American Flat Track could not have scripted a more thrilling conclusion to its 18-event season than Saturday night's Meadowlands Mile. In cool, misting conditions on a well-lit cinder track in the shadow of New Jersey's MetLife Stadium—home to the NFL's New York Giants and New York Jets—Bryan Smith and Shayna Texter raced to dramatic wins in their respective 25-lap Twins and 15-lap Singles main events. Combined margin of victory was 0.349 second. The evening marked the final ride on an Indian FTR750 for Smith, flat-track's cunning "mile master," and the first win on a mile for series newcomer Husqvarna and its FC 450.

Contrary to a forecast that called for summerlike conditions, light midafternoon rain briefly delayed practice and threatened to dampen what AMA Pro Racing CEO Michael Lock called “the golden opportunity for flat track.” Known for its thoroughbred and harness racing, the 42-year-old Meadowlands Racetrack is a 95-foot-wide, 1-mile-long oval with sweeping corners and, unprecedented for flat track, access to 20-million-plus people who live in the New York metro area. On Saturday night, the house was packed.

Lock and his Daytona Beach-based team have been working toward an event of this stature for three years. “This was us going to Oklahoma City in 2016 to race at Remington Park,” Lock said. “Somebody in the Chickasaw Nation liked motorcycling and said, ‘We could put that on a horse track.’ They are friends with people at the Red Mile in Lexington, Kentucky, who invited us in 2017 and they are friends with people here.

“Once we worked out that horse tracks were good venues and we had a dialogue with the track owners—we will leave your track in the exactly the same condition as we found it and the motorcycle audience is not the Hell’s Angels from the 1970s—and they began to vouch for us, it had a domino effect. I don’t think there is a better venue in the country than this one.”

Shayna Texter
About her winning performance in the American Flat Track Singles main event, crowd favorite Shayna Texter (middle) said, “I was never off the gas.” In the main event, the factory Husqvarna rider’s best lap was 40.296 seconds, an average speed of 90 mph. Twins class winner Bryan Smith’s quickest lap on a factory Indian was 37.898 seconds, a 97-mph average.Courtesy of American Flat Track

Once rolling, Saturday’s program went like clockwork: practice, qualifying 1 and 2, three heat races for each class—from which emerged the 18-rider grids—and the two main events. Kolby Carlile, Ryan Wells, and Shayna Texter won the eight-lap Singles heats, while Briar Bauman, Jared Mees, and Bryan Smith topped the 10-lap Twins heats. In the mains, Carlile, Wells, and Texter were second, fourth, and first. Similarly, Bauman, Mees, and Smith were fourth, second, and first.

Newly crowned AFT Singles champion Dan Bromley, second by a whisker to Texter in heat 3, rounded out the top three in the main, 3.337 seconds behind the breathtaking battle between Texter and Carlile, to earn his 13th podium of the season. “My tear offs were messed up and my glasses were fogging up so it was super hard at first,” Bromley said. “With my size [Bromley stands 6-foot-2], the draft hurts—the smaller the rider, the easier it is. I’m the only rider to make every main event this year. That is definitely a win for me.”

Seven manufacturers were represented
Seven manufacturers—Harley-Davidson, Honda, Husqvarna, Indian, Kawasaki, KTM, and Yamaha—were represented in the two main events. “Unlike some other very well-organized motorcycle sports, flat track is really for grown-ups,” AMA Pro Racing CEO Michael Lock said. “It is fast and furious and technical and dangerous and exciting, which is why motorcycling has been around for more than 100 years.”Courtesy of American Flat Track

The crowd erupted when Texter ran down Carlile and took the lead for the first time. The outgoing national champ, known as the “Flying Tomato” for his Samson-like flowing red hair, is moving to the Twins class in 2019. “Shayna and I both have really fast bikes and we both know how to ride the hell out of a mile,” Carlile said. “There was really no strategy. I led about half of it. Shayna got by me, she pulled away a little bit, I reeled her back in, and we duked it out to the finish line. It was so tight crossing the line. I wish I could have won.”

Texter praised Carlile. "It just shows how much faith Kolby and I have [in each other] to battle every weekend for two years in a row," she said. "No better way to send him off to the Twins than to battle bar to bar with him across the finish. Everyone's like, 'You're so good on the miles but you haven't gotten that mile win this year.' Man, the Tomato has been on it. So to get it at the end of the year, I'm super stoked."

JD Beach
MotoAmerica Supersport Champion JD Beach was sixth on a Yamaha MT-07-based parallel twin. “The track changed a lot during the day,” he said. “Their plan was to try to keep it as a cushion but, because it was so wet, it was hard to see. AFT did a great job to let the track brush off a little bit. It was a lot better than I thought it would be. You could run from the bottom to the top.”Photo courtesy of Estenson Racing

Jeffrey Carver Jr. was third in the Twins finale, half a second behind winner Smith. “I missed a shift on the start and I was 16th going into the first corner,” he said. “In the heat, I rode the high line for a little while, and it worked, but as soon as you went up there, you couldn’t see because your shield became completely covered. I wanted to win, so I just took my chances. One time, I thought I was going to be in the grandstand coming off turn 4—out of the saddle, over the handlebar. I got close enough to the front and started working the lower lines. I went through 20 tear offs. It was an amazing race.”

Back-to-back title winner Mees called his race-long battle with Smith “epic,” and it was. “I thought maybe [Smith] was setting me up down the back straightaway—the last two laps, for sure—because he had such a good drive,” said Mees, who won 10 of 18 main events. “I blew the last corner. I thought I could make something stick, but I got in his spray and ran wide. Bryan rode awesome. Real cat and mouse. I couldn’t pick a better track to finish out the year. It was a fantastic season.”

After sitting out part of the year with a broken leg, Smith roared back to win three of the last four races—all miles. “My bike was on rails all day,” he said. “I was just chillin’ behind Jared. There aren’t many times you can follow that guy and just wait and think about it because normally he takes off and hides. I’m pumped with myself to hold it together and make the move when it counted on the last lap.” Smith’s final lap, a 38.192, was his third-quickest of the race. After two years on a factory Indian, Smith and Crosley/Howerton Motorsports will return next season to a further development of the Kawasaki Ninja 650-based machine on which they won the 2016 AFT Twins title.

Stevie Bonsey
Air fencing in place at Meadowlands (seen behind the Lloyd Brothers Ducati ridden by Stevie Bonsey) filled two semis. “We had great racing here tonight, but I am holding my breath a lot of the year,” Lock said. “Installation of safety is much better now. The next layer of safety is on the riders. We are in discussions with our apparel partner, Dainese, about a new generation of product specifically for flat-track racing. That’s the next frontier.”Courtesy of American Flat Track

MotoAmerica Supersport Champion JD Beach, sixth, riding a Yamaha MT-07-powered Estenson Racing entry, was the lone non-Indian in the top 10. He finished seventh one week earlier in the Minnesota Mile, 26 seconds behind winner Smith. He closed that gap to fewer than 8 seconds at the Meadowlands. Prior to the Minnesota race, the 26-year-old Washington native hadn’t raced a mile for five years.

Beach doesn’t have a ride next year in any discipline. “I want to race,” he said. “I’m trying to figure out what the best thing would be not only so I can race more but also a good direction to build on for the future. It would be great if I could do something in both MotoAmerica and American Flat Track. If I could get to Europe, that would be great too. We’re going to keep working on it and see what happens.”

Kenny Coolbeth
Face of a champion: The Meadowlands Mile marked the final race for a flat-track legend, Kenny Coolbeth, who rounded out his hall-of-fame career with a seventh-place finish. “I have no regrets,” he said. “When things were bad, it just made me stronger. It made me the person I am today. I’m fortunate to have met some really good friends and raced with them.”Courtesy of American Flat Track

Omnipresent Terry Vance echoed what he told me at the season opener this past March in Daytona Beach, that the Vance & Hines-prepared factory Harley-Davidson XG750Rs ridden by Sammy Halbert, Brandon Robinson, and Jarod Vanderkooi make competitive power (90 to 100 hp, most agree) but finding a way to put that power to the ground as well as the competition, namely the Indian FTR750s, keeps the midnight fires burning back at the race shop near Indianapolis. All three factory riders qualified for the main and finished 11th, 12th, and 16th, respectively.

At the end of the evening, I caught up with a beaming Lock. "I'm an optimist and I could not have asked for two better events than this," he said. "I mean, there were people jumping out of their seats at a motorcycle race. This was a showcase for our sport in the New York City metro area, and I couldn't have hoped for the Texter/Bromley duel in the heat race, then the Texter/Carlile duel in the [Singles] main, and then two guys became four in the Twins main. It's a testament to the track. The talent is not in question. The hardware is not in question. It's how much the riders want to put out there. And they put it all out there tonight."