American Flat Track Redesigns The Daytona TT Course

Modern dirt-track racing continues to evolve, both on and off the track

jared mees flat track race action
Jared Mees (9) began his 2017 American Flat Track championship run with a victory at Daytona International Speedway.Photo: Brian J. Nelson/American Flat Track

American Flat Track has announced that a new Daytona TT course has been designed, made wider by overlapping onto the pit lane, with its “bookend” turns widened and increased in radius to raise speeds and do away with their previous slippery “tippy-toe” surfaces. Also, last year’s “jump-ette” is increased in height to 6 feet, making it the largest of its kind in the series.

Last year's course, being just two dirt dragstrips connected by slow and very tricky hairpins, offered almost none of what this series has to offer, which is thrilling in-corner action. Winner Jared Mees, after several tries at finding a "way" through the east hairpin, seemed to decide he should just be careful not to fall there and put his energy into places where it could do him some good. There was thus no flow or grace in the racing.

VIDEO: 2018 DAYTONA TT Track Preview - American Flat Track

Last year, Indian's new racing-only FTR750 was not based on the production Scout, but like Harley's long-serving aluminum XR750 (first raced in 1972 and developed ever since by the greatest talents in the sport) was designed specifically for racing. The FTR basically crushed everything before it, ably ridden by Mees, Bryan Smith, and Brad Baker. Indian's hiring policy? How can you go wrong by signing up the entire front row?

Harley's reply has been to stop development of the air-cooled XR, which is now encountering serious reliability issues from the combination of 1) needing to over-rev to 10,000 in the second half of straights on the mile, and 2) having been designed with the fatigue-sensitive rolling bearings that were the choice at the time of its design. Having to change the crankpin and big-end bearings every national has been the price of reliability.

Replacing the XR750 is the liquid-cooled XG750R, based on the Street 750 introduced at the 2013 EICMA show in Milan (this is a globalized market). The modern way to go racing is to subcontract the effort to specialist firms. In this case, as in drag racing, Harley's choice has been Vance & Hines, based in Brownsburg, Indiana.

jake johnson flat track race action
Jake Johnson on the fly: The jump used for last year's inaugural Daytona TT will be increased to 6 feet in height.Photo: Brian J. Nelson/American Flat Track

When last spring I asked Terry Vance if V&H planned to design and build proper cylinder heads for the XG, he replied that although they see a lot more potential from this engine than from the XR, racing cylinder heads might just intensify some reliability issues. That’s always the problem with a production-based engine: Parts are very sensibly priced to the application. The result may be a soft, fatigue-sensitive crankshaft, rocker arm, or another highly stressed component that reacts badly to the racing duty cycle. Such basic problems can take time to fix.

Therefore I’m hoping the rumor I heard last week is true: V&H has designed new heads that are at least at the level of modern sportbike design, with DOHC and silent chain cam drive, and ports that go as far as human understanding can take them toward the extreme sophistication of the ports of the old XR, which were a work of many artists.

I'm also hoping that this year's Daytona TT will produce flowing and graceful racing among at least three fairly equal forces, the Indian FTR, a revised Harley XG750R, and the very numerous "power-to-the-people" bike, the Kawasaki Ninja twin.