Too small, it’s a girls bike, half a Harley, I’ve heard all the slanderous talk about Sportsters from the insecure biker bro’s trying to convince themselves that riding the biggest bike with the biggest wheels will somehow justify their bedazzled Affliction shirt and ornate jeans with all the yarn on the pockets. But no matter how loud your stereo is the Sportster remains undeniable. I could go into the horsepower to weight ratio and handling prowess when compared to a “Big Twin” but nothing highlights the versatility and awesomeness of the XL platform like our recent hooligan build for XGames.
When we got the XGames invite we didn’t have a bike in the stable suitable for hooligan racing so we put out the bat signal and our Midwest homeboy and fellow Sportster enthusiast from Iowa, Brad Gregory, through in a big way offering up one of his bikes. It turns out the bike already had an interesting history in the short time Brad had owned it. Brad bought the bike as a hack job of a hardtail and converted it back to a swingarm bike to ride on Biltwell’s El Diablo Run . And ride it he did, Brad and the bike were fresh off a 4,500 mile round trip to Mexico and back. Needless to say the bike wasn’t exactly a race bike….yet.
We made the trek from Eastern Wisconsin through Iowa and over to the Nebraska border to pick up the long haul machine, just 12 days before it was supposed to be on the track in Minneapolis. Once back in the land of cheese and beer, it got a quick tear down to start the conversion from highway miler to hooligan race bike. The job of turning it into a hooligan bike was more about taking parts off than putting them on but the parts that were going to be put back on had to be purposeful. At this point we had 5 days left to put the bike back together and we needed parts. First off, we needed a set of 19″ wheels and dirt track tires. Fortunately, we had to look no farther than OG hooligan and fabrication ninja Hunter Klee who is just up the road in Lacrosse, WI. In addition to being a rad dude Hunter is also all things exhaust at S&S Cycle and as luck would have it he had one of those for us too. The next day Tim from Gigacycle hit us up and told u about a Leroy Tracker front end he just finished specifically designing for dirt track racing and offered us the chance at having one of the first ones. Needless to say we jumped at the chance and he shipped it out in an hurry. Next we needed to swap the tank and bars. There was a 3.3 gallon tank on the bike for the highway use and we needed the smaller 2.2 version to get us farther forward on the bike. As luck would have it we had what we needed hanging on the garage wall. There was a tank I had been dragging around with me for 17 years that had belonged to the second bike I ever owned, I took it off for the larger tank but was sentimentally attached to the tank even with its iconic Eddie Van Halen paint job the previous owner had adorned it with. For bars, I was eyeballing stealing the Biltwell Tracker High bars on my Dyna but I thought better of it and, grabbed a spare set of random low bars I had in my parts stash. All I had left to address was the rear end of the bike, I stole my Fox RC1 shocks off my Dyna and chopped of a spare fender Brad had sent with me, there was already a Biltwell banana seat on it so I just swapped his bear claw looking pegs out for some PM jobs I also had in my stash so I wouldn’t rip the skin off my body in the event of a get off. The last touch was a classic S&S teardrop air cleaner, the open style that was on there was fine except I was worried about it getting packed with dirt over the course of a race weekend. The bike rolled off the lift and got a few rips up and down the road before we loaded it up just in time to leave for the race in the morning.
In a matter of days the little Sporty had went from capable highway machine to hooligan race bike and in the matter of a few weeks it had gone on a 4,500 mile trip to Mexico to racing on a XGames racetrack. No way around it, the Sportser rules.
We’re back from XGames and it was definitely an interesting experience. The whole deal, from finding a bike to race and then building it in a few days before actually getting on the track at the XGames, was a whirlwind of a few weeks. We’ll recap the build in a separate post in more detail, but for now here’s how the XGames experience shook out.
We finished the bike the night before we had to leave (Tuesday) and loaded up first thing Wednesday morning. Me and my 13 year old headed north east to Minneapolis. It was a fairly short 2 1/2 hour drive and junior was stoked, talking my leg off for the first part of the drive, but I couldn’t help being distracted by the task ahead. I saw a spy pic of the track being built and knew it was going to be a 3/8 mile, the largest track I had been on to date. Generally speaking, that’s not a large track in the flat track world, but keeping in mind that this was only my 5th time on the dirt, racing or otherwise, it made me wonder how it was going to play out.
We rolled into the pits and immediately saw familiar faces, the OG hooligan crews were were all there along with the core hooligans from the Midwest. As always the hooligan pits were laid back and inviting (same cannot be said about a lot of racing pits). We had to make adjustments to the bike and mount the number plate, then we went out to walk the track…..
Now I haven’t been on too many dirt tracks but I can tell you this…it wasn’t great. The track was built in the middle of a parking lot and seemed to consist of that grey silt they use to cover landfills and junkyards and few baseball sized rocks. It was really dry and dusty but they hit it with some water and we headed out for practice. I hadn’t been on a 3/8 track before and was a little nervous. But the speed didn’t bother me at all and I enjoyed the bigger track . What was bothersome was the track surface and in particular a giant ass bump as you exited turn 4. I settled into the bumpy and dry slick track as best I could and got semi comfortable even after almost exiting the bike as the bump in turn 4 sent the bike semi airborne and then landed it in a dry, sandy patch. The bike spun and bucked, and my ass exited the seat as both legs did the “stanky leg” down the front straight away. As practice clipped along I realized I had two problems that needed solving. The first was that my rear suspension was WAY to stiff. The reason behind that fact was that I had stolen the Fox RC1’s from my Dyna in my rush to get some worthy suspension on the bike. While these baby’s work like a dream on the Dyna they were making for a rough ride on the much lighter Sportster. The second issue was carb jetting. As I got more comfortable I got faster and as I got faster the bike was breaking up on the second half of the straight aways. The unquestioned bright spot was the Gigacycle Leroy front end, as rough as the track was the front end was planted in the dirt and ultra responsive to say the least. I couldn’t wait to get the rear suspension on par with the front, on the sketchiest, fasted track I had been on. Confidence wasn’t an issue, in large part due to the performance of the radical front end. Back in the pits my eagle eyed buddy Jason from Fox had already spotted the erroneously placed shocks in a Instagram post and texted me asking about my judgment and suggesting the best case scenario settings. I made the adjustments he had laid out for me and proceeded to tackle the jetting issue. At first I thought it might be too rich and the plugs were fouling but after a quick check of the plugs it was clear that it was starving for fuel. I shot a text to Brad (bike owner) who confirmed he had a small jet in the Mikuni (I’m assuming for fuel consumption’s sake going to EDR and back). I started making calls to see if I could get some jets brought up the next morning from home but had no luck. As it turned out I didn’t need to look very far, the generosity of the hooligan pits struck again. Brawny from the Speed Merchant team set me up with the jet I needed, after a quick jet swap we headed over to watch the pros practice. Track prep was better than it had been all day and the track was starting to come around a little. The pro’s were acting like pro’s and absolutely sending it into the corners. We watched in awe for a while then headed to Mall of America for a burger.
We rolled into the track and were told we were going to get another practice session. Which was good news because I had yet to run the bike with the new jetting. The track looked like it was in the same decent form that the pros had to practice on. And it was, it was definitely more tacky and packed, unfortunately the bumps were still there and that resulted in a much faster track with the same wicked ruts and bumps, including the monster in turn 4. My first set of practice laps were tentative and slow, so I came back into the pits for some fuel and a quick drink. I blasted back out feeling much more confident and went much quicker. A few laps in my peg on the left got folded up and wouldn’t come back down. I buzzed into the pits to fix it and just when I was ready to head back out my son came running over and told me that Terry Vestal’s bike had blown up.
Now I didn’t know Terry real well but I knew he was a Midwest guy I had raced against at Flat Out Friday. Terry is friends with some mutual friends of mine, the Babers, and…he was fast, really fast. Terry is a older gentleman that is a bit quiet and hauls ass, and today was no different. Most of the pits knew Terry was the guy to beat that day so what I did next probably ruffled a few feathers. I had a quick talk with my son and decided to give Terry my ride. I was probably mid-pack fast if I was lucky that day (lots of fast hooligans there) and I was in a murderers row of a heat. Chances are I wasn’t going to come out of that heat in one of the top 5 spots needed to advance to the semi and Terry had a real shot at winning the shooting match. I hustled over to see if Terry was interested and he he took me up on the offer. We had just enough time to get him on the bike and get him acclimated to a bike he had never even thrown a leg over much less raced. He went out and spun a few laps and in true Terry fashion he was pretty freaking fast. He came back in and wanted to make a gearing change which resulted in us swapping his wheel over. He rolled out to the heat and got a not so great start and was running 5th. Within a few laps he had passed all five bikes and won the most stacked heat in the program by 8 bike lengths! He rolled back in and the story had spread through the pits, both the XGames and Harley Davidson reporters swooped in to interview him. We were pretty stoked on his chances as he went back out for the semi, he got a little better start and was just starting to pick off bikes when disaster struck and he pulled off the track….a plug wire had came loose and ended his night. It was a huge bummer but a bad day at the track is still a pretty good day.
The excitement was far from over, while we were caught up in watching Terry’s run at potential gold there was some other excitement unfolding. My good buddy Jordan Baber was another favorite to possibly win the race. He stalled his bike at the start of his heat race, gave the rest of the field an entire straight away of a head start before he ran most of them down to finish 4th and advance to the semi. Turns out his tank cracked around the fuel valve and it was vibrating shut. He hot footed it back to the pits and grabbed the tank off of Terry’s incapacitated machine. The fuel valve on Jordan’s borrowed tank was stock and wasn’t flowing enough for his modified S&S mill. Consequently the bike would break up upon corner exit. Still, Jordan rode his ass off and made the main. The main was fast and the fast guys moved to the front, Jordan was running 4th and moved into 3rd while Dave Kilkenny was running 2nd just off the back wheel of JJ Flairty. Flairty was a story all to himself, the long time pro BMX’r was only in his 3rd ever flat track race and was making the most of it leading the XGames main event, and running a thumb throttle no less! After a restart due to a rough wreck on the back straight the Midwest trio of Flairty, Kilkenny and Baber battled it out for the remaining few laps and completed a Midwest sweep of the XGames podium.
The XGames experience was great but it wasn’t necessarily great because of the exposure and visibility of the “big show”. It was because of the hooligan racing. Every hooligan race I’ve been apart of has been a great experience with awesome people. There’s no ego’s in the pits and there is hard racing on the track. At the end of the day everyone is there for the love of being on a dirt track. If you have the chance to take part in a hooligan race don’t pass up the opportunity, you won’t regret it. I’m hooked and looking forward to my next laps turning left.
It takes a village…and it took a handful of great folks to help us get on the XGames track. Obviously huge thanks to Brad Gregory for coming through with the bike to use, Gigacycle for the bitchen front end, Hunter Klee for the wheels and exhaust, Biltwell for the Lanesplitter lid and their continued support. Stay tuned for a post documenting the bike build.
April 2016 at Arizona Bike Week with absolutely zero experience and never even having set foot on a dirt track I decided to try my hand at “hooligan” racing. In retrospect that might not have been the best way to start my foray into turning left. Having said that, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Rewind to a few months earlier that winter. I had been watching the southern California hooligan scene unfold via social media and an announcement was made that a indoor hooligan race called Flat Out Friday had been added to my favorite motorcycle gathering on the planet The Mama Tried Show. Seeing how that show is basically in my back yard (Milwaukee) I was really stoked. At the time I was working at S&S Cycle and they were gracious enough to entertain my plan to build not one but two hooligan Sportsters. I built the bikes with the help of my good buddy Dean Young II at his shop up the road from S&S. Neither one of us really had a clue what made a good dirt track bike and we made a few errors but overall we built two killer bikes, both of which were very street-able I might add. Mama Tried rolled around and I ended up giving up my ride to moto-writer extraordinaire and all around solid dude Joe Gustafson for an article he was doing about hooligan racing. Which brings me back to Arizona Bike Week…
We were at AZ Bike Week with the S&S rig demoing our go fast parts and doing exhaust installs, I had brought the hooligan bikes to display along with the only “gear” I owned for flat track racing a pair of Alpine Star Tech 7’s and my everyday street lid a ICON Airframe Pro . To say we were ill prepared is an understatement and was evidenced by our cardbord number plates. The day of the race my mechanic Mike Dolega and I wandered over to the arena where we met the Rusty Butcher crew, Hunter Klee, Brandon Gonzalez (The Gonz) and the man behind IV League Flat Track, Brian Bell. More on these guys and hooligan racers in general in a post to follow, but lets just say they couldn’t have been more welcoming and helpful.
I followed that race up with the the IV League race at the ROT rally then the Sturgis TT followed by my first indoor race at the October Fat Out Friday then again at the February edition at the Mama Tried Show, and a few months back went out west to the IV League race at Del mar followed by the Daytona indoor IV League race. The previous sentences encompass my entire flat track/hooligan “career”. While I managed to improve a little each race and am light years ahead of where I started, you can imagine my surprise to get an email form XGames Athlete Services. While I was pumped at the chance to race at en event I had been following since my late teenage years there was a couple of hiccups I needed to address. The biggest being the lack of a race bike. My departure from S&S a few weeks earlier had left me with out a set of wheels for the barn burner of a race that was about to pop off in Minneapolis .
After a few calls Mark Atkins (the famed Rusty Butcher) said he had a bike I could use, the only problem was that it resided in California, nothing new for a hooligan racer, bike transportation is a common problem. A day or so later my fellow Midwesterner Brad Gregory texted me and said he had a bike I could use. Not just any bike and definitely not a race bike, it was a bike he had built a few months earlier and ridden down to Mexico and back from Iowa on the famed Biltwell EDR . So I headed southwest to grab the Sportster turned highway bike so I could get to work turning it into a legit hooligan bike. The bike wasnt the only issue, I was in need of a few key parts, one of which was a set of triple trees so I could fit the traditional 19″ wheel with the wider dirt track tire and the another being 19″ wheels and tires. Both issues were actually solved by friends and fellow hooligans Hunter Klee and Jordan Baber. Jordan’s place was outside Des Moines on the way back from picking up the bike on the Nebraska/Iowa border so I swung through Des Moines, made a quick stop at the legendary Kung Fu Tap and Taco, grabbed the trees and hit the road. All that leaves me with seven days to tear the bike down and build it back into a functional hooligan bike….here we go.