INDIANAPOLIS – After a two-year hiatus, the American Flat Track championship team of Crosley-Howerton Motorsports has officially reunited for another two-year run together.
Following a two-year stint as a factory rider for Indian Motorcycle, 2016 AFT champion Bryan Smith will return to Kawasaki for next season, with Crosley Brands returning as the team’s title sponsor.
Crosley sponsored the team from 2012 through ’16 before Howerton and Smith partnered with Indian in ’17 and ’18.
“It’s awesome,” said Smith. “It really is getting the old band back together. With Crosley and Bo (LeMastus, Chairman & CEO, Crosley Brands) coming back, it’s like working with an open book. Anything goes. As long as it’s better on the track, it’s okay with Bo.”
Without factory help, title sponsorship from Crosley Brands provides the resources to maintain a full-time effort, innovate and create pieces and parts and build another championship program from the ground up.
“We were grateful to have had factory support from Indian; but rules from the factory don’t always transfer to being faster on the track,” added Smith. “With Crosley and Bo, we’re free to design what we think will perform on the track. We couldn’t be more excited about the future.”
Long time friend and crew chief/mechanic Ricky Howerton, along with teammates Jeff Gordon, Ron Glidden and LeMastus, were the original crew members who banded together in 2016 to win the national championship.
Now, Howerton returns to Kawasaki with Smith to take another run at claiming the crown.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am,” said Howerton. “The Indian deal was great. Being able to have a real factory OEM team meant the world to me; but I like a little more free rein.”
In other words, Howerton wants to do his own thing, his own way.
“My bikes start from my brain. Then it goes to a computer screen. We manufacture our own fixturing. It’s a long, long process to build everything dimensionally correct, but it’s so rewarding when you get it right,” noted Howerton. “We literally make everything, from the frame to the swing arm. We machine our own parts … gas tanks, rockers for the suspension, front and rear axles, foot peg brackets … on and on.
“I get to use my brain. I get to do all the things I grew up wanting to do.”
Howerton, whose day job is building exhaust systems for top NASCAR and IndyCar teams, is the son of open-wheel racer Jackie Howerton, who won the prestigious Hoosier 100 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds mile dirt in 1974, out-dueling some of the best in the business, including Indy 500 winners AJ Foyt, Al and Bobby Unser and Mario Andretti.
The annual AFT tour allows Howerton to return to his roots.
“When we won at the Indy mile in 2013, that was a special moment,” said Howerton. “I remember standing down there with my brothers in victory lane when my dad won. It all came back to me … so cool.”
It wasn’t just the Indy mile. Smith and Howerton have been perennial winners nearly everywhere on the AFT tour. Regarded by many as the “mile specialist,” Smith has won more races on the miles than any other current rider, from Sacramento to Springfield.
“Bryan is smart as hell,” Howerton continued. “He’s a winner, a champion. Every lap he knows what the track is doing, when it’s changing, what the bike is doing. If we’re a little off, he just goes out, takes what you got and makes the most of it. He’s incredible.
“We talk every day, and it’s usually for one, two hours. We probably trade five to 20 texts a day. We talk about everyday stuff because we’re best friends; but the conversation always leads to what can we do to make our bikes better. I don’t know what I’d do without him.”
One thing remains clear. AFT is in for another dynamic dose of Howerton and Smith next year, with a big assist from Crosley Brands.
“We understand each other,” added Smith. “It’s as if he (Howerton) can read my mind. He doesn’t want to go anywhere without me as a rider and I don’t want another crew chief or mechanic.”