Despite a freak practice accident,
Roland Sands’ Indian Challenger
with racer Frankie Garcia rebounds to finish third
Doing weird shit on motorcycles is precisely what we are all about,” said Roland Sands when asked why the company decided to jump on the King of the Baggers bandwagon several months ago.
Still, Sands – an ex-AMA 250GP national champion roadracer – wasn’t so sure it was a good idea to put baggers on a track like Laguna Seca knowing its technical challenges and the limits heavy baggers have in quick direction changes.
“I was super skeptical we could get these bikes where they would need to be to perform under race circumstances,” Sands told us. “I have ridden cruisers and baggers on a track before, and none of them worked very well.”
But with the Indian Challenger in the mix, Sands thought it not only possible, but probable, that his team had a chance of scoring a victory against a race dominated by Harley-Davidsons.
“It would have taken way more money and time to get anything other than a Challenger as good as that bike was immediately,” he added.
While in large part they followed S&S Cycles blueprint for modifying the bike, including grafting on an FTR1200 fork and having it revalved by GP Suspension, modifying the factory FOX shock in back and converting the bodywork to carbon fiber by AirTech. The team also built some one-off RSD lightweight Traction wheels for the bike.
Confident with the overall setup and impressed with the Challenger’s natural offensive skills, the team brought racer Frankie Garcia out to Buttonwillow Raceway for a full day of testing.
They quickly discovered that the bike would drag in a few spots, and duct taped racing knee pucks to the offending parts of the bike so that they could continue testing and identify what needed to be eliminated or repositioned later on.
“I immediately felt comfortable and knew that I could go fast on the Challenger with a few minor adjustments,” said Garcia.
Aaron Boss, RSD’s shop manager and lead mechanic who handles custom builds and oversees the Super Hooligan program, explained that besides trying a larger size front wheel, which Garcia didn’t like, it was relatively easy to get the Challenger race ready.
Plus, the race was an emotional one for Garcia. He had lost his brother three months prior to the race and was still grieving, going from day to day not feeling like himself and struggling with the isolation.
“I knew I had to run his #14 to honor him, and I got rejuvenated. For the first time since his passing, I felt like I had something to look forward to. I was going to be back around friends and family and back in my element,” Garcia said.
But even with the best preparations, things can go wildly and dangerously wrong, especially when doing something for the first time in motorcycle history.
During practice on Friday before the race, Garcia followed fellow Challenger rider Tyler O’Hara to scope out some lines of attack. Then Garcia stopped beneath the bridge and attempted a practice start. Both Boss and Sands watched in horror from the pits as the bike went up and over, landing directly on Garcia.
“The bars came down and snapped right on my thighs, and I immediately thought I broke both my legs,” Garcia said. “I was banged up. The upper half of bike was destroyed, but with all that happening, the only thing going through my head was, ‘please God, let me be ok, let the bike be ok. I have to race tomorrow!’” Garcia said.
“That wasn’t a good moment,” Sands said. “It looked like Frankie was hurt. He didn’t really want to move much, and the bike was upside down with both wheels up in the air. Just like how you’d park your BMX bike when the chain fell off.”
Once Boss knew that Garcia was getting medical attention, he immediately focused on the bike. “The bars were completely broken in half from the impact,” said Boss, adding that they didn’t bring a spare. “The switch housing was destroyed, the circuit board was smashed, and the ribbon connectors were torn.”
Luckily, Indian had another half-destroyed switch housing on hand and Boss literally had to delaminate the circuit board and put the two together well enough to function. They then located a set of handlebars and Super Hooligan racer AJ Kirk Patrick ran out to get them, returning just moments before the practice laps on Saturday.
While Boss and Sands started working on the bike even before Garcia made it to the medical tent, it was uncertain if his condition would allow him to race the next day. Regardless, Boss and Sands worked through the night as Garcia took anti-inflammatories and iced his wounds while stretching his legs every hour to prevent them from locking up.
“I got up the next day feeling OK,” Garcia said. “Walked down the stairs, looked at my parents, and said, ‘we’re doing this.’ Once I got to the track and was cleared by medical, the adrenalin kicked in and I was pretty much at the same pace I was the day before.”
Sands said that after the accident, he thought any chance of even making the podium was out the window because the bike was battered and the racer bruised. He’d literally never seen anything like that in his road racing career.
“Then Frankie goes from loop-out Larry to Holeshot Harry,” Sands said, adding that it was amazing to see Garcia lead the pack heading into turn one.
“Exiting turn two, we got the see the motor difference the S&S and Vance & Hines team had on us,” Sands said. “Frankie did what he could to keep them honest … Ultimately, we had to settle for 3rd. Given everything that happened, we couldn’t be happier.”
If the team learned anything from the race, it was the necessity of bringing spare parts to make the unpredictable more predictable. And that is something the team plans on doing next year if the bagger race becomes a limited series.
As for Garcia, he fully expects to stay on racing baggers, because, “if Roland doesn’t put me on that bike next year, we probably won’t be friends.”
Follow Thunder Press’ in-depth coverage of the King of the Baggers race throughout December!