Flat Track: What You Need to Know Before Aug. 17

By Robert Haydon | Aug. 5, 2019

[Editor’s note: Flat track racing is coming to Nitro World Games Utah on Aug. 17, as Utah Motorsports Campus hosts the RSD Super Hooligan National Championship alongside returning favorites FMX Best Trick, Nitro Rallycross, and Moto Quarterpipe. Click here for more info.]

Welcome to the world of flat track racing. The high-speed, bar-banging action is rapidly rising in popularity for fans of all things that go fast, but the sport isn’t new. The world of flat track racing goes all the way back to the roots of the two-wheeled machines that us fans obsess over.

Distilled to its most basic elements, flat track consists of modified streetbikes and insanely skilled riders who race on an oval track with two things in mind: go fast and turn left. The first time you watch a flat track race, you’ll be thinking, “There is no way they are going to make that corner.” And you’re right, except the riders are masters of breaking the rear-tire loose and getting “slideways” — keeping the front wheel pointing forward while the rear whips out to the right, the rider hanging their left leg out to balance the angle that they just threw their 750cc twin motorcycle into. The corners can be chaos: bars banging and riders pinning the throttle on the exit to try to gain some ground in the fight for the podium.

 

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A Brief History

Flat track racing began all the way back in the 1920s, born from the desire to see how fast you can get a bike going in a straightaway before having to pitch it over to keep it (and you) from flying off the track. That’s the go left part. Those early riders were living by the credo of “Anything built must be raced,” and as motorcycles became faster and more mainstream in the ’60s and ’70s, flat track grew even bigger. All over the country, large dirt ovals quickly became the best place to prove yourself and your custom-built bikes. The best part was that anyone could race — making a big dirt oval is a lot easier than paving and maintaining a road-racing track. Flat track caught on big in the midwest and the UK, where Euro bikes dominated the sport in the ’60s.

Flat track bikes are instantly recognizable. Bikes are stripped down to be lightweight and free of anything that gets in the way of going faster. That includes stuff like front brakes, fenders, metal tanks, and bodywork. Fiberglass tanks and seats give the signature low-slung look, and small wheels and a tighter geometry give flat track bikes that aggressive “Don’t mess with me in the corners” stance.

For most motorcycle racing fans, bikes like Kenny Roberts’ famous Yamaha TZ750 is the prime example of the ’70s flat track heyday: a peaky two-stroke 750cc monster engine that Yamaha stuffed into an XT650 frame. Roberts famously rode that bike at the Indy Mile in 1975, cementing the championship on a bike so powerful that the AMA banned it from ever competing again.

Some people consider that to be the peak of early American flat track racing, but those people never anticipated the Super Hooligan race series.

Who Are the Super Hooligans?

Based on the name alone, who wouldn’t want to see what the Super Hooligans are all about? Super Hooligan Flat Track racing is stock bikes on stock frames, with only minimal modifications. It continues with the tradition of stripping the bike down to essentials, but instead of relying on modifying the frame geometry or creating an entirely new frame like they did in the ’60s and ’70s, Super Hooligan bikes keep everything stock except for a modified swingarm and 19-inch wheels with flat track tires.

This keeps Super Hooligan fast and accessible. Bikes that run in the Super Hooligan series are big 750cc twin powerhouses from modern manufacturers. These are bikes that you can buy at a dealership today — already fast on the street and even faster on a track. It’s insane to watch these bikes barrel into the corners, the rider throwing the weight into a slide that seems to defy gravity. Rubbing is racing in the flat track world too, which makes races even more exciting as riders bang bars and eat exhaust in incredibly tight races where they can easily reach triple digits in the straights. Every straightaway is an opportunity for someone to take the lead, and every corner is a potential pile-up. Battles happen often, and the final lap on a flat track race gets everyone on their feet as photo-finishes and come-from-behind upsets happen all the time.

The Gear

Even if the bike is somewhat stock, that doesn’t mean the riders are showing up in their FMX gear. Flat track riders are pinning it in the straightaways and sliding around the corners in the pose that has come to define flat track: elbows up, left leg stretched out across the dirt track, with the bike pitched at an angle that looks unreal.

Take a closer look at the rider’s left leg and you’ll see a metal shoe wrapped around their boot. These steel shoes are custom made for each rider by only a few different makers stateside. They are essential pieces of equipment and are created from a hard-faced steel to do one job: skid. Hovering just above the track surface, a steel shoe will glide over the track upon touchdown, rather than the alternative of your boot catching a chunk of dirt and sending you and the bike into a highside. The steel shoe is probably the most iconic piece of equipment in flat track racing, and if you hang around the pits at a race you’ll hear the familiar “CLOP CLOP CLOP” of a rider awkwardly hobbling with a giant chunk of metal on his boot. That’s OK — slow in the pits, fast on the track.

The Racers

The Super Hooligan series is open to those who qualify. That means if you have a qualifying bike, gear and the talent, you could find yourself racing alongside motorcycle legends like Andy DiBrino, Joe Kopp, or Frankie Garcia — just three of the riders who will be making an appearance at Nitro World Games Utah this year. That’s what makes flat track so fun: a collection of old pros, young blood, and motorcycle enthusiasts who just want to mix it up at 100mph on a big dirty track. They picked the name Super Hooligan for a reason.

Flat track has a long tradition of riders pushing themselves and their machines beyond their limits and setting new standards in speed and skill. If this is your first experience with flat track racing, we know you’re going to be hooked just like we are.

You’ll be able to see the Super Hooligans go fast and turn left at Nitro World Games Utah this Aug. 17. Tickets and more info right here.

About the writer:
Robert Haydon grew up riding and obsessing over motorcycles. Now that he’s an adult, he rides and obsesses over motorcycles. This begs the question, did he really grow up? You can follow him and his obsessions on his Instagram @lastmoto.