Harley Factory Flat Track Racing Team: Brandon Robinson Interview

With four Grand National wins on his resume including a couple on the heralded Springfield Mile in 2013 and a victory in Lima last year aboard the Kennedy Racing Harley-Davidson XR750, Brandon Robinson earned a spot on Harley-Davidson’s Factory Flat Track Racing Team in 2017. While landing a factory seat is a dream come true, it doesn’t come without its challenges. For starters is the development of a new bike. After a 44-year-run, Harley-Davidson switched from the highly successful XR750 to the liquid-cooled XG750R for the 2017 American Flat Track season. The 2017 season sees plenty of changes itself, from a new knockout race format to new venues to the switch to Twins on all tracks this season. There’s also a new TV contract on the table as tape-delayed broadcasts of the races will air on NBCSN this year, adding another layer of complexity and pressure to the 2017 season.

We caught up to Robinson the day before the Daytona TT to get his early impressions of the XG750R, to talk about the switch from the XR750 and about this year’s American Flat Track season.

H-D Flat Track rider Brandon Robinson

Harley Factory Flat Track rider Brandon Robinson puts in test laps aboard the XG750R.

American Iron: How’s it feel to have a seat on the coveted Harley factory team?

Brandon Robinson: It’s kind of a dream come true. I think that’s one of the things everyone looks to get to is a factory ride at some point in their career. To finally get there is rewarding, to know that I’ve put in all this hard work and finally get to that point is surreal.

AIM: How’d that all come about, did you get a call out of the blue?

B-Rob: Yeah, pretty much. I was having a pretty strong season last year and right in my peak I ended up getting a call from Terry Vance and we started discussing possibly working together for the following year. Things just kind of shaped up and worked out and here we are.

(Robinson competed primarily on the XR750 in the Twins class last year but also raced a Kawasaki on a couple of tracks).

Harley Flat Track Racing Daytona TT 2017

The Harley-Davidson Flat Track Racing Team is glued to the screen during the inaugural Daytona TT.

AIM: What do you think about this year’s schedule and the move to Twins on all tracks including TTs?

B-Rob: It makes things a helluva lot more interesting. My big word I’ve been using for Daytona is it’s “unpredictable” right now. You don’t know where everyone really stacks up. No one in this generation has really ridden a Twin on a TT in a national race so between that and everyone switching bikes, you know pretty much the top six-seven guys are all on new equipment, throws out a whole new element to it. We’re not really going to know what to expect until we race tomorrow so it’s going to be kind of crazy.

AIM: Have you been getting in some TT practice on the XG750R?

B-Rob: Yeah, we’ve been getting some TT practice in and testing so it’s been pretty good. I learned a lot in a short amount of time and it’s not near as bad as I thought it was going to be. I thought I was going to have to go out there and muscle this thing around to flick it back and forth. It’s just a little bit slower transitioning back and forth, left to right. Other than that it feels like just a normal motorcycle.

AIM: Is that primarily because it’s heavier?

B-Rob: Yeah I think it’s like a 100 pounds heavier than a 450 so you can feel that, but overall it’s not near as bad as I thought it was going to be. I’m getting more comfortable with it and confident and think it’ll be a good show.

I think it helps me out in some aspects because I was never one of those super aggressive riders on the 450 for like the TT stuff so a Twin kind of plays in my favor. I’ve always been more of a Twin rider so I’ll just have to be smooth and smart.

Harley-Davidson XG750R

Harley-Davidson switched to the XG750R for the 2017 American Flat Track season.

AIM: What do you think about the move from the XR750 to the XG750R?

B-Rob: It’s a little different but we’ve been putting in a lot of testing in and the guys at Vance & Hines and Harley have given us one helluva bike so they did their homework this winter. It’s definitely leaps and bounds ahead of where it was last year. I’m sure with any new bike there’s going to be ups and downs but I think we’ve got quite a few things ironed out and I’m just looking forward to getting on them.

From what we’ve ridden, we rode last year’s stuff and now we have some next generation stuff and it’s definitely a little different so I’m pretty excited about it.

AIM: What are the major differences you’re noticing between the two?

B-Rob: The main difference between the XR and the XG is the power delivery. The XR’s such a smooth power delivery it’s almost like you don’t feel like you’re going anywhere but you’re hauling ass at the same time where the XG, it’s got like the XR bottom and then accelerates to a point more like a Japanese bike or a Kawasaki where it just keeps going. It has a rev limiter and it’s just different. The XR doesn’t have that, where you really have to be critical on your gearing with that bike.

Harley Factory Flat Track rider Brandon Robinson

We got a chance to chat with Harley Factory Flat Track racer Brandon Robinson the day before the Daytona TT.

AIM: Does it wind out farther?

B-Rob: Yes we have a lot longer RPM range on the XG and the cool thing with the electronics is we can play with that and make it shorter or higher or whatever we want to do. We’ve got some more options than we had in the past which is nice.

AIM: Is it a different frame?

B-Rob: As far as what, from last year? Yeah we went to work and developed a little bit different chassis than what they had last year so I think that’s probably the biggest change overall is the chassis and trying to get a better handling on the motorcycle.

AIM: Do all three of you (fellow Harley factory riders Jake Johnson and Kenny Coolbeth, Jr.) run the same suspension?

B-Rob: Same brand stuff but we’re all just a little different on how we like our stuff. Kenny and Jake like their stuff a little stiffer where I’m more on the soft side. Just rider preference, that’s all that really is.

2017 Harley Factory Flat Track Racing Team

Brandon Robinson (Center) joins Jake Johnson (L) and Kenny Coolbeth, Jr. (R) on the 2017 Harley Factory Flat Track Racing Team. 

AIM: What do you like best about the XG?

B-Rob: The thing I like about it the most is the fact that we have so much more options than we had with the XR with the fuel injection and the mappings and we can change a lot with the electronics. So I think that’s an added benefit where we were pretty limited with the XRs, you know, had the carburetors and you pretty much just tuned them in for wherever you were.

AIM: What types of tracks do you like best?

B-Rob: It’s weird, it’s changed over the years. I’ve always been kind of a typical blue groove, little skinny notch groove rider. And then I don’t know, Lima was kind of a weird one for me because I’ve never been known as a cushion rider but we were just on fire that night and after winning I guess I consider myself kind of a cushion rider, I don’t know (laughs). Pretty much any half-miles and miles, the bigger tracks is what I like to ride. The faster you go the more fun I have.

H-D Flat Track racer Brandon Robinson

Brandon Robinson calls landing a seat on the Harley Factory Flat Track Racing Team “surreal.”

AIM: In that regard, do you have a favorite track?

B-Rob: There’s a couple tracks I like going to. Charlotte’s one of my favorite tracks over the last couple of years. For some reason it reminds me of a track back home and I just really enjoy it. Sacramento. Springfield obviously has to be a favorite. I guess Lima now.

AIM: What do you think about the renewed rivalry between Harley and Indian?

B-Rob: It’s pretty cool. It adds a whole new dynamic to the sport so it gives the fans something else to look forward to, it gives us riders something else to look forward to. It’s bragging rights, you know, we want to beat them and they want to beat us.

But it’s not just Harley vs Indian. There’s privateers on a lot of good stuff so you can’t rule out anybody at this point. The more brands going at it the better in my opinion. It makes for better racing and makes for more interest. It’s not just a one horse show anymore.

  • It’s been a challenging start to the season so far for Robinson. After placing third in his heat race at Daytona, he finished near the back of the pack in 14th in his semi and failed to make it to the Main. At the Atlanta Short Track, Robinson cracked the Top 10 with a 10th place finish, then did one better by finishing 9th in the Charlotte Half-Mile. Now his team’s got a five-week break before the next race in Arizona, a perfect opportunity to dial in Harley’s XG750R even more in addition to providing Robinson more seat time. 

Harley Announces 2017 Factory Flat Track Team of Coolbeth, Johnson & Robinson

2017 Harley-Davidson Factory Flat Track Team

Harley-Davidson’s Factory Flat Track Racing team expands to three riders for the 2017 American Flat Track season with three-time Grand National Champion Kenny Coolbeth Jr. (right) joined by two-time Grand National Champion Jake Johnson (left) and young standout Brandon Robinson (center). All three will ride the new Harley-Davidson XG750R flat tracker exclusively. (Courtesy of American Flat Track)

It’s a flat track triple threat. The Harley-Davidson Factory Flat Track Racing Team will unleash a three-rider squad in 2017. Former AMA Pro Grand National champions Kenny Coolbeth Jr. and Jake Johnson and young flat track star Brandon Robinson will race in the legendary Factory Team leathers.

The team was announced today during a live interview with Coolbeth, Johnson and Robinson during ABC network coverage of ESPN’s X Games Aspen.

Gunning for the checkered flag aboard the fierce Harley-Davidson XG750R competition motorcycle, the formidable trio of ace racers will chase a championship on the American Flat Track (AFT) series and fight to medal in the Harley-Davidson Flat Track Racing event at ESPN’s X Games Minneapolis. The American Flat Track racing season opens during Daytona Bike Week at the March 16 DAYTONA TT on a new circuit featuring a jump to be constructed inside Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla.

“This edition of the Harley Factory Team will bring unmatched savvy and experience to the track,” said Harley-Davidson Vice President and Managing Director U.S. Mike Kennedy. “With a combined 59 Grand National wins and five AMA Pro Grand National championships, this line-up of riders knows what it takes to do battle with the lead pack and will be a force aboard our new Harley-Davidson XG750R Factory Racing bikes. If you are in Daytona for Bike Week, ride to the race and see the Factory Team in action on this exciting new TT track.”

The Harley Factory Team will field a fleet of Harley XG750R bikes for Coolbeth, Johnson and Robinson. With a custom chassis purpose-built for flat track racing, the XG750R flat tracker is powered by a race-modified, liquid-cooled, fuel-injected 750cc Revolution X V-Twin engine originally engineered for the Harley-Davidson Street 750, a motorcycle designed for maximum urban maneuverability with rebellious Dark Custom attitude. The Revolution X engine is assembled at Harley-Davidson Vehicle and Powertrain Operations in Kansas City, Missouri.

“I’m excited to be one of the riders helping to push the XG750R to the front of the field,” said Robinson. “I’m sure I’ll be battling with Kenny and Jake to see who can make history and score the first win aboard the new bike. I’ve learned a lot racing against them. Now we’re working together to bring home a championship for Harley-Davidson.”

The race-modified Revolution X engine and a racing frame for the XG750R were developed in collaboration with Vance & Hines Motorsports. The XG750R flat tracker motorcycle is not a production model. The 750cc XG Revolution X V-Twin engine is for sale through Harley-Davidson dealers today and can be modified for racing use by aspiring dealers and privateers.

Kenny Coolbeth Jr.
A three-time AMA Pro Grand National champion (2006-2008), the veteran Coolbeth has won 36 times in the Grand National Championship, more than any active racer in the series. Coolbeth claimed three consecutive titles while racing for the Harley-Davidson Factory Team from 2006 to 2013. Aboard the Zanotti Racing Harley-Davidson XR750 in 2016, Coolbeth won at the Springfield Mile and finished seventh in points. He was named the Rookie of the Year in 1994 and won his first Grand National race in 2002. Coolbeth is 39 years old and lives in Center Hill, Fla.

Jake Johnson
Jake Johnson won consecutive AMA Pro Grand National Championships (2010-2011) on Zanotti Racing Harley-Davidson XR750 motorcycles and has won 20 times in the Grand National Championship since moving up to the top pro class in 2002. In 2016 Johnson won on the Daytona short track and was fourth in the season standings. Johnson won the AMA Pro Singles class championship in 2006 and 2008 and was Rookie of the Year in 2002. Johnson is 32 years old and lives in Coatesville, Pa.

Brandon Robinson
Brandon Robinson enjoyed a break-out season in 2013 with seven top-five finishes and three victories, including a sweep of both races on the Springfield Mile. In 2016, Robinson piloted the Kennedy Racing Harley-Davidson XR750 to his fourth career victory with a win on the Lima half-mile, notched two additional podium results and finished third in the point standings. As an amateur, Robinson won the AMA Twins Expert class championship in 2008. Robinson is 26 years old and lives in Oxford, Pa.

Entering its 64th consecutive season, American Flat Track is the most historic form of American motorcycle racing. The re-vamped 2017 American Flat Track series features 18 rounds of racing headlined by powerful, twin-cylinder motorcycles in the AFT Twins class.

The Harley-Davidson Factory Flat Track Racing Team is proudly partnered with Vance & Hines Motorsports.