Terry Vance Expects Improved Performance This Season From The Harley-Davidson Factory Flat Track Team

“We don’t like losing, but at the same time, we were learning”

Terry Vance interview
Harley-Davidson Factory Flat Track Team Principal Terry Vance spoke candidly about the growing pains with the production-based XG750R in American Flat Track’s Twins class.Photo by Andrea Wilson

“Here’s the thing, as far as last year is concerned, we may not get the credit for it—if we don’t, we don’t; that’s fine—but we were trying to develop and race a production-based engine. That’s a really, really hard job.”

Terry Vance was talking about the 2017 American Flat Track debut of the Harley-Davidson XG750R, the replacement for the legendary XR750 developed over a fast-paced 18-round season in collaboration with Vance & Hines Motorsports.

Making the job more difficult, Indian scooped up two of the top tuners, Kenny Tolbert and Ricky Howerton, and three of the best racers, Jared Mees, Bryan Smith, and Brad Baker. Hyped as a renewed rivalry between two iconic American brands, Indian wiped the floor with Harley.

“They’ve got three Grand National champions riding their bikes,” Vance said regarding the factory Indian effort. “They’ve got the best crews and teams in the paddock that they picked to go get their program set up. So we had a really daunting job in front of us.”

Daunting or not, the legendary XR750 was set aside and development began. “We knew that we would probably take it on the chin a little bit last year,” Vance admitted. “We could have raced the XR and probably been okay.

“We won the last race of 2016 with an XR, so we weren’t far off. Corporate made the decision that this is the right direction to go with the G, and I agreed with it. If we take our lumps early, we take our lumps. But we’re going to get this problem solved.”

Terry Vance interview
Vance is pleased Brandon Robinson (44) has returned to the team and would like to see him rewarded for his efforts in the development of the XG750R.Photo courtesy of American Flat Track/Scott Hunter

Vance and longtime business partner Byron Hines don’t take a beating lightly. “We don’t like losing,” Vance said. “But at the same time, we were learning. We didn’t want a year to go by where we didn’t have data from each one of the tracks, regardless of our performance.”

This season, the Harley-Davidson Factory Flat Track Racing Team has a new lineup. One of the sport’s biggest stars, Sammy Halbert, and one of the top up-and-coming riders, Jarod Vanderkooi, have joined returning rider Brandon Robinson.

Vance is energized about 2018. “I’m really happy to have all three of these guys,” he said. “I’m very excited about Jarod because he’s right up to speed with the boys. I thought it might take him a little bit to catch up to Sammy and Brandon, but he’s right there.”

Springfield Mile
Last year’s Springfield Mile I was a low moment for the team. A technical issue with Kenny Coolbeth’s XG750R cost his Harley-Davidson teammates as well. The team rebounded the following weekend at the Red Mile with Robinson’s top-five finish.Photo by Andrea Wilson

A former racer himself, Vance appreciates the way Robinson carried himself during last year’s difficult season. “To be honest with you, looking at our whole effort last year, I was most impressed by Brandon,” he said.

“It didn’t matter what problems we encountered or what broke or what ended up happening, Brandon always kept a great attitude, and he came back and was ready for the next round. I think he’s capable of running right up there with anybody.”

Sammy Halbert
Sammy Halbert (69) won fans’ hearts last year battling the factory teams. This season, the 13-time Grand National winner will race for the factory Harley-Davidson squad.Photo courtesy of American Flat Track/Scott Hunter

Perhaps the biggest coup was the acquisition of Halbert, one of the few riders to consistently run last season with the dominant Indian “Wrecking Crew.” He ended the year fourth overall in the championship point standings.

“Sammy really impressed me last year,” Vance said. “I love his grittiness. I love the fact that he’s been around the sport for a long time and he understands when it’s time to be at the front and when it’s time not to try to get to the front and end up on the ground.”

Jarod Vanderkooi
Vance sees great potential in new 19-year-old factory Harley-Davidson signee, 2014 GNC2 Twins champion Jarod Vanderkooi.Photo by Andrea Wilson

It’s no secret the XG750R has evolved as well. “We’re trying different chassis,” Vance said. “We’re trying different engine configurations. We’re trying whatever we have to try to get our bikes where we need them as far as power output and durability.

“We started testing the day after Perris [2017 AFT Season Finale]. We’ve been at it nonstop since then and the riders are very happy with the performance of the bikes, the handling of the bikes, and the way things are working.”

Vance is also a realist. He knows the competition has been doing its homework too. "Jared, Bryan, and Brad are going to be hauling," he said. "You've also got a bunch of new guys on Indians. But bottom line is that I'm excited how our bikes will work this year."