At the Road America round of last year's AMA Superbike series, Harley-Davidson made its return with the first round of the Vance & Hines XR1200 Series. The class ran at five rounds last year, drawing modest entries and gaining a foothold to running at more events in 2011. There was enough excitement and drama in the series last year that the class returns for 2011 and will run at all rounds of the series with the exception of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
To promote the class last year, Harley-Davidson built a media bike and invited a different member of the press to race the bike at each of the five events. Our turn was slated for the final round, Barber Motorsports Park, but we declined the offer. Rather than ride the media bike and have the same story as the other magazines, we asked about building our own bike and racing that - we just have to be different, of course. It didn't come together for the Barber race, and in a way I'm glad it didn't. The weather was terrible, with some practice cancelled and the race itself held in dodgy conditions. However, we're forging ahead and have a bike to race at either the Infineon Raceway or Miller Motorsports Park round, or maybe even both.
The rules package for the class is quite restrictive in order to keep costs down. Engine internals must remain completely stock and, according to the rulebook, "The entrant is required to sign an affidavit to that effect, at which time AMA Pro Racing will seal the engine with tamper-proof seals." The clause goes on to state that offenders may even be banned from future competition, a hefty consequence. Most of the modifications to the bike are limited to what's available in a kit offered by Vance & Hines. The kit, shown above, includes practically everything needed: exhaust pipe, Fuelpak EFI tuning tool, 17-inch front wheel, steering damper, a kit to relocate the stock oil cooler, a new subframe and bodywork including a seat, front fender and an oil-retaining bellypan. The cost for the kit is quite reasonable at $3500, especially considering the individual prices add up to about $5000. A new XR1200 lists for $11,799, or about the price of a GSX-R750 - again, something pretty reasonable, especially for something from The Motor Company.
Practically the only items open for modifications are suspension, hand and foot controls and consumables such as brake pads. On the one hand that takes away some of the fun of the project, as we can't mix and match performance parts for what we may think the best package. On the other hand, our bike should be every bit as good as any other bike in the class - exactly what the AMA, Harley-Davidson and Vance & Hines intends. In some of the other racing projects we've undertaken in the last few years, our bikes have been a far cry from what's on the front row of the grid - despite the resources we have to build something special. Now, we don't have to break the bank to build a bike capable of being there at race time.
To actually build the bike, we've turned to Eric Nugent, who put together our ill-fated Triumph FX project in 2008 ("Goldenrod", Aug. '08 and "A Hard Day's Night", Sept. '08) and our Suzuki FX project a couple of years before that. He does a meticulous job and works cheap as long as we keep a steady supply of Pepsi and cupcakes on hand. And, of course, Shop Foreman Michael has been doing the usual drop-off/pick-up routine with bikes and parts for the project. It should all come down to the rider, and for that we're planning on throwing new-guy Bradley to the wolves rather than finding someone outside the magazine's family to do the honors. The class is intended to showcase new talent on the national stage, and Bradley fits right in - while he's got several years of club-racing experience, this will be his first AMA event.
With Eric now contributing to the magazine and Bradley riding the XR, this will be a completely in-house project, something I've wanted to put together for some time. Wait, what's my part, you ask? Somebody has to keep everyone in-line and away from each others' throats, as well as supplying the daily Pepsi and cupcakes. Really, though, as restrictive as the class is we've still got some unique resources to put to good use, and it takes a lot of phone calls and e-mails to put any race program together - that's my part.
We'll be at some local track days, hopefully a club race or two and at least one of the AMA rounds later this year. If you happen to see our motley crew, be sure to stop by and say hello - for some reason, I don't think we'll be hard to miss.