Thinking 'Bout Revenge: Brad Baker
American Flat Track racing came to life on the blisteringly fast board tracks and dusty horse racing circuits of the early 1900s where towns such as Dodge City, Kansas, Langhorne, Pennsylvania and Fresno, California played host to "Class A" national events. In 1932, the AMA rechristened the division as Class C and for the next 20 years, the AMA Grand National Champion came down to a one day race called the Springfield Mile, a brawl fought out on a blindingly quick, 130-mile-per-hour circuit situated inside the Illinois State Fairgrounds. During that period, two American motorcycle manufacturers -- Harley-Davidson of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Indian of Springfield, Massachusetts -- went to battle, throwing everything they had at winning the Springfield Mile. From 1947 through 1950, Harley-Davidson held sway, but beginning in 1951, a trio of factory-backed Indian racers wrested the sport from their bitter rivals. Dubbed the Wrecking Crew, riders Bobby Hill, Bill Tuman and Ernie Beckman ruled the sport with an American iron fist, Ohioan Hill and his 44.72 cubic inch V-twin Indian Scout winning the title in both 1951 and 1952, and Illinois-based Tuman bringing it home in 1953. Despite the momentum, Indian was besieged by poor product planning, debt, and ultimately bankruptcy. That September, and almost immediately after Tuman's victory lap, Indian shut its doors. As far as Flat Track motorcycle racing went, nobody would hear from the once proud brand for another 63 years.
Then came the announcement from Indian Motorcycles during the summer of 2016:
Indian Motorcycle, America's first motorcycle company (circa 1901), is proud to announce its re-entry into the AMA Pro Flat Track series with its full-factory racing effort since the 1950s.
Enter Brad Baker. Indian Motorcycle, which had been purchased and brought back to life by Polaris Industries in 2011, was about to go back into the racing business -- and they were bringing veteran racer Brad "The Bullet" Baker with them. The 2013 AMA Pro Flat Track Expert Grand National Champion and perennial race-winning front runner, Baker was lured away from longtime benefactor Harley-Davidson to race an Indian Scout FTR750 in the 2017 American Flat Track series. There, he would join new teammates Jared Mees and Bryan Smith, thus putting the Wrecking Crew band of Indians back together.
"It's my first year with Indian and it's their first year of having a full factory effort since 1951, so it's been really cool to be a part of the resurgence," enthused Baker, who won the very last race he ran for Harley-Davidson last December at the Santa Rosa Mile. "I have and awesome team with a great group of guys, Bryan Smith is my teammate and he's a former gold medalist at the X Games and is now the defending Grand National Champion from last year. I have an awesome teammate in him. The ambience of the team has been really cool, and Indian developed a really great purpose-built race bike this last year and the thing has been nothing short of spectacular in its first season. It's been great."
10 races into the 20-race American Flat Track series, Baker sits third in overall points and is totally within sight of leader Mees.
"I haven't gotten a win yet, but I've had seven podiums and I'm third in the championship, he continued. "I had a bad luck deal at the beginning of the year. I crashed at Daytona in a heat race and another rider was behind me and ran right over my head and gave me a concussion, so the beginning of my year didn't start of all that well. I came back for the second round and got second. In the third round, I was leading the thing and was going great and had a small mechanical failure. I had a DNF from that. If it wasn't for the crash and the one DNF because of the mechanical, I'd be right there in the championship hunt. Now I've been trying to claw my way back in."
Arrowheads hones razor sharp and continuing on with its seek and destroy mission, heading into last Saturday night's Rolling Wheel Half-Mile in Elbridge, New York, the Wrecking Crew had pulled together eight Grand National victories and 22 of the season's 27 available total podiums. Before an oversold crowd the Empire State, Mees dominated to win, while Baker flashed across the finish line in third.
Next stop: Thursday night and the Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minnesota. For it will be there that the Indian Wrecking Crew will line up for the 2017 X Games Harley-Davidson Flat Track Racing main event. The third consecutive running of the Harley-Davidson-sponsored Flat Track competition, Mees (2016 gold medalist), Smith (2015 gold medalist) and Baker (two-time bronze medalist), will all take to the somewhat abbreviated circuit.
"It's declared a short track," explained Baker. "It's not very big. I'd call it a quarter-mile track. It's about as wide as it is long. It appears that it will be similar to the Daytona short track, but a little bit wider. It's a pretty small track for riding these size motorcycles, so it'll be interesting."
As far as the speeds the 100-horsepower 750cc V-Twin motivated Indians will top out at?
"If we have a solid surface, we'll be hauling ass around there," answered Baker. "I'd say top end will be 75 to 80 miles per hour."
And the 24 year-old native of Centralia, Washington has high expectations heading into Minneapolis, as fate would have it, the hometown of Indian Motorcycle Racing.
"I've had two bronze medals in the two years that we've done it," offered Baker. "I'm the only rider that has finished in a medal position in both years. I can't really complain about that. Obviously, every time we go to a race, we go to win, and in this case we're going for gold and anything below that is not exactly meeting your goals. Still, placing with a medal has been good.
"The overall experience at the X Games has been awesome," he furthered. "Being able to be showcased with many different athletes, not just motorsports athletes, has been really cool. And with it being on ESPN and the amount of followers the X Games brings, has been amazing. It's been really cool to be in front of that crowd."
And so what goes around comes around as a 100 year rivalry between two American motorcycle manufacturers is about to play itself out on live ESPN prime TV. Certainly rings of must see TV.