It's not every day I'm offered the opportunity to race a factory bike at an AMA national. Probably because I'm a word-slinging moto-journalist, not a professional-caliber roadracer. But that didn't stop Paul James, Harley-Davidson's director of product communications, from offering me a chance to race The Motor Company's own XR1200 demo racer in the inaugural round of the AMA Vance & Hines XR1200 series.
Never mind that I'd never entered a professional roadrace before. No problem, Editor Catterson reminded me; it was, after all, just a Sportster. "It's not some fire-breathing, 200-horsepower Superbike," he said. Good point. Moreover, the venue, Road America, is my home track, and at 5'7" and 145 pounds, I have the right "aerodynamic profile" for spec racing.
Besides, whether soft-pedaling George Bryce's NHRA Pro Stockers or tip-toeing around the Indy Mile on Kenny Roberts' TZ750 flat-tracker, humiliating myself on racing motorcycles has lately become my stock-in-trade. Gridding up next to current AMA Daytona Sportbike Champion Danny Eslick in front of a few thousand rabid race fans seemed a logical next step.
AMA Pro Racing created the XR1200 series with an eye on the past. Fifteen years ago, the AMA TwinSports/SuperTwins series fielded racers on Supersport-spec 883 Sportsters, and proved to be a hotbed of racing action and a fertile breeding ground for future champions like Ben and Eric Bostrom, Jake Zemke and Aaron Yates. The AMA hopes the XR1200 series will provide the same great racing while creating a grassroots entry point for the next generation of champions. The entry list at Road America-a mix of established racers, up-and-coming rookies and a handful of treacherous old Pros-hinted at the series' diverse appeal.
The new class is a joint venture between Harley-Davidson and Vance & Hines-two legendary names absent from American roadracing for far too long. The Motor Company flag hasn't waved over a roadracing paddock since the VR1000 was unceremoniously retired in 2001, one year after V&H discontinued its Ducati Superbike program to go drag racing with Harley-Davidson V-Rods. Terry Vance was the prime mover. He purchased one of the very first XR1200s and, inspired by the similar "BBQ" series in Spain and Italy, put the wheels in motion to get an American equivalent off the ground.
The author (72) qualified seventh of 10 riders, behind a diverse group studded with AMA Pr
"We were looking for a way to return to roadracing, and this was the perfect opportunity," Vance says. "It's good for Vance & Hines, good for Harley-Davidson and, most importantly, it's good for the riders, giving them an affordable, fun and competitive way to get national exposure and make some money, too." Indeed, V&H is providing a $5000 purse for each event, and Harley's contingency program doubles that amount.
Vance & Hines also supplies the mandatory race kit that converts a stock XR1200 into a spec racer. Dirt-cheap at just $3500, this consists of a V&H Widow 2-1-2 exhaust and Fuelpak fuel-management system, racing bodywork, a 17-inch front wheel with matching fender, steering damper and an oil cooler relocator. "We're basically selling the parts at cost to get people into the class," Vance says. Some 15 kits had been sold at the time of this inaugural event, and 10 bikes showed up to race.
All bikes run spec Dunlop Sportmax D211 GP-A tires and slurp Sunoco 260GTX fuel. Suspension, hand and foot controls, brakes and instruments can be modified, but otherwise the bikes must remain stock. Immediately after our race-day practice session, the entire field was impounded and subjected to a dyno test. The bike I was riding-prepared by noted V&H tuner Jim Leonard and set up by Motorcyclist test rider Barry Burke-made 86 bhp at the rear wheel. The other bikes ranged from 83 to 87 bhp, so there was definite parity.