My wife is a clinical psychologist, so it’s logical that one day I asked her why some people—people who can use words and speak in sentences—are unable to accept clear facts or simple truths.
Easy, she said, they don’t want to. Oh, I said, makes sense to me.
It also makes sense of the Internet’s current foolish feud over the nature and history of the AMA’s Grand National rules.
Beginning with current events, the AMA has just announced the return of what used to be the Junior class. Riders just rated Expert, riders who’ve just earned Pro tickets or haven’t scored major points, will be eligible to race in the new support class at GN Twin events. They can use production-based small V-Twins, 450 to 650cc, which means KTM, Aprilia and Suzuki mostly. There will be weight rules and in case a Junior has some backing, the new kids can ride Harley XR-750s, suitable restricted. There’s a clause that says if enough new models enter the series, the restricted XRs may be eased out.
Pow! Instant flame-throwing, as one group yammered about how Harley-Davidson has always owned and controlled the AMA, while the other side threatened to quit racing if Milwaukee’s XR-750 wasn’t in the show, while nobody bothered to check the facts, the record or the rulebook.
Let’s review. Back in the Eighties, when Honda and Yamaha produced racebikes to compete with the XR-750—that is, both brands had four-stroke 750cc Twins vaguely related to their street models and which, key point here, were for sale to anyone who came in off the street and knew how to place the order.
The rules defined a production model as an engine, of which 25 examples had to be made, while frame, suspension and tuning were at the owner/builder’s option. This was supposed to usher in the fulfillment of the AMA’s lifetime dream, dueling factories spending lots of money on racing, to the support of the racers and the fans and the dealers. That’s pretty much how it has worked in roadracing and motocross, where the beginner or the privateer can buy a showroom bike and at least approach a competitive level.
Pause here for some parallel history: One, bet you didn’t know that for years after Ford made big front-engine, rear-drive sedans, they kept the floorpans for those models in production. It was a short run, not to help owners fix their family cars but because all the NASCAR teams—yes, Chevrolet and Buick and Pontiac—used Ford pans as the base on which to build their racing cars. No, Ford didn’t do it for profit; they did it for the sport.
Still on a parallel course, there was a generation of car racing in which the Offenhauser Four ruled, as did the Cosworth V-8 in Formula One, the small-block Chevy V-8 in sports car racing and the Chrysler Hemi at the drags. Was this because Offenhauser owned the AAA? Was the FIA in Cosworth’s pocket? Did the NHRA dance to Chrysler’s tune? Of course not. Those engines dominated because they were the best choice for the class, or they had the best tuners behind them, or both.
Okay, back to bikes. It wasn’t economic for H-D to produce a handful of complete XR-750s each year, so they kept on making and selling engines and parts. Meanwhile, Yamaha quit the series losers and Honda quit winners, and in effect Harley was the only factory doing business on the miles and half-miles. There were other brands in short-track and TT, while H-D got drubbed when roadracing became a separate series. This period was when Harley’s XR-750 became the Offy/Cosworth/Hemi of motorcycle racing. Some time after is when the AMA introduced a new GN class, called Supertractors, oops, I meant Supertrackers. This was for mass-produced Twins, 750cc and up, with a sliding scale of weight and induction limits based on displacement, factored by design, as in overhead cams or pushrods, air- or water-cooled.
The intention was to introduce these machines to dirt-track and meld them into the Grand National series and the expectation was the modern bikes and the factory backing would ease the XR-750 into the history books.
Instead, the Harley XR-750 is the only machine standing. Main point here, the rules and the intention are still in effect. Suzuki’s TL1000-based ‘tracker can make the show, and so has one Aprilia team and there are some privateer Triumphs and the occasional Yamaha Twin, but that’s it.
How anyone can blame Harley-Davidson or the AMA for this is beyond me. There are five or six factories making big Twins that will fit the rules, but they don’t or won’t bother, on the off-the-record basis of it not being worth the bother. Reversing the old hippie wisecrack, if nobody comes, you can’t have a war.