Briar Bauman was leading September's American Flat Track Minnesota Mile by more than nine seconds when his Zanotti Racing Indian FTR750 ran out of gas. Three weeks earlier, Bauman and his younger brother, Bronson, finished first and second at the Williams Grove Half-Mile.

Six days before that, at the 100th running of the Springfield Mile, Bauman was fourth, half a second behind winner Bryan Smith. In mid-August, he was second at the Peoria TT to 14-time race winner Henry Wiles, that showing following a fourth at the Black Hills Half-Mile.

“We’ve finally got the Indian figured out, we’re really clicking as a team, and, right now, I just want to keep going,” Bauman told me at the season-ending Meadowlands Mile in New Jersey. “I wish we had five or six more races—maybe a chance to catch Henry in points.”

The 23-year-old Californian completed the 18-race season third overall in points, his finest hour in AFT’s Twins class. Jared Mees won the title—a commanding back-to-back performance—on the strength of 10 victories. Wiles, long viewed as a TT specialist, was second.

Bauman is dating the face of American Flat Track, Shayna Texter. Tall and slim with an easy smile, Bauman towers over the 5-foot-nothing Texter, who earned three wins this past season in the Singles class and, like her boyfriend, finished third overall in points.

Meadowlands Mile
Briar Bauman (seen here chasing Jared Mees, Bryan Smith, and Jeffrey Carver Jr. at the season-ending Meadowlands Mile) finished third overall this past season in the American Flat Track Twins class. He is focused next season on earning the number-one plate.Courtesy of American Flat Track

Halfway through the season, you switched from a Kawasaki that you knew to a brand-new Indian. How do those two bikes differ in performance?

For many years, the Harley-Davidson XR750 was the most dominant bike. That was a purpose-built motorcycle. Then the Kawasaki Ninja 650 came along. You could buy a motor out of a scrapyard for $600. It wasn’t purpose-built, but it had its strong suits, like TTs. Half-miles were always tough because the Harley was better on slicker tracks.

Indian built a bike that a lot of guys can hop on and go really fast. The motorcycle feels electric. If I would have been on my Kawasaki at Williams Grove, which is typically a little slick, I would have had a lot of issues with grip. I slid back on the seat, turned on the throttle, and the Indian rolled on really smooth.

The Kawasaki was always a little dead on the bottom and then it hit really hard, spinning sideways. The FTR750 doesn’t do that. I think the V-twin is something special, too, compared to the parallel twin. Indian built it around what we do and that takes a whole package. To turn a fuel-injected motorcycle into something like the XR750 is incredible.

Bauman and Zanotti
“I like to think I’m a top-five guy,” Bauman said, “but that doesn’t mean I’m going to show up on a bike I don’t know and podium just because everybody talks about how good it is. If I didn’t have Dave Zanotti, I know I wouldn’t be where I am right now.”Courtesy of American Flat Track

Henry Wiles was second overall this past season, his best finish to date on a Twin. Were you surprised by his performance?

No, I wasn’t surprised. Henry is a great racer. He and his team were really consistent, and that is what is takes to be up there. Jeffrey Carver Jr. and I had four or five breaks throughout the year, Bryan Smith missed a good chunk of the races, and Brad Baker had his injury right when he was really starting to peak. Henry continued to chip away while other guys had issues.

I rode an Indian at the Peoria TT, and I finished second. Henry rode his Kawasaki, but I’m sure if he had been on an Indian, he would have been just as fast. People were asking me if I could have beat him if he was on an Indian, and I was like, “Man, I might have been a little bit closer,” but when Henry shows up at a place like that he’s going to win on anything.

Jared Mees dominated the first two-thirds of the 2018 season, winning 10 of 18 main events. How do you stop that steamroller next year?

You have to get in there early and shake him up. You have to be consistent. Ten wins is insane. Jared is clicking. His team is clicking. It’s hard because if he doesn’t win he’s usually second. The last couple of rounds we showed him we are serious. If we can have a good off-season and start Daytona strong—I think we have him a little bit on the TTs—you can break him up.

I spend a lot of time with Jared—all winter, really. We train together, we do everything together. We’re pretty much best friends. I see how great he is and his team and everything he has, and I’m sitting here thinking, “If I just get the chance, we can shake him up.” Maybe not beat him but be with him at least.

Now, all of a sudden, guys are like, “You can beat him.” Hearing stuff like that you line up and think, “Jared is still the man, but if we can just be with him every weekend, we know we are going to be at the front.” We did it at Williams Grove. We did it again in Minnesota—two times in a row. That’s a good feeling.

"Shayna's boyfriend"
Bauman, sometimes referred to jokingly as “Shayna’s boyfriend,” had one victory (the Williams Grove Half-Mile) this past season, a pair of seconds (the second of the two coming in August at the iconic Peoria TT), and six fourths. He has three career AFT Twins wins.Courtesy of American Flat Track

Do you prefer a cushion or a groove?

I don’t really have a preference. The Minnesota Mile was kind of a cushion. The Williams Grove Half-Mile was kind of a groove. Whatever we have on the schedule, I’m game for it. I’m a little better right now at cushion. The groove takes more setup, knowing what you like and what works better on those types of tracks. Dave Zanotti does a really good job with that and makes up for my lack of knowledge.

Minnesota Mile
Bauman (14) arrived in Minnesota for the penultimate round of the series with three broken bones in his right foot. That didn’t stop him from nearly winning the main event, progress stopped when his Indian FTR750 ran out of gas. Smith (4) took the victory.Courtesy of American Flat Track

Shayna Texter has become synonymous with flat track. As the sport continues to grow, how do you redirect some of the spotlight on the rest of the field, yourself included?

We’re seeing a lot of Shayna—she is pretty much the face of our sport and what she does is incredible—but more riders are getting recognized. We need to do a better job with social media, but flat track is coming around because of the way [AMA Pro Racing CEO] Michael Lock has presented the sport and where he has taken it.

I complained about the traffic we had to deal with in New York City before the Meadowlands Mile, but AFT has done a good job targeting different audiences and showing people that what we do is really cool. We have a time and a place on NBC Sports, which is huge. It isn’t live but being on that channel at a prime-time hour grabs people’s attention.

It is easier now for riders to present a package to potential sponsors that is worth buying into. It’s not a cakewalk by any means. You still need a great package and you still need to get results, but Michael is paving the way. We’re seeing the growth. It’s a work in progress, but I think flat track is on its way.