Brad Baker: A Familiar Story
Harley-Davidson has long been the gold standard in AMA Pro Flat Track Racing. The iconic brand has recorded 673 premiere class wins in the sport, 518 more than the next closest company, Honda. H-D also has won a record 54 championships, with legends such as Scott Parker (nine titles and 94 wins) and Chris Carr (seven titles and 78 wins). Jared Mees, who doesn't ride directly for the H-D factory but is supported by an independent team, has relied on the powerplant produced in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for three championships. Harley is happy that Mees wins, but their money -- literally -- and hopes are invested in the surgically repaired left elbow of Brad Baker.
After Baker won the 2013 AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Championship at age 20 (fourth youngest in history), Harley-Davidson signed him to a three-year contract to replace three-time champion Kenny Coolbeth Jr.
"It's something that anyone who has ever ridden flat track wants," Baker says of his H-D factory deal. However, despite three AMA wins, Baker's first two years with the team have been a disappointment due to pre-season injuries that left him fifth overall in 2014 and eighth in 2015. One highlight was his bronze medal in the X Games Austin 2015 Flat-Track Racing Final, which he scored when Mees broke down on the final lap.
In 2016, Baker finds himself in familiar territory -- he separated his right shoulder at the Troy Bayliss Classic in Australia in January when he high-sided off the rear tire of another rider. He lost a month of training but hasn't missed any racing, going 3-4-17 in the first three rounds of this season's AMA competition.
As he enters the last year of his factory contract, Baker knows there's pressure to produce, especially since Harley-Davidson added Davis Fisher, the 18-year-old son of flat track racer Rex Fisher, after the teen won the 2015 GNC2 Championship. It's the first time since 2006 that Harley has fielded a two-rider team. "It's a little bit different, but I like it," Baker says of having a teammate.
Baker's setbacks started in April 2014. While working as a guest instructor at the Colin Edwards Boot Camp in Texas, Baker hit another rider on the TT course, sending him over the bars. He was pummeled by his own motorcycle and shattered his left elbow and fractured his left ulna. Doctors in Houston replaced the radial head of the elbow with a prosthetic and plated the arm from elbow to wrist to hold the ulna together. Although he didn't miss any time and competed at the Springfield Mile on May 25, he ended the season fifth overall, scoring a sole win.
Eight months later in Dec. 2014, at Spain's Superprestigio, Baker crashed in qualifying and suffered a list of extremity injuries: dislocated left shoulder, damaged ligaments, tendons and a fractured humerus. He also broke the new prosthetic radial head in his elbow and suffered a concussion. After two surgeries prior to the start of the 2015 season, Baker produced two wins and an X Games bronze, but his championship hopes ended with a broken left tibia at an August AMA Grand National in South Dakota. The break was bizarre: a rock kicked up by another rider at 100mph blasted his leg. He underwent surgery, had a rod inserted and missed four of the next five rounds, finishing eighth in points.
The upbeat Eatonville, Washington, native seems to take it all in stride. "I don't let injuries affect me. If I did, I wouldn't have had the success I have after injuries," Baker says. "But the last thing I want to do is have another one."
Last year, Baker returned for the final round of the AMA Flat Track series in November and finished third. The next night, he placed runner-up to Jared Mees at the inaugural Superprestigio of the Americas. In December, Baker tallied a huge win at the annual Superprestigio in Barcelona, Spain, becoming one of the few riders to beat two-time MotoGP champion Marc Marquez, currently the most popular motorcycle racer in the world with 26 career MotoGP wins in just 57 starts.
Baker's injury history has hindered his hopes of winning a points series. But his talent and determination make him a solid pick for wins at events like, say, X Games.