There exists a level of motorsport athlete for whom skill outpaces danger. Not only do these high-level participants achieve quicker reaction times and an understanding of physics that approaches theoretical, but they can process an entire world of danger as unlikely and go fast in the face of it anyway. For all the racers hitting the track at the Sacramento Mile for this weekend’s American Flat Track double header, the old school need-for-speed-surpasses-fear-of-death desires held fast. This was the sketchiest racing weekend I’ve ever been party to, and it absolutely ruled from start to finish.
(Full Disclosure: Progressive American Flat Track invited me to hot and sunny Sacramento to watch the racing action at the state fairgrounds on Saturday. AFT provided me with tickets to the event and catered food for the day. I paid for my own travel to and from the event, as I rode over the hill from Reno to Sac. It was a great way to spend the day.)
If you’re not familiar with AFT, the series consists of three classes of two-wheeled dirt oval racing. There is the AFT Singles class, where 450cc thumper dirtbikes compete. Next is the AFT Production Twins class, where modified Yamaha MT-07s and Ninja 650s compete with the Vance & Hines-built race-only Harley XG750Rs. All of these bikes run street-oriented engines in custom chassis, and they’re super cool to watch. Beyond that is the full-boat race bikes of the Mission SuperTwins class, which at the moment is absolutely dominated by Indian’s factory backed effort.
In a single day of racing you’ll see a morning practice, two sessions of qualifying, two sessions of semifinals, and an after-dark main event for each of the three classes. That’s a total of 18 on-track sessions in one day. There is almost always something happening on the race track, and all of it is guaranteed to be exciting. For the relatively inexpensive cost of a weekend ticket — I believe they were $40 with free parking for motorcycles — it’s hard to find a more jam-packed schedule. I’m always in favor of cheap fun.
The level of trust that these racers must place in each other is stunning. Obviously being on motorcycles, there is always a level of danger, but across the entire day I was at the races, I only saw one caution flag fly for a pair of Singles class riders that collided, with one high-siding off the bike, and the other low-siding into the barriers at the outside of turn one. Neither was hurt, and both got back on their bikes and raced in the re-started heat.
With a history of covering motorsport at full-time road courses all over the country, I admittedly was totally sketched out by the fact that the infield pits were separated from the racing line by maybe 30 feet. I had qualms about people standing mere feet away from bikes entering turn 1 at triple-digit speeds in what can only be described as barely-controlled-chaos. This horse racing track turned makeshift motorcycle speedway is a purely spectacular place from which to watch racing, and nobody came even a little bit close to getting hurt, but it certainly felt like I’d been transported back to the lackadaisically safety-third 1950s.
At the start of the day the track looked a little mushy but by the end of the night, especially going into the corners, the track had been packed into basically concrete. Standing at turn one, I could hear brakes locking up as riders threw their bikes into a sideways skid before jumping back on the throttle and rolling up the rear tire. It was truly surreal to hear 1980s cop chase sound effects coming from a bike on dirt. Could I do that? Hell to the no. These folks are next-level.
Once I got over the eye-popping mind-boggling speed/danger factor, I settled into a really fun, if a bit hot, day at the races. And the sketchiness is definitely part of the fun. Pretty quickly the Singles class became my favorite of the on-track action, as every session was packed with corner-by-corner high-rev drafting action. Where the twins classes tended to have the racing split into different packs, the singles were consistently flying past in one homogeneous roaring blob.
I think perhaps the best part of watching so much racing across the weekend is the level of storyline cultivation that can happen. Every class had something exciting going on. As the penultimate event of the season, there were championship implications with every session, and racers had an opportunity to become fan favorites.
Nobody embodies the fan-favorite throughline than AFT Singles racer Shayna Texter-Bauman. In that aforementioned crash during the semi-final, she had someone run up on her rear fender and get their bike tangled with hers. The former rider was flung from his bike in the resulting high-side, and she carried on straight through the corner with four tangled interconnected wheels. She smartly set both bikes down and slid into the inflatable crash barrier to no ill effect.
The semifinal was red-flagged and the team got her back on the grid, this time starting from the back in 12th position. Shayna being the mad woman she is, the next eight laps saw her rapidly moving up through the field to end up briefly in the lead of the semi heat. Ultimately she was pipped at the line by 0.003 seconds to sit second in the semi. Watching the whole thing go down, the crowd went absolutely wild, myself included! She ran near the front of the final night race on Saturday, too, but had to again settle for second.
Over in the Production Twins category, Cory Texter swept the weekend by setting fastest times in qualifying both days, winning both of his heats, and both of his mains. On Saturday night his victory was enough to clinch the championship in his favor, and he rode off on Sunday night a happy man. He was just so freakin’ fast, there was nothing anyone could do about it.
In the SuperTwins class it’s been an All-Indian show this season with factory racers Jared Mees and Briar Bauman running full-race Indian FTR750s around the track. It was mostly more of the same this weekend, as Mees won both mains and Bauman finished third on the podium both times. In Saturday’s main, once Mees got the holeshot Bauman got mired down in traffic and couldn’t keep up with the leader. Both races saw Mees win running away with it, crossing the line several seconds ahead of the competition.
If you get an opportunity to watch AFT racing, please make it a point to get out there and watch the real unsung heroes of motorsport putting it all on the line. It’s a truly joyful experience, and the high speeds of mile dirt oval racing is second to none. Just go, I promise you’ll have a good time.