Indian continues to win, Team Harley-Davidson makes strides, and a Harley dealer – Black Hills H-D – gets back in the fight

Brandon Robinson (44) switched to Indian for 2019 and has won two of five races, but the Harleys of Sammy Halbert (69) and teammate Jared Vanderkooi are finally in the hunt. Halbert podiumed at the So-Cal Half-Mile, grabbing third, with JV fourth.

Words by Mitch Boehm

Photos by Brian J. Nelson and Scott Hunter/AFT

The resurgent American Flat Track series is not the Jared Mees show anymore – at least not so far in 2019. This is no slam on the five-time champ, either. It’s just that last year and in 2017 Mees ran away with things, and if it weren’t for the AFT Singles riders – ten of whom won races in 2018 – the AFT Twins presented by Vance & Hines title chase woulda been a snoozer.

But not this year. This year the Indian FTR750s are still (mostly) dominating, but with Indian factory rider Briar Bauman and Kennedy Racing’s Brandon Robinson (who’d been with Team Harley-Davidson for the last two seasons) leading the way with three wins in five races between them. (Mees has the fourth victory, and Yamaha-mounted JD Beach the fifth.)

Vanderkooi, traction hunting at this year’s Daytona TT.

And what of that factory Harley-Davidson team? Well, they’ve been impressive recently, with Sammy Halbert and Jarod Vanderkooi running closer than ever to the front on the latest-generation Vance & Hines-built XG750Rs. After five rounds (with the first Springfield Mile coming up in late May), Vandy and Halbert are ranked fourth and fifth, respectively (Mees is currently third). And given the speed of the new-gen XG racebikes, it’s a good bet they’ll be in good shape at the upcoming Miles and Half-Miles. (Check for the complete schedule.)

Another interesting twist to this year’s American Flat Track season is the emergence of the AFT Production Twins class – along with the participation in the new division of Black Hills Harley-Davidson and co-owner/General Manager Terry Rymer, who are running an early-generation XG in Production Twins with champion roadracer James Rispoli in the saddle. With the legendary XR750 finally fading from the scene in a competitive sense, and the XG being campaigned solely (until now) by the Vance & Hines factory boys, Harley dealers – once a significant part of the professional flat track paddock – have disappeared from view.

Rispoli hammers the Black Hills XG750R at the recent So-Cal Half-Mile.

But that’s changing with Rymer’s involvement, which adds legitimacy and credibility to the idea of Harley-Davidson dealers once again having an avenue to direct involvement in professional flat track racing.

“We saw a lot of potential several weeks ago in Dallas when we first ran the bike with Danny Eslick,” Rymer told Thunder Press, “and we wanted to keep the momentum going for the rest of the season with James [Rispoli]. Running the XG with help from Terry [Vance] and the factory Harley team has been great. This is good for us, good for Harley-Davidson and Vance & Hines, and good for this new production-based class, which is a great stepping stone for up-and-coming AFT riders and teams who don’t want to (or can’t) jump headlong into the AFT Twins division. Having more Harley dealers involved again would be a great thing, and that’s the big picture from my point of view. We’re certainly going to do our part as we battle for the AFT Production Twins championship.”

In the two AFT Production races thus far, Eslick and Rispoli’s combined finishes of ninth and eighth, respectively, would have them ranked seventh overall. Rispoli, having only ridden one event, is buried in 14th currently, but with Rymer’s team planning to run all eight remaining events, there’s a chance the Black Hills/Rispoli duo will have a shot at a top-three season finish.

So get out to see the Black Hills team if you can – along with the AFT Twins and wildly competitive AFT Singles class. The action this year is hot and heavy, and you will not be disappointed.


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