Blue Groove: The Times, They Are a-Changin’… Or Are They?

It would be fair to say that American Flat Track has undergone a metamorphosis the last few years under the command of Brit Michael Lock. Some are applauding the changes, while others are unhappy, and would probably seethe openly at anything different from the good ol’ days, whenever that was.

So what’s new for 2020? And will the ‘new’ matter?

First, AFT has changed the name of the premiere class from AFT Twins to AFT SuperTwins. In addition, it has monetized participation in SuperTwins to teams instead of riders. AFT’s original goal of selling 14 grid spots has been exceeded by 1 with its recent announcement of 15 Teams/Riders (see americanflattrack.com or thunderpress.net for complete team/rider listings) selected for 2020 SuperTwins competition. In plain English, 15 grid positions in AFT SuperTwins Main events at all 18 rounds have been paid for in advance.

Jared Mees

As for riders, 12 of last year’s top 15 in points will return for 2020. The list is led by defending champ Briar Bauman on the factory Indian, along with teammates Jared Mees (a five-time National Champ) and Briar’s younger brother Bronson. Seven additional riders on privateer Indians with various teams include previous (2019) race-winner Brandon Robinson, former Factory Harley’s Sammy Halbert, journeyman Robert Pearson, as well as Davis Fisher, Brandon Price, Dan Bromley and Jay Maloney.

As for the other two brands in SuperTwins, Harley-Davidson/Vance & Hines will return Jarod Vanderkooi and add 2019 AFT Singles champ Dalton Gauthier. As discussed last month, Vance & Hines – in collaboration with Howerton Motorsports – has brought mile-track specialist Bryan Smith into the factory Harley tent. On paper, with recent (over the last two years) rule accommodations for the factory XG750R, coupled with flywheel-weight ‘limitations’ placed on the Indian FTR750, 2020 should be the year Vance & Hines breaks out of its slump. Problem is, AFT races on dirt, not paper.

This is not to say that others mentioned will lack success or hope. It’s just that Bauman and Mees are that good, week in and week out, at all tracks. Smith and Howerton should improve the Harley/Vance & Hines effort, and a win by them will be met with a ton of pats on the backs by those responsible, including AFT. But I don’t see them vying for the championship in 2020.

Estenson Racing will represent Yamaha with the MT-07 with flat-tracker-turned-road-racer-turned-flat-tracker J.D. Beach. He’ll be joined by 2017 AFT Singles champ Kolby Carlile in his first full year in the premiere class. Beach scored two wins on the Yamaha last year at TTs. I don’t expect much different from them this year, as the parallel twin Yamahas have a way to go yet against the Indian V-twins on the 15 remaining ovals.

Sammy Halbert, like another former factory Harley rider Brandon Robinson, should get a win in his first year on an Indian following two years on the Harley. But I think he will struggle some, as the Indian appears to favor taller riders. Others on Indians can break through, as well, but none have shown the versatility and consistency required to be a champion in AFT.

Other news: Races will be run based on time plus two laps for all AFT classes (AFT Singles, AFT Production Twins, and AFT SuperTwins) during heats/semis/mains. And, Dunlop has introduced new DT4 tires for the series. To me, only the new Dunlop will have any effect this year. If reports of consistent and improved grip over the previous DT3 prove true, then any limitations placed on the Indian should be lessened.

Whether you like change or not, one thing will remain: A two-rider and one-brand fight for the championship. 2020 will be remembered as round two of Indian’s most talented rider, Briar Bauman, versus Indian’s best racer, Jared Mees. Round One (2019) saw Bauman wrap the title up with one race remaining. I expect this year will go down to the wire between these two, with Bauman on top based on his improvement as a racer.

If you also suffer from a flat track addiction, reach out to Chris for tips on chasing the dragon at bluegroove@thunderpress.net

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