley/Howerton Motorsports Kawasaki in 2019 and then on a factory Harley-Davidson XG750R a season ago—with little success.
They’re still on that mission, albeit with an added twist of support from Indian Motorcycle. Smith will be looking to reclaim his title as the sport’s “Mile Master” this season aboard a unique beast that slots a factory-backed FTR750 mill inside a tidy Howerton-designed chassis.
The younger Bauman, meanwhile, will attempt to rediscover and build upon the form he displayed in 2019 when he scored a maiden premier-class victory and ended the year in third overall. This time around he’ll run his ex-works Indian FTR750 in a factory-backed private effort with support from Indian Motorcycle of Oklahoma City.
Sammy Halbert and Brandon Robinson finished last season ranked third and fourth, respectively, claiming three checkered flags between them. The former factory Harley-Davidson teammates quickly returned to race-winning form once they threw their legs over private FTR750s and only figure to increase in strength in 2021.
“Slammin’ Sammy” is back with the Coolbeth-Nila Racing crew, while Robinson spearheads a Roof Systems Racing squad that’s quietly taking shape as an independent powerhouse.
There, Robinson will be joined by rising stars Brandon Price and Jarod Vanderkooi. Price has proven to be a handful for anyone in the field when he’s on his game, and he’s rapidly improving his consistency as he gains in experience. And Vanderkooi is rightly regarded as a wise dark-horse pick this season; he was every bit a match for Halbert and Robinson when the three teamed together at H-D, and now it’s his turn to show what he can do when armed with an Indian of his own.
While yet to formally announce his 2021 plans, the ever-enigmatic Jeffrey Carver Jr. remains capable of thrashing the field on any given evening, and, as a result, cannot be overlooked.
Former Superbike ace JD Beach struggled with a lack of grip for much of ’20 as Estenson Racing continued to develop its Yamaha MT-07 DT race bike. Solutions discovered late last season promise better results in the year ahead, not to mention the scheduled return of TTs, of which Beach won not once, but twice in ’19.
The performance of multi-time AMA road racing champion James Rispoli remains of great interest as well; the timesheets say “HogSpoli” was actually the fastest XG750R-mounted rider regardless of class a year ago as he blasted his way to the 2020 AFT Production Twins title. The charismatic Rispoli and his Latus Motors team will now step up to the Mission SuperTwins class and defend Harley’s honor as the sport’s long dominant manufacturer reverts to a more grassroots approach to racing in 2021.
It’s Dallas Daniels versus the world in AFT Singles. The dominant defending champion will brandish the number-one plate on his Estenson Yamaha YZ450F in ’21 for the simple reason that he’s technically too young to compete in any other class.
Last season, the 17-year-old prodigy won more than half the season’s races in what is typically an exceptionally deep and unpredictable affair en route to clinching the crown with three races remaining on the schedule.
Whether the target on his back will be large enough to offset his immense talent is yet to be determined.
His key challengers largely fall into one of two groups.
The first is made up of ex-premier-class heroes who now front factory-tied efforts in a class that’s become increasingly important to the manufacturers. American Honda-backed Turner Racing boasts single-cylinder ringer Henry Wiles, Estenson Racing lines up Mikey Rush alongside Daniels, and Red Bull KTM Factory Racing brings back the class’ all-time winningest rider, Shayna Texter-Bauman.
The second group consists of riders approximately Daniels’ age (or even younger), who have the potential to blossom in similar fashion. Those prospects include WBR/American Suzuki’s Trent Lowe, who finished his second season as a pro ranked inside the championship top five, along with teenaged race winners Brandon Kitchen (Husqvarna Motorcycles/Vance & Hines) and Trevor Brunner (American Honda/United Rentals Honda).
There’s also Kody Kopp—the son of 2000 Grand National Champion Joe Kopp and reigning Nicky Hayden AMA Flat Track Horizon Award winner—whose advance hype is roughly on par with that of Daniels prior to his 2019 professional debut.
Two riders thread the needle between those two groups and may just represent the biggest threats to Daniels’ continued supremacy. Australian Max Whale took a quantum leap forward in 2020, earning a first-career victory and finishing the season as AFT Singles Championship runner-up. He should prove even more formidable in ’21, his confidence soaring as he joins Texter-Bauman on the official KTM squad.
The other is Roof Systems’ Morgan Mischler, who pushed Daniels to the brink, forcing him to perform last-lap heroics in three consecutive late-season races to keep his sixth-race win streak alive.
AFT Production Twins presented by Vance & Hines
Rispoli’s graduation to the Missions SuperTwins ranks leaves ’19 class champ and ’20 runner-up Cory Texter as the early favorite as he returns for another shot at the AFT Production Twins presented by Vance & Hines title on his G&G Racing Yamaha MT-07. Far too often overlooked and underestimated, Texter has shown his caliber over the past two seasons and deserves that consideration.
However, his path to the throne may be even more daunting in 2021.
Rispoli’s void has been filled by heavy-hitters Dalton Gauthier and Dan Bromley. Both are recent AFT Singles champs and the two step into AFT Production Twins contention one season after scoring seven premier-class top-10s apiece.
Gauthier took the XG750R to its first-ever Progressive AFT race win in the class back in 2019 and then rode it in Mission SuperTwins a year ago. Now he’s back on a D&D Cycles Harley with help from Vance & Hines and primed to do some serious damage.
Bromley, meanwhile, has the leverage necessary to muscle around a twin and the consistency required to run up front in every dirt-track discipline. He’s fielding his own effort aboard a Yamaha MT-07.
Royal Enfield entered Progressive AFT to considerable fanfare, marking a rare factory racing effort from one of the globe’s oldest and largest motorcycle manufacturers. Even though it came in with measured expectations and the open admission that 2020 was to serve as a developmental season, Johnny Lewis demonstrated remarkable potential on the Moto Anatomy X Powered by Royal Enfield Twins FT in an up-and-down season that concluded with the extreme high of a win and runner-up in the season finale. What Lewis and Royal Enfield can accomplish for an encore with another offseason of development will be intriguing to say the least.
A number of other class holdovers should be contenders as well, including race winners Ryan Varnes (RVR/RoyBuilt Don’s Kawasaki) and Ben Lowe (who’s Roof Systems team is swapping out its Yamaha MT-07 for a Harley XG750R).
The spotlight on the class will ratchet up a few thousand lumens at midseason; once the highly touted Daniels turns 18 in June, he’ll become eligible to compete in AFT Production Twins where he’ll get his feet wet on a twin in anticipation of an expected Mission SuperTwins career. CN
2021 American Flat Track Schedule
||(Rnd 1) Barberville, FL
||(Rnd 2) Barberville, FL
||(Rnd 3) Hampton, GA
||(Rnd 4) Fort Worth, TX
||(Rnd 5) Joliet, IL
||(Rnd 6) Oklahoma City, OK
||(Rnd 7) Oklahoma City, OK
||(Rnd 8) Lima, OH
||(Rnd 9) DuQuoin, IL
||(Rnd 10 Port Royal, PA
||(Rnd 11) Weedsport, NY
||(Rnd 12) Peoria, IL
||(Rnd 13) Springfield, IL
||(Rnd 14) Springfield, IL
||(Rnd 15) TBA, CA
||(Rnd 16) TBA, CA
||(Rnd 17) Charlotte, NC
2020 American Flat Track Twins Points Standings
- Briar Bauman (309/6 wins)
- Jared Mees (300/5 wins)
- Sammy Halbert (239/1 win)
- Brandon Robinson (209)
- Bronson Bauman (181)
- Brandon Price (175)
- Jeffrey Carver (174/1 win)
- Davis Fisher (143)
- Jarod Vanderkooi (139)
- Robert Pearson (130)
How to Watch the 2021 AFT Championship