A Northern Irishman, an airline pilot, a Wisconsinite, and a Malaysian ran bar-to-bar…
That may sound like the opening line of a joke but, in reality, that was how the riders in the AMA Pro Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Series took the white flag in their 10-lap support race Saturday afternoon at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Depending on your frame of reference, that may still sound like a bit of a joke. Don’t feel too bad, defending class champion Steve Rapp — the aforementioned airline pilot — felt the same way not all that long ago.
"When they first started everyone was like, ‘Uhhh.. Harleys suck… blah, blah, blah.’ I was kind of like that too actually. And then I got involved and I started realizing it’s actually harder to ride these than a Superbike or a 600 because those actually handle pretty well. It takes a lot more skill, and technique, and bike setup to actually make these bikes go fast. The guys running at the top — if they can do it here, they can do it anywhere. It’s kind of nice in that regard — to still be competitive where everyone is equal. You don’t get that very much anymore."
The opinion of Rapp, a former factory Superbike pilot and one-time Daytona 200 winner, was seconded by the Northern Irishman — Jeremy McWilliams, himself a one-time Grand Prix race winner. "You have to be super precise. I made a mistake on my fast lap in qualifying and it was so difficult to link the whole lap together and hit every single apex. I think that’s what makes it interesting and keeps it interesting. It closes the field back up and nobody ever gets away. You make one little mistake and everybody is on your back wheel again. It’s physically difficult because of the weight of the bike, but that’s what makes it fun."
As it often does, Saturday’s race wasn’t decided until the final lap. Wisconsinite, Ben Carlson — a two-time AMA Supermoto Unlimited Champion — slashed ahead of the Malaysian Ramden Rosli — a Spanish CEV contender and World Grand Prix aspirant — to move into second shortly after they took the white flag.
Carlson, an affable rider with a full-on Fargo accent, then dove under McWilliams to move into the lead in search of his first-career AMA Pro Road Racing win. However, the cagey McWillaims countered and ultimately took Carlson at the checkered flag by a miniscule 0.083 seconds.
Third-place went to neither Rosli nor Rapp — as both found themselves unexpectedly aced by a charging Kyle Wyman, who spent the race’s waning laps chasing down the lead group from a few seconds back.
It might have been the best race we’ll see all weekend. And if there’s a better one today, there’s an awfully good chance it’ll be the weekend’s second H-D contest.
However, other than the unmistakable rumble of the big XR1200 as the drove down the straight, it went pretty much unnoticed in the Indy press center, where the race wasn’t shown on any of the room’s 108 television monitors — further evidence of an ongoing spat between Dorna and AMA Pro. It could be seen — well, kind of — down in the cafeteria, where the track ran a video feed sourced from a small handful of largely stationary cameras.
It’s too bad — the visiting international journalists missed a good show. McWilliams said, "The feedback from this race last year was that it was the best race of the weekend. O.K., we like to hear to hear that because we’re Vance & Hines Harley riders, but you know, it was unbelievably tight. Steve was leading onto the straight on last lap and ended up fourth. That’s how tight it was. The competition is super quick. I was completely busted at the end of the race. I put everything into it. I could hardly breathe."
Ultimately, the class reminds us of the inherent brilliance of motorcycle roadracing.
The world descends on the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway to celebrate the sheer speed, cutting-edge technology, and the highly-compensated superstars of MotoGP. When the sport is stripped of all that — leaving you with ungainly, heavy, and, by comparison, slow racebikes, piloted by a disparate crew of riders driven more by their competitive nature than their pay checks — what you’re left with is a group of interesting personalities waging tight, unpredictable battles.
And that’s a beautiful thing.
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