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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.