As another American Flat Track racing season came to a close, another long off-season approached. For the fans, that meant no more Saturday nights or Sunday afternoons watching some of the best in the business bang bars on dirt ovals. For many racers, especially privateers like myself, the hard work was only just beginning.
The 18-race AFT schedule is a long grind for everyone involved in the series. Similar to other forms of professional motorcycle racing, most flat-track racers wear several hats. Additional duties often include team owner, mechanic, truck driver, social-media coordinator, crew chief, and many other tasks that keep all of us busy.
This past season, I drove approximately 35,000 miles. I typically pull into a racetrack on the night before a race, unload, and compete the following afternoon, then load up and head to the next event. I wouldn’t trade what I do for anything in the world, but being away from my family throughout the season can be tough at times.
I often look forward to the off-season. Spending a Saturday night at home watching movies with my wife Amber and friends or having an occasional beer on a lazy Sunday afternoon is a nice change of pace. After a few short weeks of inactivity though I’m ready to get back on my motorcycle and race again.
Putting together my program for the following year is one thing I don’t look forward to each off-season. That grind is difficult for those of us who put in the effort. In addition to training and making time for Amber and our four-month-old son Cruise, I spend countless hours every day putting together deals that make sense for me and my potential sponsors.
Racing is a “dog-eat-dog” sport. You could be the nicest guy in the paddock, say all the right things, play by the rules, yet sometimes things don’t go your way. In 2016, I finished on the podium twice and ninth overall in the final AMA Pro Flat Track GNC1 point standings. I was confident I would land a spot on a good team heading in the 2017 season.
My phone never rang so I was forced to head in a different direction. While I was in Austin, Texas, participating in my second X Games, I noticed Sour Punch candy was sponsoring the event. I reached out to the company and we agreed that I would run a custom-painted Sour Punch helmet for the remainder of the 2016 season.
In 2017, Sour Punch became my title sponsor. Bringing in a new sponsor of any sort is awesome, but I was particularly proud of securing outside-industry support. In addition, I was able to renew deals with other companies and work out brand-new programs with Stay The Course Industries and Law Tigers motorcycle attorneys.
Product sponsorship is always helpful, but running your own team against factory-funded efforts takes significant monetary support. I didn’t fall into a pot of money at any point in my life, so all of the backing I have for my racing program stems from partnerships I have created and managed over the years.
Even though all 18 American Flat Track races this past season were broadcast on NBC Sports, finding companies to partner with is not easy. By the end of the year, 117 companies had said no to me. That’s a lot of hours sending emails to more often than not receive the same response, “It’s not in our budget.”
I still managed to put together a great team this past season and I was optimistic about my chances to win my first AFT Twins national main event. I used all of my sponsorship money from my new partnerships to buy a motorhome, build another racebike, and make improvements to the motorcycles I already owned.
Racing is unpredictable. An athlete not only uses his or her body to compete, but he or she also has to rely on a machine. After suffering nearly a dozen mechanical failures, I can safely say that I would like to forget 2017. But I learned so much in failure that I am already putting it to good use moving toward the coming season.
Fielding a team to compete in the AFT Twins class simply wasn’t an option for me. With the resurgence of Indian and its purpose-built FTR750, big-money teams have been forced to expand their budgets, which has made it even more difficult for privateers to put together competitive programs.
I really like the direction the AFT Singles class is headed. Twins are expensive custom-built motorcycles, and money buys performance. Singles are essentially stock 450cc motocross bikes with lowered suspension and 19-inch wheels—more rider than machine. This is one of the reasons I have decided to compete in this class in 2018.
So I am headed back to the drawing board to put together a new program. Spending a few hours each morning on the computer and a couple more hours after lunch on the phone is never fun for someone who makes a living twisting a throttle, but if you want something badly enough, you’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen.