An Interview with Michael Lock: CEO of American Flat Track

How the re-envisioning of the sport has revitalized the passion.

michael lock flat track
"Over the winter months, we did a lot of things to prep for this year. As much as you plan and research, you don’t know how it’s going to go until you actually do it." — Michael LockPhoto: Andrea Wilson

After having taken the reigns of the American Flat Track company in November of 2015, Michael Lock has had a lot on his plate. Re-designing the Flat Track race structure, editing the rules, searching for new venues and talking with OEMs are all on his to-do list, but we've managed to snag him for a brief while to get his thoughts on where the league stands currently.

Motorcyclist Magazine: Thanks for taking the time out to have some words with us. We're three races deep into the 2017 American Flat Track Championship so far, has everything been going as planned? Have there been any issues you've had to deal with?

Michael Lock: It's been a season typified by a lot of change, and the change has mostly been instigated by us as a way to modernize the sport. The demand for Flat Track is growing, and the audience is getting bigger. Over the winter months, we did a lot of things to prep for this year. As much as you plan and research, you don't know how it's going to go until you actually do it. We changed the class structure from two classes that were confusing to two classes that were more in-line with the expectations of the fans as well as the racers. We also changed the format of the races themselves to be more of a knock-out tournament style. We signed a very important broadcast deal with NBC in order to put the sport in national television. When you go from having an event in a rural part of the United States that sees a few thousand die-hard, dedicated fans who are familiar with the ins and the outs of the sport, you need to re-work it a bit in order for it to be captivating to a larger audience watching on national television who might not be as engrossed in the sport.

michael lock flat track
"For the first time in this sport’s history, we now have six directly funded factory riders. We’ve also got Harley-Davidson and Indian going head to head around the country." — Michael LockPhoto: Andrea Wilson

MM: Was the decision to have the Season Opener at the Daytona Speedway in Florida part of the new re-design?

ML: Going to the biggest, baddest place we could think of was definitely a curtain-raiser for us, so to speak. Not only have they spent a lot of money renovating the place over the past few years, but it also happens to be across the street from us. We negotiated with them in order to take the sport inside the speedway during the Bike Week weekend, but we had to design and build an entire TT course in 48 hours, as we were sandwiched between two other events. We had about 9000 fans come to the opening round this year, which to put in perspective is about three times as many people as there were last year. We've also been seeing record numbers of people tuning into the Fan's Choice live broadcasts online. Then when Marc Marquez came out and said that he loved racing flat track, and then Rossi said the same thing, that really got the Europeans interested as well.

MM: Do you think that the commitment and support from OEMs has been a factor in the engagement of this new, larger audience?

ML: For the first time in this sport's history, we now have six directly funded factory riders. We've also got Harley-Davidson and Indian going head to head around the country. Between the two of them, they have 60% of the U.S. motorcycle market, which is hugely substantial. Thanks in part to the fans, we now have the interest of further OEM participation for 2018. We're in pretty advanced talks with three household names who are not participating in the sport directly, but are now planning on what they need to do to make that happen next year. I would love it if we had American OEMs, European OEMs and Japanese OEMs all competing in the same sport, because there isn't a motorcycle sport where you can say that. If we can deliver that next year, I'd feel very proud of that.

Michael Lock American Flat Track
"All of a sudden, you start seeing grizzled old riders on tank-shift Harley-Davidsons racing against a twenty-something year-old on a vintage CB750 they’ve just bought from their neighbor who hadn’t touched the thing in 20 years." — Michael LockPhoto: Davide De Pas

MM: How do you think the grassroots "Hooligan" crowd has shaped the way the rest of the motorcycle culture views Flat Track racing?

ML: We had a recession in the motorcycle market in 2009, and it lasted until 2012. What went away was the high-end sportbike market — the bikes that were complex, beautiful and technical. The demographics who can buy them are not the demographics who are going to enjoy them. I feel this market has been replaced by the rise of the twins now — café racers, scramblers, and they're all more about style and usability. Very similar to flat track. Most all of the competitive bikes out here in the Professional classes are derived from twins that began as street models. It's great because it's caught the attention of a whole new crowd of younger riders, and the whole "Hooligan" class has been helpful in bringing these riders into the sport and giving them the thrill of knowing that they can compete with other riders in similar situations as themselves. All of a sudden, you start seeing grizzled old riders on tank-shift Harley-Davidsons racing against a twenty-something year-old on a vintage CB750 they've just bought from their neighbor who hadn't touched the thing in 20 years.

MM: What do you think is the biggest draw for spectators? What's going to get people off the couch at home and make them drive out to a live flat track race?

ML: It's funny in terms of flat track racing, more than any other type of racing, you can't just do it — it totally eats you up. The people who participate, their stories are so romantic in a sense. Many of them are from small towns scattered across America that you wouldn't have known about otherwise. They take it very seriously, it's blue-collar, and it's genuine. Simply amazing backstories. The sport is — in the nicest possible sense — naïve, it doesn't know what it's got. Polishing and sanitizing the sport is a bit of a tightrope walk, we want to make sure we're not taking away from the raw experience. If you go to a Flat Track race, you can get right up close to the track, and it's a visceral thing. Because it's an oval, one of the attractive things about it is that you can watch the entire racetrack from one spot, and you can see everything. There's not enough money in the sport currently, but my job is to open the flood gates in an organized manner so we can get some funding for everyone racing. Not just for the top riders, but for the kid and his parents who drove four hours to make this race. We have to bring the resources in, and we're so thankful for the deals with Indian, Harley-Davidson and NBC — they're making these racer's dreams come true.