New Bike, New Team, New Rules, Same Brad Baker

Former AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Champion will contest American Flat Track Twins class on a factory Indian FTR750

Brad Baker and Ferran Cardus dirt track action
Brad Baker (6) expects Ferran Cardus (77), Spain’s inaugural flat-track national champion, to perform well at the March 16 Daytona TT, opening round of the 2017 American Flat Track Series.Photo Cars 7

Over the span of the past five seasons, three riders—Bryan Smith, Jared Mees, and Brad Baker—have won the AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Championship. Now, after achieving success on Harley-Davidson and Kawasaki machinery, that same talented trio will compete this year under the Indian Motorcycle banner aboard the all-new, purpose-built FTR750 in the rebranded American Flat Track Twins class.

Of the three champions, Baker has suffered most since winning the GNC title in 2013, finishing fifth, eighth, and, sixth overall in the final standings. Injuries and mechanical breakdowns have kept the 24-year-old Washington native out of the championship hunt, despite nearly 80 laps led and four victories, including a runaway win at last September’s Santa Rosa Mile, his final appearance on the factory XR750.

Baker has spent a portion of the past few years in Spain, racing three-time MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez, among others, in the Superprestigio invitational, as well as making appearances in the RFME Spanish Flat Track Championship. Along the way, Baker befriended Ferran Cardus, who won the inaugural Spanish title, which earned him a trip to Daytona in March for the AFT Singles season-opener.

On bringing Ferran Cardus to America:

“Since Ferran won the championship, my gears have been turning. ‘How do we make this happen? Whose bikes will he ride? When is he going to come to the US?’ I put together a plan for American Flat Track. Ferran will ride my Honda CRF450Rs in the Singles class at the Daytona TT, Atlanta Short Track, and Charlotte Half-Mile.

“I want to make Ferran’s experience in the US as badass as my experience in Spain. It’s a way for me to give back to the Spanish people, who were so helpful and kind while I was in their country.

“For Ferran to have the best experience possible—to be comfortable and able to do the best he can—he needs to come over early and get loosened up. We’re getting a motorhome, which is a much better way to travel, especially if you’re going to be spending a month on the road.

“Spain is maybe a little bit bigger than the state of Washington. What we’re doing, traveling from Seattle to Daytona, is like driving from Barcelona to Moscow. We’ve got Daytona on March 16, a weekend off, then we’ve got Atlanta and Charlotte—all within four weeks.”

Brad Baker headshot
The Bullet: Washington native Brad Baker won the 2013 AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National title on a Dodge Bros. Racing Harley-Davidson XR750.Jeff Allen

On a newcomer competing in AFT Singles:

“Ferran has never ridden anything longer than a quarter-mile. Daytona is probably going to be a little loose—a little rough. He rides motocross, and he’s been riding TTs and small technical stuff. He’ll be fine.

"At Dixie Speedway, which is a quarter-mile with almost as much banking as Daytona, yeah, he's going to be like, 'What the heck is this?' And then, he's going to Charlotte, and that's going to be the same but faster.

“Ferran is not afraid of speed. He’s been on roadrace bikes. He’s a badass Supermoto rider. It’s going to be different but not anything that he can’t handle, especially on a DTX bike.”

On reworked American Flat Track Twins rules:

“At first, I was a little bit against [the switch from a combination of events for singles and twins to exclusively twins], but it didn’t take me long to accept it and then go, ‘Yeah, that can be done. It’s cool.’ I think it’s great for the sport. It’s going to help in a lot of different areas.

“It’s a big change. Not to toot my own horn, but it’s a better change for me than it is for most people. I say that because I know I can ride twins at a lot of different places. I grew up with the mentality that, if it has two wheels and a set of handlebars with an actuator on the end, it’s a motorcycle. You’ve got to ride it.”

Ferran Cardus and Brad Baker celebrate with wine
“Ferran is basically getting a second chance at racing motorcycles,” said Baker (right). “He could have been a really good MotoGP rider. That’s how talented Ferran is on a motorcycle.”Photo Cars 7

On DTX bikes vs. framers:

“With the XR750, we struggled to keep the things running at Grand Nationals. I can count on both hands the number of times I’ve been able to test and train on one. I put more time on a motorcycle when I’m training than when I’m racing. Sometimes, the XR750 didn’t make it through a race, let alone 100 laps of training.

“My training has always been on a DTX bike. It made sense for me to ride that motorcycle because what I was racing it in part of the series. Now I don’t have to race a DTX bike. If I’m not on an FTR, I might as well be on a Rotax, which has a similar frame and is similar in weight.

“With a 450, everything is bolt on. You set up the suspension and put wheels on it. Hey, it’s a dirt-track bike. Framers—a single or a twin—are like MotoGP bikes, especially when you get to the factory level. They are tailor-made for you.”

On Indian FTR750 reliability:

“Any brand-new motorcycle is going to have break-in blues. There have already been some issues, but the bike isn’t even a year old. There has been a lot more testing and development. We’re just getting started.

“The motorcycles we’re getting before Daytona are a lot different than the motorcycle that debuted last year at the Santa Rosa Mile. The objective is to make the FTR reliable enough for me to have my own practice bike—to become one with the bike that I race in Grand National competition, just like I did with a 450.”

“Let’s put it another way: Make it as reliable as the Kawasaki. Ricky Howerton had three half-mile motors and three mile motors. Halfway through the season, he would freshen them up. No failures in between.”

Brad Baker Santa Rosa race action
Baker en route to a 10-plus-second victory at the Santa Rosa Mile, the final race of the 2016 AMA Pro Flat Track season and his last on an XR750.Jeff Allen

On the evolution of the Superprestigio:

“It’s crazy how much the event has evolved in just three years—the difference is night and day. The first time was essentially a bunch of riders who had either never ridden dirt track or it was their first time. Ninety percent of them were rookies. Even Marc Marquez was a rookie.

“That being said, all of those riders and teams have done their homework. They’ve got the Rodi Cup and, this past year, the first Spanish national flat-track championship. Now, Marc and his team prepare for the Superprestigio like a MotoGP race. Toni Elias does the same thing. They want to win.

They are some of the most competitive people that I have ever raced. Now, it’s as hard as any other race. I have to be on top of my game—no more leaving anything on the table. There are definitely opportunities for similar events, mainly in Europe. Maybe even a world short-track and TT championship—six or seven races during the off-season.”

On the expanded American Flat Track schedule:

“The schedule is really cool. We’ve got more races, and we’ve got more races at better racetracks closer to urban environments. Starting the season on a TT is interesting. Two races at Sturgis is awesome. There are a lot of other venues targeted for the future that will be good, too.

“Part of the reason I didn’t ride the 100-kilometer race at Valentino Rossi’s ranch and then go to Australia for the Troy Bayliss Classic is because I needed to take a month off to get healthy. I didn’t want to start my season behind or hurt like I did the last three years. This year is going to be different. I’ll be healthy and prepared.”

Indian FTR750 dirt tracker static side view
Indian made its competition debut at Santa Rosa with veteran Joe Kopp. Baker, Bryan Smith, and Jared Mees will race factory FTR750s this season.Jeff Allen