American Flat Track, under the leadership of CEO Michael Lock, has broken out of the mold of focusing strictly on old-style venues.
Instead of racing only on traditional miles, half miles, TTs and short tracks, American Flat Track is now racing on Super TT tracks, such as the Daytona Super TT, which actually utilizes the paved tri-oval section of Daytona Int’l Speedway, and the more recent Arizona TT, which featured multiple jumps and a variety of right- and left-hand corners.
A few hard-core traditionalists bristled a bit with some of these new venues, but there is no denying the new tracks are generating excitement with new fans paying attention to the sport.
Perhaps the event that started this whole trend of trying to bring the sport to new and innovative tracks is the Buffalo Chip TT, held during South Dakota’s Sturgis Bike Week.
In all of racing, there’s really nothing like this race. In 2017, the inaugural Buffalo Chip TT blew fans’ minds — more than 10,000 of them. There was an honest-to-goodness American Flat Track national held on a built-overnight TT track snaking around the legendary Buffalo Chip amphitheater. The race served as the opening act for a packed-house rock concert in that same venue later that night. It was a fusion of motorsports and music on one of the most legendary of all stages. It was an instant classic.
This innovative tourist trophy track, designed by seven-time AFT champion Chris Carr, was the first track in the series that allowed fans to watch the nation’s top flat-track racers whip around multiple right-hand turns, fly over a jump and immediately follow it up with a major rock concert in the same amphitheater.
The views were both unprecedented and spectacular, with fans watching from the sky bridge or party decks above or from directly behind the trackside barricades on the ground. Holding the race during Sturgis Bike Week was also a perfect opportunity for motorcyclists who flock to the historic get-together each summer to watch the renewal of the time-honored tradition of the century-old rivalry between Indian and Harley-Davidson.
“People said these were the most exciting races they’d ever seen,” said Buffalo Chip President Rod Woodruff. “There’s nothing more exciting than being right next to the track, watching the American Flat Track races at the Buffalo Chip. Spectators are so close they feel like they are part of the action with bikes jumping and tearing around the corners so close they can feel the power. 2019 will be the third year for the Buffalo Chip TT and fans are loving it. We expect to see even more people enjoying the races this year, followed by a thunderous performance by heavy metal rockers, Godsmack.”
Perhaps the only downside to venues like the Buffalo Chip are that they take the racers out of their comfort zones.
“I don’t mind AFT trying new things with new tracks,” said Indian factory rider Briar Bauman, who won the first Buffalo Chip TT. “But a lot of times with new tracks, or temporary tracks, the biggest challenge is getting the track set up well for racing. I like the idea of bringing our racing to new fans, but we have to keep the focus on making the tracks safe and ridable, so we can go out and give our best performance.”
Lock has heard the concerns, yet at the same time he sees tremendous upsides to having national events at tracks like the Buffalo Chip.
“The irony is the venues that our competitors grumble most about, the TTs, are the best attended and most successful on the schedule,” said Lock. “Daytona, Buffalo Chip and Peoria. The races have the highest attendance because of the wonder of watching these machines on that kind of racing circuit.”
Even within the realm of expanding the types of tracks on which AFT races, Buffalo Chip was a stretch.
“The concept of the Buffalo Chip TT was a bit of an experiment. Instead of taking a race to a race circuit, we took the race to a rock concert,” Lock explained. “We build the track overnight after a rock concert and race before the next rock concert. It’s a logistical nightmare, but it’s worth it. We’re putting the sport of AFT in front of 10,000 to 15,000 people, may of whom have never seen it before and are just curious. They’ve turned up for a rock concert and they’re getting a bonus motorcycle race.”
The concept at the Buffalo Chip has proven wildly successful.
“The promoter of the Buffalo Chip has told us that since he’s brought the race in, it’s massively boosted his overall attendance,” Lock noted. “So it’s a win all around.”
Click below to continue reading the story.