Last Tuesday, KTM invited Asphalt & Rubber to Perris, California for the 2019 Red Bull/KTM Factory Racing Flat Track Team Introduction.
A mouthful, yes. But, with a title like that we couldn’t pass it up? Really though, Asphalt & Rubber at a dirt track event? Only later on the drive down would it start to make sense, perhaps a site like A&R is exactly who should be covering this event.
It dawned on me right where the 57 freeway meets the 60 freeway. The weight of what this factory effort in the sport of Flat Track Racing means. It has been years since we’ve seen a full factory team in a dirt track paddock.
Thinking back to that golden era, my mind echos with names like Roberts, Rainey, Shobert, Lawson, Kocinski, Spencer, and Mamola.
They all started in flat track, some became flat track champions, all of them were instrumental in establishing Americas dominance on the world championship grand prix circuit. Come to think of it, every American grand prix world champion has raced flat track.
The minute I drove through the familiar gates of Perris Raceway, the weight of Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s presence was palpable.
The modest little oval often hosts flat track races on the weekends. I was used to seeing late model pickup trucks lining the pits, instead today we have a Red Bull racing hospitality big rig, spotless KTM transport vehicles, and tent full of immaculate Austrian flat track bikes.
As expected from a team of this level, the presentation began promptly at 2pm. We were introduced to team manager and former AMA Supermoto and Superbike racer, Chris Fillmore. Chris was one of the key elements in bringing the program to fruition and it showed – KTM has a history of hiring successful racers to run their programs.
Fillmore was flanked by two full factory Red Bull KTM 450 SX-F flat trackers. At first glance the bikes looked very similar to the factory supercross bikes, but with the obvious addition of a wicked looking custom Akrapovic flat track exhaust, and black 19-inch dirt track wheels.
Moving the exhaust gave the tail section a sharp minimalist appearance, leaving them looking fast while stationary. Meanwhile, Fillmore introduced the riders that would be campaigning these bad pumpkins in the American Flat Track Series.
Those rides would be Shayna Texter, who has won more races than any other rider in the AFT Singles series, and Dan Bromley who finished last season with the number one plate. Both riders gave us a brief history of their programs leading up to this.
Bromley a carpenter and a self described, “man in a van,” driving himself from race to race across the country. Texter, who scored her first pro win in 2011, and has since stood atop the podium 14 more times expressed her excitement now to have all the resources she needs to continue making history.
It felt as if both riders hadn’t settled into their slick new duds yet. Sitting on either side of “Uncle Fillmore” they mirrored the quintessential family with matching sporty outfits that kicked ass at everything. When asked of their objectives for the following season, both riders were clear, concise, and confident. They are racing to win.
At one point, Texter joked that she’s been racing Bromley since they were four-years-old and his leg has been in the way ever since. Everyone got a chuckle out of that but, she’s not kidding. Dan Bromley stands at 6″2″ 180lbs and Shayna Texter 5’0″ 95lbs.
Moving on from the presentation, I started to look at the bikes attempting to pick out the differences between the two riders machines. At further inspection, it was apparent that they have drastically different setups.
Texters’ 450 SX-F is a couple inches lower than Bromley’s, who’s ride is only lowered 15mm in the rear from a stock MX bike. Both riders run a 2.5″ width front rim and depending on conditions, alternate between a 2.75″ and 3.0″ rear wheel .
The exhaust deserves a second mentioning seeing that Akrapovic handmade the low-slung titanium pipes to each specific motor package and rider. Forks are lowered WP 48mm Cone Valve mated to adjustable offset X-Trig triple clamps.
The motor was dressed up in titanium hardware and mag side covers. Internally, I can only assume they are similar to the factory MX engines. Ask a factory KTM mechanic and they’ll tell you they are surprisingly close to stock.
One difference surprised me, AFT Singles rules require all bikes to have a slipper clutch. It’s the hope that this will keep the rear wheel from locking up in the event of a catastrophic engine failure. Moving to the rear of the bike, a slightly shortened WP Trax shock is mounted to stock linkage and swingarm.
The rear brake is even stock Brembo, but with a thicker Motomaster disk. The bike as whole was done up, but not Gucci. It had everything it needed and nothing it didn’t. About this time Fillmore announced both Bromley and Texter would spin some laps. We were about to see if this whole operation was as fast as it looked.
With the the push of a button the two factory 450’s cracked to life. The scent of burnt race fuel and the harmonious sound of synchronized Akrapovic exhausts led us track side. After a couple sighting laps, both riders where effortlessly backing it in.
The grace and precision were a testament to a lifetime dedicated to their craft. Journalists stood behind the 1/8th inch thick plywood wall on the edge of turn two. The riders running the bike to the rev limiter then throwing is sideways to scrub off speed.
At one point Texter tried a wider line and peppered us in the face with mud and stones. I made a mental note to remember to close my mouth next time.
After the Pros had concluded their performance, it was time for us Joes to take the track. Chris Fillmore and KTM were gracious enough to outfit four identical 450 Factory Editions with the necessary flat track kits.
After bearing witness to Bromley and Texter’s artistry we took to the track with delusions of grandeur and heavy hands. Immediately you realize you aren’t as graceful as you are in your mind.
Fortunately the KTM 450 SX-F factory editions performed incredibly for being only minimally modified. Wheels and lowered suspension, that’s it. The bike was more predictable and drove out of the corner better than my highly modified 450 flat tracker at home.
The KTM’s power rolled on smooth and linear all the way until it hit the rev limiter up on heavens doorstep. Just as I was considering my future pumpkin purchase the dinner bell rang and the checkered flag flew.
An appropriate BBQ supper was served to all in attendance. It smelled delicious, but I wasn’t interested in eating, I’d let everyone else self-induce food comas and call it a day.
There’s one thing I know about Perris, when the sun goes down and the lights turn on, the moisture rises up in the dirt and gives you a track that makes you feel like a hero. The journalists departed, leaving a handful of us to ride the night away. We’d hoot, holler, and heckle each other lap after lap until the lights turned off, never growing tired of the two turns.
Today’s motorcycles are more technical and expensive than they’ve ever been. What’s a track day cost now when you factor in tires, hotel room, and fuel? Almost a grand? Many aspiring talents are priced out of contention before the green flag ever drops.
Considering flat track is cheap to enter, fantastic to watch, easy to package, chock full of rivalries, and has produced American legends, its amazes me that it has taken so long to return to the spotlight. Either way, big props to KTM for being the first of the non-American OEM’s standing around the pool to jump in.
Come on everyone, its time to make American Flat Track Great Again!
Photos: © 2019 Cole Kirkpatrick / KTM – All Rights Reserved