American Flat Track crowned three first-time champions during the final two races of its 2019 season, but the series’ end contained a stark reminder of the dangerous nature of racing.
Indian’s Briar Bauman was crowned the 2019 AFT Twins champion immediately after he crossed the stripe third behind teammate Jared Mees and Howerton Motorsports/Crosley’s Bryan Smith, but the way in which Bauman finished third may be talked about for years to come.
Bauman, with five wins and 15 podium appearances, came into the Minnesota Mile with a 35-point lead over Mees. He needed to finish third or better to clinch his first AFT Twins title. Mees would have to win and have Bauman finish fourth or worse to keep his title aspirations alive.
Prior to lining up for the 25-lap Main, AFT watered the track and groomed the cushion in the corners. Riders took it easy on their sighting lap, as last year Bauman ran out of fuel while leading, with others finishing on fumes. After getting up-to-speed on the opening lap, all hell broke loose entering turn one for the first time at full speed.
Factory Indian teammates and brothers Bronson and Briar Bauman both went down in a heap that included factory Harley’s Sammy Halbert, Indian privateer Stephen Vanderkuur and rookie of the year and Indian privateer Brandon Price.
The consensus from the crashers and those that stayed upright was that, below the cushion, the water previously applied “turned to grease.” Bronson looked as if he went 10 rounds in a mud wrestling pit and was unrecognizable following the wreck. The bikes of Price and Vanderkuur were junk and unable the make the restart.
The Bauman’s factory FTRs and Halbert’s factory XG weren’t much better, but were aided by the time necessary to fix the track. AFT rules allow for up to eight minutes following an on-track incident, or until the track is ready to resume racing. In this case, and due to the excessive carnage, AFT took the time necessary to prevent history repeating itself.
After approximately 25 minutes, and after replacing a radiator, front end and handlebar, Briar joined his brother and Halbert on the fourth row for the restart. On lap one, Indian privateer Jay Maloney ran out of racetrack at the exit of turn two, made contact with the haybales, went down and collected fellow Indian privateer James Monaco. Maloney would compete the following week in his home state, although Monaco was much more seriously injured. Ominous rumors have circulated regarding his status.
Due to the additional delay and a looming 10pm curfew, AFT pared the race to 15 laps. After two-time former GNC champ Jake Johnson elected to not restart after the first red flag, only 11 riders remained, with Briar Bauman having to navigate his way past just eight of them for his first title.
For the first seven laps Bauman exhibited daring precision as he made his way into fourth behind Mees, Smith and Jeffrey Carver Jr. Mees was long gone, but Bauman was within striking distance of Smith and Carver. By lap 10, Bauman and Smith had made their way past Carver and battled as if they were racing for the win. Smith would win the battle for second, but Briar Bauman would claim the ultimate prize. Bauman’s off-the-airfence/out-of-the-mud/to-the-back-row/on-a-beat-up-FTR/come-from-behind and finish-where-he-needed-to-finish performance will be remembered for years to come. Mees would continue his Mile track dominance but come up short on overall points.
The following week at the Meadowlands, New Jersey finale, two more champions were crowned in the AFT Singles and AFT Production Twins classes. Pennsylvania’s Dalton Gauthier (Singles) and Cory Texter (Production Twins) did what they needed to do to end their seasons with the most points and their first professional AFT championships.
Gauthier’s story is a good one. He opened the 2017 AFT Singles season with three straight wins only to fail a random drug test. After nearly two years off and after completing the AFT-mandated Road to Recovery Program in time for the 2019 season opener in Daytona, Gauthier has had a stellar year, with four wins and four second-place finishes. Gauthier struggled with the deeply rutted track (which caused a crash that sent Brit Oliver Brindley to the local ICU) and nerves in qualifying (21st), in his Semi (7th) and during the Main, but squeaked by with a 14th to secure his first-ever title, needing to finish 15th or better.
New in 2019 was the AFT Production Twins class, introduced as a stepping-stone allowing AFT Singles riders to get seat time on twin-cylinder machines prior to entering the top-level and new-for-2020 SuperTwins class. Additionally, former Twins riders unable to secure rides on Indians had a class to race their production-based machines believed to be obsoleted by the Indians. These former Twins riders would also be great benchmarks and tutors for Singles riders on the rise.
One team that was prepared right out of the gate was G&G Racing Yamaha and rider Cory Texter, who opened the year with three straight wins (in Texas, So Cal and Kentucky) followed by strong second at Lima, OH. Texter and the G&G Team would hold onto their early season advantage throughout the season, but top-class riders and teams would emerge, including the Black Hills Harley-Davidson team managed by GM Terry Rymer, who convinced Vance & Hines to pull early-generation XG750Rs out of mothballs. By mid-season, the cobwebs were knocked off enough for Gauthier to get H-D’s first win on an XG750R in AFT competition at Sacramento, and backed it up with another at Springfield 1. Teammate James Rispoli earned four podiums while serving as the team’s lead test rider.
The class proved more competitive between brands than in the AFT Twins class, with Texter (3) and Kolby Carlile (2) winning five races on Yamahas, Ryan Varnes (2) and Chad Cose (2) winning four on Ninja-based Kawasakis, as well as Gauthier’s two wins on the Harley over 11 races. Conversely, in AFT Twins, Indians won 16 out of 18 races, with only the Estenson Yamaha ridden by JD Beach earning the other two victories.
If early ‘silly season’ rumors are to be believed, Production Twins will have provided the step into the new AFT SuperTwins class for 2020. With a couple of the riders mentioned before making that step, we will likely see some riders from this season’s AFT Twins class make the move to Production Twins next year, ensuring that the class is a legitimate one for developing future stars of the sport.
In addition to the injured riders mentioned earlier (Monaco and Brindley), Jeremy Higgins was involved in a freak Production Twins crash down the backstretch at Springfield II, suffering broken bones and a closed head injury. In Minnesota, Production Twins rider JR Addison went down in a single rider incident where he suffered a multitude of broken bones and was recently released following a three-week stint in a Minneapolis hospital.
In a true ‘take care of their own’ gesture, Production Twins champ Cory Texter, along with fellow AFT racers Brandon Robinson, Jarod Vanderkooi and James Rispoli, have organized a 580-mile charity bicycle ride along the east coast of Florida. Their goal is to raise a minimum of $10,000 to aid the injured riders mentioned here. If you are inclined to donate to their cause, you can do so at: https://www.gofundme.com/f/the-one-weekepic-florida-cycling-580.
If you also suffer from a flat track addiction, reach out to Chris for tips on chasing the dragon at firstname.lastname@example.org