Quarter-Mile Madness: A Day With American Flat Track

by Chris Leone // Website // Twitter
Images via Ned Leone

My second career as a pizza delivery boy began with my dad on Father’s Day weekend.

No, it wasn’t exactly what I signed up for when we decided to head up to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the inaugural Laconia Short Track, one of a number of new events on the 2019 American Flat Track schedule. But when the series’ chief competition officer, Joey Mancari, was your colleague at Red Bull Global Rallycross for five years, you’re there to help, and so I was more than happy to volunteer my services to help out. That my dad was willing to take some time out of shooting photos of practice to make the drive in his new Ford Mustang was just a bonus.

In fact, a number of my ex-GRC colleagues were on hand in Loudon, from our starter Patrick Pattison (who was incredibly kind to give me one of the checkered flags he used to wave in our events) to some of our old grid crew who came out as spectators. For a discipline of racing I hadn’t seen in person in 15 years and was still rediscovering, it sure felt like old home week to be at the track.

And what a track it was. The last time I saw flat track motorcycle racing, it was at a converted horse racing track in southern Massachusetts when I was a teenager. Right as we pulled in, somebody lost control and wiped out into the first corner. Fun, right?

But the new track at Loudon was completely different. Purpose built for this form of racing, the brand new quarter-mile oval sits behind the New England Motorsports Museum. The new event was scheduled as part of the annual Laconia Bike Week for 2019, giving thousands of riders the opportunity to take in a form of racing unlike anything that has ever run at the area’s premier motorsports facility.

Less than a year ago, it was just a parking lot, the same orange-brown dirt and rock that comprises most of NHMS’ surrounding area. Now, it joins fellow legendary Bike Week locations like Daytona and Sturgis on the AFT calendar.

New events always have a bit of a buzz around them anyway, but with its ideal scheduling to aid in promotion, it was no surprise to see a packed facility for the debut event. More than 60 riders showed up among the premier Twins and support Singles classes, while the spectator areas came to life with everything from live music to giant games of cornhole, horseshoes, and beer pong. It was everything you’d want from a debut event for a brand new track, and testament to some serious promotional efforts by both the series and its weekend host.

And we haven’t even gotten to talking about the racing yet.

American Flat Track competition can range from mile-long speedways to quarter-mile bullrings, with Laconia on the latter end of the spectrum. This meant for quick lap times and little margin for error, with the slightest mistake ending in either lost track position or a spectacular crash. Fortunately, despite a handful of wrecks throughout the weekend, most riders were able to get right up and either restart or clear the track under their own power.

If you’ve never seen an AFT start, you’re missing one of the most thrilling moments on two wheels—or, well, 32 wheels, once you get to the final. From there, 16 qualifiers from the heats, plus anyone who didn’t qualify through the heats and elects to take a provisional, which you can do once per season, are crammed into just a handful of rows before charging into the first corner at five and six wide. If that description doesn’t sound insane enough to you, try watching it from an infield with no walls and tell me you don’t have a new appreciation for what capable racers can do.

P.S.: Unlike some other forms of racing, the field usually found its way through the first corner pretty cleanly.

Still, the pressure was on all weekend, and the randomness of a new event number of familiar names had disappointing results. Both Jared Mees and Sammy Halbert fell short of the finish in the Twins race with bike issues, while Shayna Texter’s quest for her 10th AFT Singles victory fell well short with a 16th place result.

Instead, Mikey Rush scored his second straight victory in the Singles class, getting past top qualifier Dalton Gauthier and leading the most laps to earn the inaugural Laconia trophy. And in the AFT Twins class, it was a family affair, with Indian rider Bronson Bauman holding off his brother Briar to score his first career victory with his family on hand. It was an especially emotional celebration, as Bauman fought to hold back tears in photos with his family.

What better time to celebrate your first win with your dad than on Father’s Day weekend? I just wonder if they had pizza for dinner.

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