When Indian Motorcycle announced its return to American Flat Track racing and hired arguably the three best flat trackers in the world, it was expected they might win some races. But even the most optimistic Indian fans in the flat-track racing community wouldn’t have predicted the utter domination the team displayed during the first third of the season.
In the first seven rounds of the 18-race American Flat Track Championship, Indian won every race. Not only that, but in three of those events Indian’s Wrecking Crew of Bryan Smith, Jared Mees and Brad Baker swept all three podium spots.
After seven nationals, Smith, with four wins, led the standings over Mees. Baker was fourth.
It really couldn’t have been a better debut season for Indian and there’s no indication that anyone can halt their momentum.
For archrival Harley-Davidson, the season has been the polar opposite. Harley’s factory squad of Kenny Coolbeth Jr., Jake Johnson and Brandon Robinson has been lucky to crack the top 10. Only Johnson, with a fourth during the opening round at the Daytona TT, has even come close to smelling the podium. After six rounds, Johnson ranked 10th in the standings and that’s best among the Harley-Davidson factory riders.
The only potential positive for the Milwaukee Boys is that somewhere along the line it has to get better. Or as John Lennon might have added, it couldn’t get much worse.
A lot of people are asking how Indian (owned by Polaris) could come in and dominate in such a fashion in its first full season in the championship. Do a little digging however, and it quickly becomes evident how this all fell into place for the upstart squad.
The obvious key to understanding Indian’s early success is the team’s rider lineup. Indian went out and not only hired the defending series champ in Smith, but they brought on board basically his entire Howerton Motorsports Team to run his and Baker’s part of the program. Then, of course, there’s Mees and Baker to back up the No. 1 plate holder.
Mees is a three-time AMA Grand National champion and easily the most versatile rider on the circuit. Baker, at 23, is the young gun of the team and generally considered the future of the sport. Oh, and he’s also a former national champ.
So essentially Indian hired a super team — a trio of riders who’ve won the last five national championships in flat-track racing. It’s perhaps the strongest rider acquisition in the history of the series. It would be the NASCAR equivalent of putting Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick on the same team.
Indian was also smart enough to know it’s not just the riders. They hired two of the best tuners/builders in the business with Ricky Howerton and Kenny Tolbert and put a strong crew around them.
Indian also partnered with Switzerland’s SwissAuto, a company with Formula One and MotoGP experience, to help design the engine of the Indian FTR750. The resulting powerplant is ultra high-tech in terms of flat-track racing, and has proven not only powerful, but reliable. That was the one question mark many had about the engine coming into the season: Would it stand up to the abuse flat-track racing dishes out? The answer is a resounding yes.