American Iron Meets The Brickyard

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Revisiting Indianapolis Motor Speedway

With the Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix a few days away, we went into our magazine archives to revisit this piece by AMA Pro Racing pilot Patrick McCord. The story, from our January 2012 issue, discusses McCord’s experience while competing in the AMA Pro Vance & Hines XR1200 Championship last season.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened with a motorcycle race in the summer of 1909. An Indian ridden by A.G. Chapple carried the day against seven adversaries on a crushed stone track that had been sprayed with tar. That was the last motorcycle competition at the venue until the Red Bull Indianapolis GP in 2008. Three years later, I find myself racing a Harley-Davidson at the iconic American racing circuit.

My normal ride on the track is a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R that I ride for Peak Performance Motorcycles and, not coincidentally, Ultimate MotorCycling, in the 2011 AMA Pro Daytona SportBike and SuperSport classes. Racing a Harley-Davidson in the Vance & Hines XR1200 Championship Series at Indy is something altogether different.

The class rules are fairly simple. You start with an XR1200 and add a Vance & Hines racing kit-V&H Widow exhaust and Fuelpak, Ohlins steering damper, 17-inch front wheel, and other bits.

No internal engine mods are permitted, the finished bike can’t weigh less than 515 pounds dry, and you can only make limited adjustments to the ergonomics. Also, you get three sets of Dunlop spec tires for the weekend. It is not quite a spec class, but it’s close.

Getting on the track for the first test day was definitely a culture shock. I quickly found myself getting out of hand, doing some tank slappers and generally having an alarming number of close calls. It didn’t take me long to realize that this bike was going to require a different riding style.

The feedback I received from the brakes, chassis, and suspension was odd. It wasn’t a lack of feel, just a different feel. I knew it was going to take a bit of time to really understand what the bike was telling me.

Despite the steep learning curve, my first session was a good one. I was 10th-fastest at 2:12, on a new track and a new bike. For my second session, I made no changes to the bike. I knew it would be important to not get caught up in adjustments on the bike, so I stayed focused on putting in laps. I needed to understand what the bike itself wanted before I changed what I wanted. With that in mind, I dropped my best lap time to 2:09.

Additional laps and seat time make all the difference. The XR1200 is definitely in a class of its own-a good bike, but nothing like I have ever ridden. Overall, it was a productive first day.

On day two, I ran the same tires as on the first day. They were definitely worn out, and the cold morning conditions on track didn’t make things easier. Fortunately, we were easily back to our pace from the first day, and I was feeling like I was starting to figure this bike out and what it takes to go fast on an XR1200.

I put on a new set of Dunlops for the second session. The sun came out, raising the track temperatures and improving conditions. My first lap out dropped another two seconds.

Still, I came in due to the rear end feeling a bit harsh and bumpy mid corner. Inspecting the bike, we found some pretty bad cupping in the wear on the left side of the tire.

We softened rebound to allow the bike to stay planted mid corner and react less harshly. The rebound change did the trick, and my fast time for the second day was 2:07:1.

I am star struck by the Indy GP atmosphere on Friday, the first day of the race weekend. The banners and sponsor signage is awesome, and I feel honored to be here.

The field in the Vance & Hines XR1200 class is very deep at Indy, with all the best riders coming down from the Canadian series. It should make for some serious racing, and a good show for the fans-all good for the series.

On my first session, I improve my fast time from the test-a rare accomplishment for me. I’m never fast in my first session, and it usually takes me a session or two to shake out all the cobwebs and get going. I am stoked!

As it turned out, I had ridden the entire first session with a blown fork seal. I didn’t catch the problem until when I noticed a thin film of oil all over my boot. Whoops! Thank God it never made its way onto the tire. At this point, I am looking forward to qualifying to see what we can do.

I start qualifying with used tires from practice. We make another rebound adjustment to the shocks, due to cupping on rear tire again. The backed out rear end felt really good, but the tire was going off. I pull in to change tires. With a new tire, my fast lap is 2:04:9.

After getting held up on the next lap in qualifying, I get a good draft down the front straight and have a clear track ahead of me. I am 1.5 seconds faster in the first two segments, and then a red flag flies. I don’t get to finish the lap and the qualifying session is over. My 2:04:9 time puts me 23rd on the grid.

In spite of my mediocre starting spot, I get a decent start in Race 1. There’s a crazy pileup in Turn 2, which I was fortunately able to avoid. Because of the crash, it was a pretty lonely race from there on out. I finished 13th, with a fast lap of 2:02:2.

It was great to see Tyler O’Hara get his first win. Tyler is a prime example of what this series offers a rider with a lot of skill, and a little budget.

Thanks to having the first race experience under my belt, I get a better start in Race 2. The first lap was a lot cleaner than the previous race, though I was pretty lonely again. I was able to catch onto the bike of Python Performance rider Mike Morgan-he had qualified in 20th-as we took the white flag.

Indy is a tough track to pass on and I wasn’t able to complete any of my attempts. As I was unable to draft to the finish line, I finished 17th in the second race, with a fast lap of 2:01. Chris Fillmore of RMR Bruce Rossmeyer Daytona Racing took the win.

The Vance & Hines XR1200 Championship Series is great for the fans; there is good racing and close, competitive bikes. The series is ideal for someone on a privateer
budget to showcase his abilities
alongside the factories and large independent teams, and race against some of the big names in the AMA.

I still prefer my ZX-6R to an XR1200, though racing at a venue like Indianapolis Motor Speedway on a weekend with the best motorcycle racers on the planet is an unforgettable experience. I hope to return.

Photography by Brian J. Nelson