#312 It’s a flat, flat, flat track world

An iconic American sport is now up-trending.

It’s official: X Games Austin will include flat track racing for the 2015 edition of the youth- and Red Bull-fueled sports event (see page 11). Motorcycles are no strangers to X Games—Freestyle Motocross has long been a component—as the target of the games are those young, or young at heart, who appreciate flips (both front and back) or any motorcycle maneuver that doesn’t require sitting in the saddle, and often involves letting go of said machine in mid-air.
If it’s difficult and spectacular with inevitable wipeouts, X Games are the venue—life as video game. The X Games are hip and Austin, Texas is probably one of the hippest spots in North America. Whatever your thoughts may be of Texas, Austin is different and now, only a couple of months after hosting a round of MotoGP at Circuit Of The Americas, flat track will reach a broader audience than it has in years.
Flat track was once the most popular form of motorcycle racing in North America—it was X-gamey before there were X Games. The requirements are pretty basic: a flat dirt oval. The length of the oval varies and the location can be (and often has been) a farmer’s field. From the very beginning it’s been about as grassroots as it gets, and the financial outlay to get into the sport is still pretty slim.
The racers literally hang it out all there and it was once the iconic form of American motorcycle racing. But the big air and bigger stadiums of Supercross and the knee-dragging, high-speed energy of superbike racing eventually overtook flat track as a spectator sport.
Several years ago I was in Daytona and over the course of a weekend watched the Daytona 200, a round of Supercross (which took place in a small portion of Daytona International Speedway’s infield) and flat track races at Municipal Stadium, a nearby venue out in the woods.
Amid the massive grandstands of the Speedway the crowd for the Daytona 200 seemed sparse, and there were many open spots to sit depending on the corner you wanted to watch or if you wanted to observe the finish line. The bikes passed in a blur of speed and sound, and faded, as they became distant objects on the far side of the giant track.
The Supercross event in its more compact venue had the appearance of a more densely packed crowd in the grandstand opposite the track. You could see the entire race from a single location and big air is always impressive. Even so, it looked a little lonely—islands of activity in the cavernous bowl that is the Speedway.
While Municipal Stadium isn’t exactly “out in the woods” it sure seems that way in its position beyond the glare of the Speedway’s lights and kinetic furor of town. The stands are small, but the house was packed and the action close at hand. It was impossible in such an intimate venue not to be immersed in the sights, smell and sounds of this very competitive racing.
It felt much more as though you were actually in the race not merely watching it. It was exhilarating and obviously “X-Hilarating.”
Since then, flat track racing at Daytona has moved to the Speedway grounds. Perhaps some of that small venue ambiance has been lost but it has come to the people rather than the people going to it. There is no denying that the sport appears to be up-trending. Multi-time Superbike champ Troy Bayliss has announced he will come out of retirement to race in select AMA flat track events for 2015, campaigning a Ducati against all those Harley-Davidson machines. Harley-Davidson is the official series title sponsor of flat track racing at X Games Austin, perhaps because the audience will be comprised of the same demographic that Harley hopes to attract to its new Street models.
If all this isn’t enough to convince you that flat track is the new “it” series, consider that über-cool Roland Sands has posted flat track videos to his YouTube channel. If Sands isn’t the epitome of “it” in today’s motorcycle scene, I don’t know who is.