Rolling Thunder - We Survive the Inaugural Round of the Ama Vance & Hines XR1200 Series

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Anthony Tortoriello, Brian J. Nelson, Tom Riles

Once we'd gotten the chassis set up, I started hacking away at my lap times, taking off 10 seconds in as many laps. I ended the first qualifying session in seventh, just behind former AMA Pro Thunder Champion and 883 SuperTwins front-runner Shawn Conrad. Interestingly, my 2:45 lap times were just 1 second slower than those I turned in a 2007 MotoST race aboard a lighter, more powerful, better-handling Buell XB12R. Still, they were nowhere near those of Eslick, who hustled his Hog around the track a full 6 seconds quicker!

The perennial Road America rainstorms washed out our second qualifying session, so the first-session results determined the starting grid. Race day arrived hot and sunny, and the XR1200 final was the first race of the day. The newly rejuvenated AMA Pro Racing had done an excellent job promoting the event, so the stands and the pit wall were packed. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to see what this new race series would bring. They wanted a show, and they were about to get it.

The start was as wild as a supercross, only everyone was on 530-lb. twins barreling into Turn 1 at 120 mph. The AMA regulars weren't rolling off for anyone. More accustomed to jockeying a desk than playing high-speed bumper pool, I escaped to the outside and learned the first and most important rule of spec racing: Don't give up an inch, because you won't get it back.

I got a reprieve when the race was red-flagged on lap three, after Kyle Wyman's XR1200 oiled down Turn 5, taking out himself and another rider. The problem wasn't a mechanical issue-Wyman's mechanic forgot to safety-wire his oil filter. Still rattled, I was cautious on the restart. Good thing, as three bikes tangled in front of me entering Turn 1 and Paul James hit the ground hard, knocking himself out and drawing a second red flag.

AMA officials wisely decided to postpone the restart until the end of the day. When we regridded after the final Superbike race, the image of James skidding along the track facedown was still fresh in my mind. I started the third time even more cautiously, and then settled into a rhythm, concentrating on riding smoothly, hitting my marks and staying upright. I was chasing a story, after all, not championship points. I still had some good battles, hunting down and passing 1989 Daytona 200 winner John Ashmead before being passed myself by Joe Rozynski.

The race up front was decidedly more exciting, with GEICO Powersports/Lucas Oil teammates Eslick and Jake Holden swapping the lead at practically every corner, and Stump and the Wyman brothers doing the same just a few seconds back. In the end, Eslick drafted past Holden at the finish line to win by just .055 of a second, and Stump edged out Kyle Wyman by an even closer .025-second margin for the third step on the box. I finished eighth, a satisfactory result, behind seven credible Pros and ahead of another. I even earned a $250 check from the AMA-my first professional race winnings!

The inaugural round of the XR1200 series delivered close, exciting and entertaining racing, just as the organizers had hoped for. The bikes have some handling issues to resolve, but these dirt-track-inspired Sportsters aren't out of place at a roadrace track. Certainly the fans in Wisconsin enjoyed seeing these archetypal sportbikes on-track, and more than one commented on how awesome it was to hear the pack of 10 V-twins thundering down the tree-lined straightaways. Just imagine if there had been 20 or 30!

The XR1200 series debut displayed potential and promise everywhere, except concerning my budding Pro roadracing career. I'll definitely be keeping my day job.

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