Dirttrack: The Best Racing In Indy? | COOK'S CORNER

By Marc Cook, Photography by Tom Hnatiw

A fair amount of good news came out of the MotoGP weekend in Indianapolis. First of all, we got to see Marc Marquez continue his dominance of the premier class, which is great for him, wonderful for Honda, and a relief for us, since we named him Motorcyclist of the Year for 2013. It would terrible if the heavy mantle of this award were to weigh the young man down. As Indy suggests, he seems to be coping well. The morning before the main event, word came down that Indianapolis Motor Speedway was, in fact, going to host the 2014 MotoGP round it has a contract for. Prior to the announcement, broad speculation was that next year's event was in danger. After all, there are three MotoGP rounds in the US, including Laguna Seca and Austin, and the grapevine was humming that Dorna would prefer to have just two races in the colonies. Ultimately, IMS said 2014 is a lock and that it is working closely with Dorna to continue the relationship.

I'll say this for Indy as well: While I'm not the biggest fan of the track itself—it seems monstrous, easily gobbling the claimed 60,000 attendees and making the place look almost vacated—you can't beat the moto vibe in the city. Downtown on Saturday night is the place to be. Aside from the smell of fried food and domestic beer, you could imagine yourself in Europe. For a weekend in the Midwest, motorcycling is extremely cool. Of course, it could be that way all the time, but I get to Indy maybe three times a year.

Should Indy fall off the MotoGP calendar, it would be a sad day for fans of the Indy Mile. No doubt this premier dirttrack event would soldier on without the big circus in town, but normally sportbike-oriented (and dirt-curious) riders in for the GP would miss an incredible show. This year, I didn't. Thanks to the largesse of Suzuki's PR department, I joined a flock of fellow journalists for almost literally front-row seats at this year's Mile—after dinner at the Pork Tent and the offer of a deep-fried Twinkie for dessert.

Two classes ran at Indy: Pro Singles and Expert Twins. Forget what you know about fleets of Harley XR750s owning this sport. Today it's a mishmash of engines, including the air-cooled, two-valve Harleys chuffing alongside SV650s, air-cooled Ducks, and the seemingly dominant Ninja 650 parallel twins. When the pack roars away from the start line, you wouldn't think that these are just mid-displacement twins. Dirttrack has been described as "rolling thunder," and that's apt.

Same deal for the singles, made up mainly of Honda CRFs and various KTMs. These 450s ran Indy about 1.3 seconds a lap slower than the twins, suggesting prodigious corner speed to offset whatever power they might lack. If anything, the racing in the Singles class was better. In the Twins, Bryan Smith ran away from the pack, leaving the excitement for the other guys.

But in Pro Singles, phenom Shayna Texter roared to the front from fifth place in the main event, reeling in what seemed like a dominant Stephen Vanderkuur in the closing laps. Texter is what you'd call a crowd favorite: a hard charger with the personality of a charm-school graduate and the grit of a longshoreman. Hype aside, Texter's drive to the front was thrilling to watch; you know there's a bright future ahead of this 22-year-old slide artist.

As an enthusiast, I'm delighted that MotoGP will return to Indy next year so I can justify a trip to the Mile. I'm not sure I'd travel all the way to Indiana for a flattrack race, but I have to say that I smiled more and cheered louder on Saturday night than I did all day Sunday. (No offense, Marc.) The last two GNC events are in my home state—Santa Rosa to the north and Pomona, nearly in my backyard—in the fall. You can bet I'll be there.

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