Everyone loves a good rivalry: Yankees vs. Red Sox, Ford vs. Chevy, and Coke vs. Pepsi, just to name a few. In our two-wheel world, the duel between Harley-Davidson and Indian Motorcycle stretches back more than a century.
This rivalry between the Milwaukee MoCo and Indian came sharply into focus during the recent MotoAmerica King Of The Baggers races at the famed Laguna Seca racetrack near Monterey, California. Thanks to the cooperation of each company, I was able to immerse myself in both race teams to get an inside look at the efforts put forth on behalf of the venerable American motorcycle manufacturers.
Viewing races on TV, we watch racers either succeeding or failing on track in what seems to be an individual endeavor, but we don’t really get to see the team efforts that underpin the glory-stealing riders. However, this perception radically shifts when getting a close look at all the preparation that goes into putting race teams on the grid.
There are team directors orchestrating the operations, crew chiefs divining optimum bike setups based on racer feedback, and a bunch of busy support staff who spin wrenches and swap tires at the behest of their team’s direction. It is truly fascinating to watch a dozen crew members take hundreds of steps to ensure their riders have the best chance of success on the racetrack.
And damn, those boys can fly on their Road Glides and Challengers! It almost defies belief to see 620-lb baggers being hustled around the racetrack and attaining lean angles so acute the bikes almost appear to be crashing. And keep in mind that some of these baggers topped 180 mph at Daytona earlier this year.
Kyle Wyman and his Screamin’ Eagle Harley Road Glide set a lap record for the KOTB class during the qualifying session at Laguna and then beat it again during the three-lap Challenge race. The 1:28.3 he logged would have been enough to put him at a creditable 7th on the Supersport grid among pure sportbikes. The backhanded compliment “It’s fast for a Harley” no longer applies. It’s simply fast.
As the Harley-versus-Indian war rages, the battles on track can get extremely intense. Case in point, Saturday’s race at Laguna was epic as Wyman dueled with Indian’s Tyler O’Hara. Wyman shadowed O’Hara during the first part of the race while waiting for his opportunity to make a bid for the lead, which came when O’Hara ran wide in a corner late in the race.
That seemed to be the end of the skirmish, but O’Hara made a desperate lunge into the notorious Corkscrew corner on the last lap and emerged with the lead. With just three corners remaining, the finishing order seemed to be set, but on the very final corner – the last chance to alter the results – both O’Hara and Wyman low-sided while braking as deeply as possible.
Surprise, surprise, the Road Glides of Hayden Gillim and James “Hogspoli” Rispoli cruised to the checkers on their Vance & Hines Harleys. Meanwhile, O’Hara had scampered back to his crashed bike and hefted the Challenger to its feet, amazingly earning a 4th-place result behind the Roland Sands Indian of Bobby Fong. Wyman was slower in his remount and finished 9th.
I’ve always believed that the entertainment value of racing is amplified whenever the audience can’t reliably pick winners in advance. With KOTB, predictable results are relatively scarce. For example, O’Hara, KOTB’s reigning champ, has yet to win a feature race this season. Many times, the unpredictable is the only thing that is predictable.
There’s more to the stories I gleaned while at Laguna that are inside our September issue, which will feature a Harley-versus-Indian theme. Or you can simply click here to view my Corkscrew Clash story.