Hooligan for a Day: Flat Trackin’ for the 1st Time on an RSD Hooligan Indian Scout
* Photos by Barry Hathaway courtesy of Indian Motorcycle Co.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit scared. Not Jason Voorhees chasing me with a big knife scared, but sweaty palms, heart racing, tightness in the shoulders scared.
The cause of my consternation was the fact that I was about to get a crack at riding flat track for the very first time on an RSD Hooligan Scout. Spinning some laps on a freshly prepped dirt track is something I’ve always wanted to do, and thanks to Indian Motorcycle Co inviting me out for the full Wrecking Crew experience at the OKC Mile, I was about to get my chance.
Luckily we weren’t at the OKC Mile. While some of the journalists in our group had prior experience, a handful of us were green as can be. What do they say, learn to walk before you run? Instead we were about an hour out of Oklahoma City on the outskirts of a little town called Meeker at a short track called Red Dirt Raceway, a beautiful little bowl with banked turns and tacky red clay. The track crew spent hours grooming the day before our ride, packing it down into a wonderfully manicured surface for us to spin laps on. So of course it rained. Hard. A thunderstorm rolled through the area overnight and buried the track in about an inch of water. Mother Nature has a way of throwing a wrench into even the best laid out plans.
But the crew at Red Dirt Raceway is a resourceful bunch. They got most of the water off the track then began mashing it down with a couple of rigs, one of the trucks looking like a first cousin of “Mater.” Seemed fitting since “Cars 3” had just hit the big screen. Between “Mater” and dump truck the track slowly began to take shape.
So if riding flat track for the first time on a slippery surface wasn’t stressful enough, I was going to have to demonstrate what a greenhorn I was in front of two of the best flat track riders in the world, defending Grand National Champion Bryan Smith and Brad Baker. No pressure there, right? The two Indian Wrecking Crew members were on hand to give us a little Flat Track 101. They were both getting a kick out of the conditions of the track and the nervousness in the eyes of the journalists. Nobody wanted the dubious distinction of being the first to biff in front of the pros. Then again, there was a running joke circulating between the Wrecking Crew as well. Seems like the trio agreed that whoever placed lowest in the OKC Mile had to bring their FRT750 to the track the next morning for the journos to ride. While the Wrecking Crew swept the podium, Smith finished third, so he had to drag his back-up race bike along with his tuners out to the track bright and early the next morning.
The consensus was to send Aaron Colton to test out the track first on an RSD Hooligan Scout. After all, AC has raced flat track before. He’s also one of the most talented freestyle stunt riders around, a master manipulator of throttle and clutch. Simply getting to and on the track tested every ounce of his skills. Mud was easily a couple inches thick on the dirt road leading to the track, the red clay quickly coated the tires and started to pile up on the lower fork brace, and he had to ride up a slick berm just to get on the track. Once on the straight every crack of the throttle had the bike squirming like a fish on the line and the corners were even sketchier. After a few laps he gave it a little gas coming off Turn 4 and the bike kicked out at about a 45-degree angle beneath him but like the consummate pro he saved it. A combination of cheers and laughs erupted trackside. In my head though I’m thinking here’s one of the most skilled riders I’ve ever seen and he’s got his hands full just keeping the bike upright. This wasn’t doing much to boost my confidence.
Former road racer “Dangerous” Dain Gingerelli, who’s ridden a full-fledged flat track racer before, would try his luck next on the RSD Hooligan Scout. Same results. The bike was all over the place, he was having to use his feet as pontoons to keep it upright, and just getting on and off the track was a challenge. The mud caked up so thick on the lower fork brace you could hear it rubbing against the tire from behind the fence. Once again, I sat and watched someone who has a much greater riding skill set than me struggle around the track. And my turn’s getting closer.
Between each rider the Red Dirt Raceway team would run the trucks trying to massage the track into shape. Two more riders spun intrepid laps around the raceway and came away unscathed. The time of reckoning was nigh.
Gearing up, I better understand the focus I see on rider’s faces before a big race. With each layer of gear I became more focused and determined. Deep breaths, clear mind, focus on the task at hand. Bryan Smith advised staying up high in the corners where the track was drier. Baker said because of the conditions it’d be best to roll off before corner entry and let momentum carry you through instead of staying on the gas like you’d normally do. Roll on, roll off. Stay high. These words are running through my head as I climb aboard and thumb the starter.
The RSD Hooligan Scout has a nasty snarl when it fires up. This particular bike happened to be the one Cameron Brewer races on the hooligan circuit. The pegs are staggered and the shifter is back and up. The bike has a GP shift pattern, one-up and four-down instead of the standard one-down, four-up arrangement. There’s no front brake and the pedal for the back brake is small and crusted with clay. This is going to be fun.
But all that nervous energy pumping through my body dwindled as soon as I let out the clutch, got in motion and riding instincts kicked in. I popped it into second gear as quickly as possible to let the torque slog me through the mud without a bunch of wheel spin. Enough riders had gone before me so a groove had begun to form through the muddy channel leading to the track. The clutch lever was tight but dialed and I focused on keeping it at the tip of the friction zone. Staying smooth on the throttle and maintaining my line in the corners were my primary objectives. Traction was better than anticipated, the bike only squirming every now and again on wet spots in corners. After a few laps I found my favorite line around the track, I’m staying on the throttle a little bit longer in straights and the fun factor is bumping up. One lap I have to catch the front end when it slips a bit on Turn 2, and later have to do a kick save when I feel the back end break loose, but I make it through my first session without binning the bike. Fear has been pushed aside by an adrenaline rush and the desire to do it again.
As the morning progressed the track kept getting better. The Red Dirt Raceway crew kept running trucks between riders and the surface got tackier with each session. Before long they fired up the FTR750 and AC gave it the first shakedown. Between the improved riding surface and the much lighter, nimbler FTR, Colton was able to pick up the pace and rip off some spirited laps. Indian’s flat tracker sang a furious note as it climbed towards its rev limiter. Gingerelli then took it out for a spin and had a much better go of it on the FTR. Between its stiff suspension and responsive handling in a much lighter package, Gingerelli said the race bike was much easier to ride than the bulkier RSD Hooligan Bike.
My second outing was even funner than my first. The track had more grip and I was able to get on the gas a bit earlier coming out of turns and lapped consistently faster than my first time out. I still didn’t want to be that guy, you know, the one who washed out in front of the Wrecking Crew, so I admit I still rolled on the throttle judiciously. But it was easily the most fun I’ve had on two-wheels in a long time. I’ve been bitten by the bug, have hooligan fever and there’s only one known cure. When do we do it again?