In late September of last year Indian rocked the flat track racing world by hiring three of the elite riders in the championship – Brad Baker, Jared Mees and Bryan Smith. Between them that trio won the last five Grand National No. 1 Plates. It was obvious that Indian was serious about winning the 2017 title.
Not only did the team get the best riders, but Indian also scooped up arguably the two best teams in the Howerton Motorsports team, which won the championship last year with Bryan Smith on Kawasakis and Mee’s powerful squad with the machines being prepped by legendary flat track tuner Kenny Tolbert. Most pundits believed after the announcement, that the Indian squad would be practically unbeatable.
Harley-Davidson responded last month by announcing its own very strong squad with Kenny Coolbeth and Jake Johnson (both multi-time champs) and Brandon Robinson, a rising star in the series.
Another semi-shocker was that Harley announced the factory team would race the new liquid-cooled XG750R exclusively, with development being done by Vance & Hines. That was a big move by Milwaukee, especially considering the venerable Harley-Davidson XR750 has been the team’s racing machine almost exclusively for 46 years! And as long in tooth as the XR seems, it’s still probably the best overall flat track race bike on the planet, bolstered by years of refinement.
But while the move away from the old-school, air-cooled, pushrod two-valve XR750 seems a bit risky, with the advancement of the Kawasaki EX650-based machine and the apparent head-turning speed of the new Indian, the XR was being pushed well beyond the design limits and as a result the bikes were breaking at an alarming rate.
Indian brings a truly international program to the track. The engine was designed in conjunction with Swiss Auto, a company that has built both Formula One and Motorcycle Grand Prix race engines.
To give you an idea of potentially how good the new Indian FTR750 is, Joe Kopp, a 47-year-old retired rider, hopped on the bike in last year’s season finale and actually led the race early on! Not bad for a debut run. Jared Mees helped develop the FTR and he’s very enthusiastic about the prospect of racing it in 2017.
On paper it seems the battle for this year’s championship is going to be strictly between Harley and Indian, if for no other reason than the sheer talent of the two teams. That may well be, but it also seems to be a window of opportunity for other squads to use the already proven Harley XR750 or the Kawasaki EX650 and possibly pull a major upset over the factories.
The state of professional flat track racing is still an open question. Certainly, it seems that since the DMG sold road racing to MotoAmerica a couple of years ago, that more resources are being directed at flat track. Nearly half of the races on the schedule are being promoted by an arm of the DMG, so they have a major incentive to put butts in the seats.
On the plus side, the DMG has new and visionary leadership. It’s hired a large PR agency to promote the series and there’s been big time exposure like never before in national magazines and newspapers. You’ve got Indian coming in a big way, Harley is stepping up its game and rumors persist that both Yamaha and Honda are considering joining the fray in the not-too-distant future.
On the other hand, flat track’s fan base is among the oldest of any motorsport and there does not seem to be enough young fans coming in to replace them. Fan’s Choice TV’s excellent live coverage has proven to make it a tough decision for some fans to justify coming to watch the race live, when they can see everything from the comfort of their family rooms.
There are just a few races that have proven to be able to draw big crowds year after year and even the strongest races on the calendar like Springfield, Peoria and Sacramento, have seen inexplicable ups and downs in attendance in recent years. And consider races like the Indy Mile, which could not sustain itself without the help of being on the same weekend as MotoGP.
In spite of the challenges, which to a large extent, all forms of motorsports are trying to overcome, there is an undeniable buzz about American Flat Track. The series is no longer opening on the sidelines, at the small Daytona Short Track venue, but the Thursday, March 16 season debut of the Daytona TT (with the big twins) promises to be a massive, high-profile launch in front of the main grandstands at Daytona International Speedway.
This momentum and renewed factory interest is either going to work or it’s not. We won’t be able to tell for a couple of years, but you cannot fault the organizers. They certainly seem to be reaching for the moon and it’s going to be fun to watch.
If Invercargill man Hamish Alan idolises anyone, it would be the Indian Wrecking Crew, a group of three motorcycle racing champions who rode their Indian Scouts to victory against Harley-Davidsons in the 1950s. Alan tells reporter Hannah McLeod how images of one of them racing inspired him to build his very own Indian racing bike.
I’m the only gearhead in my family but my love of bikes probably began when I was a kid, riding a little Benelli, or with my dad’s old Indian motorcycle, which was in our garage under a bit of canvas.
My brother, sister and I would pull the sheet off and sit on it, bouncing up and down, pretending we were riding it, as kids do.
I think that old motorbike was a bit of an impulse buy of Dad’s. It never ran during my lifetime, until I was about 18, when I decided to restore it.
I had to outsource a lot of the work because I simply didn’t have the skills.
But a few years ago I saw 1950s race photos of another Indian motorbike, which I decided I wanted to build.
Fortunately, in my 20s, I quit my day job and started an adult apprenticeship as a fitter-turner, purely so that I could develop my skills to work on motorbikes.
I’ve built a 1948 Daytona Scout. The body’s almost entirely original, but the engine is reproduction. I’ve managed to do most of the work on this myself, with a little bit of help from local man Ray McCulloch.
I hate to think how much it’s cost me. There’s a pile of receipts I haven’t even looked at, but that’s not the point.
This weekend, I’ll be racing it for the first time at Teretonga as part of the Burt Munro Challenge. I’ve had a couple of test runs, and I’ve already figured out I’ll never be satisfied.
I’ll probably rebuild this bike three times over to reach my goals of developing the engine and getting to a good top speed.
Racing in the United States. these bikes could do 120mph, but they had been rebuilt in aluminium, not steel.
This bike won’t get up there – it has brakes!
But, eventually, I’ll probably start developing my own skills so that I can work with aluminium and continue working on this bike.
I’ve owned fast road bikes before, a Honda and a Ducati.
Problem was, I was getting faster and faster on the road, and I was probably pushing legal limits.
While I certainly respect and appreciate Burt Munro’s achievements and his Munro Special, his Indian was a land speed bike, not a racing bike.
Mine looks like an everyday motorcycle but it’s built for the track.
You can do things there that you can’t do on the roads legally
Indian Motorcycles through the Years
Inspirational Dottie Mattern rides a 1936 Indian Scout motorcycle 4,000 miles coast to coast in her seventies after surviving cancer.
Most people in their seventies are starting to slow down. Not Dottie Mattern. She’s still picking up steam. This fall the world traveler and seasoned rider trucked her beloved 1936 Indian Scout to Daytona Beach, Fla. She did it to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.
On Sept. 5, she and 102 other entrants from all over the world departed the famous beach town to begin a two-and-a-half-week sojourn to Tacoma, Wash., on antique motorcycles. She was one of only three females entered in the run that attracted regular Joes and rock stars alike, including Pat Simmons of Doobie Brothers fame.
What prompted her to do it and what was the event that offered the challenge? The second half of that question answers the first: the challenge — which is something Dottie Mattern never shrinks from. The answer to the rest of the question is the Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run, which is the brainchild of Lonnie Isam Jr.
There have been three Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Runs since 2010. It’s held every other year in large part because it’s so difficult to coordinate, and most riders need the extra time to get their bikes together between events. The ride is as tough on the 80- to 100-year-old motorycles as it is on the riders.
After hearing about the last two runs, Dottie Mattern was determined to enter herself. She began preparing the Scout in the winter of 2013. It was rebuilt from the ground up by Dennis Craig. Craig serves on The Antique Motorcycle Foundation with her.
Although she’s been riding since she was 19, and owned the Scout for 30 years, she didn’t really start to spread her wings until she retired in her 50s. She took up tennis at 50. She went to a week-long baseball fantasy camp where she was both the oldest and most valuable player at 54.
In 1999, at age 55, Dottie decided she wanted to become a ball “kid” for the U.S. Tennis Association. After a five-week tryout, she was accepted — along with roughly 100 children aged 12 and under. She did it for six years.
It was in September of 2001 that she’d be diagnosed with colon cancer. Like everything else in her life, she approached it with steely determination.
After beating it, Dottie became active in raising funds and awareness regarding testing. She hoped to raise $70,000 for the cause before, during and after her ride.
Her experience didn’t slow her down. Eight years ago she became a U.S. Tennis Official. In 2007, at age 63, Dottie Mattern set the East Coast Racing Association land speed record in Maxton, N.C., on a stripped down ’37 Indian Scout doing 74.1 mph.
Oh, and somewhere in between all this she found time to become a vice commander with the Coast Guard Auxillary. The moral to the story? Life can begin at any age, if you let it. Ride, Dottie, ride!
Source: Dottie Mattern, Seventy-Year-Old Cancer Survivor, Rides 1936 Indian Scout Coast to Coast On Challenging 2014 Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run [EXCLUSIVE] : From A to B : Design & Trend
Great short documentary on the Wall of Death – Riding Vintage Indian Motorcycle 101 Scouts!
If you ever get a chance to see the performance, it’s amazing, with the sites, sounds, and smells of this thrilling display!
When the new Crocker motorcycle was unveiled at the Quail Motorcycle Gathering last May, Michael Schacht, who owns the Crocker name and built that first prototype, told me I could have a test ride next time I was in L.A. That would mean I’d be the only person besides Schacht to have ridden the new bike. I couldn’t pass up an opportunity like that, so I met him at his warehouse/assembly shop, where sat the rough makings of the next 15 Crocker V-Twins.
Yep, Schacht is already making a limited run. As he put it, “Whether I have orders or not, I’m just going to build them.” He has invested heavily in cash, time and reputation to make the patterns and cast the parts necessary to build a whole motorcycle, and that first Crocker Big Tank discussed in Cycle World last May was made from the same batch of rough metal seen in these photos.
A deconstructed motorcycle is an excellent teaching device, and Schacht pointed out the changes that Al Crocker incorporated during the evolution of his big Twin between 1936 and 1942, when WWII restrictions put an end to civilian motorcycle production. Schacht doesn’t reproduce the first hemi-head engine, which powered the rare original models Crocker built in 1936. Although the hemi variant commands the biggest prices from collectors, issues with rapid wear on the valve gear means the later parallel-valve heads are more suitable for the modern road. Those first hemis had open rockers, springs and valves, whereas the valve gear in the later engine was totally enclosed. Because of these issues, the hemispherical cylinder head is the only option not available when ordering a new Crocker V-Twin. The early Small Tank frame with different steering-head lugs and unbraced gearbox/lower-frame castings is ready to assemble, as is the later Big Tank style, which most newbies love, since they’re more glamorous. Aficionados prefer the smaller tank, which really shows off that fantastic big Twin engine.
Michael Schacht has something to prove. He’s happy to regale anyone within earshot with tales of attempted intimidation from a few old-time Crocker collectors who take serious issue with his style, his business methods and perhaps the mere fact that he’s done what they said couldn’t be done. In a way, his tales mirror the difficulties Al Crocker faced after building a better bike than Indian and Harley, the last two American motorcycle manufacturers left standing following the Depression. After H-D allegedly threatened its wheel supplier (Kelsey-Hayes) with a massive loss of business if that company sold wheels to Crocker, Al suddenly found he couldn’t buy wheels for his bikes. Solution? If you wanted a Crocker, you had to supply your own wheels.
Such tales are meat and drink to Crocker lovers, who have embellished the reputation of their favorite marque to such effect that you’ll need $300K to buy an original. Schacht is asking half that for his new machine.
How does it compare to the originals? Schacht’s test machine is completely paint-free to show the world how it was built and that it’s indeed all-new. It’s a Big Tank, with those lovely cast-aluminum panniers customizers have been copying for 70 years now. Same with the taillight, as seen (ironically) on thousands of Harleys and bobbed Triumphs through the decades. Like George Brough, Al Crocker was a masterful stylist; unlike GB, he was also a trained engineer, and with the help of Paul Bigsby (inventor of the “whammy bar” on electric guitars), he built his own engine and gearbox. Those designs were an advance on anything available in the U.S. at the time, even after H-D introduced its Knucklehead six months after Crocker got the jump on big
Crocker & Indian Shared a history – Let’s read about the revival….
After nearly twelve years of hassles and legal setbacks, a brand-new Crocker Big-Twin motorcycle has emerged from a hangar in SoCal. Learn more at Cycle World now.
After nearly twelve years of hassles, legal setbacks, a change of countries, and one nasty recession, a brand-new Crocker Big-Tank motorcycle has emerged from a hangar in SoCal. Michael Schacht is at no loss for words in describing the ordeal he’s overcome to reach the point of turning a key, kicking over the 80 cubic-inch V-Twin, and hearing an engine he literally built from scratch rumble into throaty life. His first complete Crocker sits unpainted, brazed joints bright and cast iron dull, spun metal fenders covered with a zillion tiny scratches, the big aluminum tanks resplendent in their own bare-metal shine.
Schacht was a staunch Indian man a dozen years ago, and still rides a 1929 ‘101’ Scout nearly every day. His restored Indians brought him to the attention of a branding company who owned the Indian name in Canada. His machines were used for promo work and he gradually became ‘involved’ with the company, which was mostly interested in T-shirt sales at that time. When talk began of making an Indian motorcycle by re-badging a Ural, Schacht ran away. The idea of resurrecting an important American motorcycle marque stuck with him though, and while looking over two Crockers at a friend’s restoration shop, the big light went on and his destiny was set. “The Crocker name is so pure, nobody had tried to make a new one, even though several people tried to claim the name. It took some work, but I was finally able to secure the name with the intention of starting production of Crockers.”
Few people have made an entire motorcycle from scratch. Schacht admits he knew little of making castings, metallurgy or even production machining before he embarked on his dream. “I was lucky, and hired some incredibly talented people. I moved my facilities from Canada to Southern California, so that the Crocker would be made 100% in the U.S.A. It was important to me that such a historic name was built, again, in the country it started from. This is an all-American deal.” Schacht also wasn’t an expert on Crockers, but enlisted the help of collectors who are, such as Chuck Vernon. “These guys are the keepers of the flame. They know everything about these machines and helped me tremendously to sort out exactly how the original Crocker was made.” While the new Crocker is as faithful to Al Crocker’s original machine as possible, a few of the materials have been upgraded. “Better steels are available now, stronger and lighter, and while the appearance is identical with a 1939 bike, what’s inside is better.”
The Crocker Motorcycle Company does not, Schacht insists, produce ‘replicas’ of the motorcycles last produced in 1942. “These are continuation machines, built by the legal owner of the Crocker motorcyclename.” The new engine is certainly more powerful than a standard 61-inch Crocker from the 30s, pumping out a whopping 85 horses from the 80-inch V-Twin to push the same 500 pound machine. “We’ve just finished it, and there are a few minor bugs to sort out, but basically, she’s the best sounding motorcycle I’ve ever heard, is really, really fast, and handles beautifully. That was one of my biggest surprises about the Crocker; this is a serious performance machine.”
Stay tuned to Cycle World for additional information about production plans for these machines and a potential modern “retro-bike” in the works.