Murto: True ‘outlaws’ race on cycles

The term “outlaw” is used a lot in racing.

This isn’t because racers live outside the law or do anything illegal, but because there is a romantic notion of racers who live life to its fullest and on their own terms.

The World of Outlaws Sprint Cars Series got its name from a small band of professional racers decades ago who traveled the country in search of big-money races, often sleeping in the back of their pickup trucks. If you read the biographies of racers who came up in the 1960s and early ’70s, even the best of the best had their share of nights spent catching a few winks in the backseat of cars.

But today’s drivers in the World of Outlaws are as much mouthpieces for their sponsors as they are race car drivers. The days of race cars on open trailers are gone, as today’s top Sprint Car drivers pull into the pits in haulers worth more than drivers a couple decades ago could think of winning in their most successful year.

And now even the top levels of NASCAR embrace the outlaw term, as “bad boy” Kurt Busch adopted the moniker, though in reality he’s more concerned with rebuilding his brand to keep his sponsors happy and keep himself funded than he’s concerned with causing the kind of ruckus that got him fired from Roush and Penske.

But there is still a group of racers who crisscross the country and spend a lot of time living in their vans. Flat track motorcycle racers are the true outlaws of the racing world, providing some of the best racing on the planet but often ignored by the mainstream racing media.

The AMA Grand National Championship still has a legion of loyal followers. One of the oldest forms of racing in the country, it hasn’t changed since the first motorcycles tackled a dirt oval. And even though the riders no longer compete on Nortons and Indians, there are still plenty of Harley Davidsons on the track. Flat track motorcycle racing is one of the best-kept secrets in the country.

If you logged onto Fanschoice.tv Saturday night, you would have seen some great racing action from Lima, Ohio, instead of NASCAR’s Brad Keselowski show from Kentucky. Though there were only a fraction of the fans at the Lima dirt half-mile as present for the Cup race, the stands were packed to watch the motorcycles battle. The Grand National Championship always attracts a crowd.

Kyle Johnson won the feature in the Pro Singles division at Lima. But what really got the crowd excited was when Shayna Texter won the semi in the Expert Grand National division, ensuring that she’d ride her Triumph in the main event. The 23-year-old, 95-pound, 5-foot Pennsylvania native won a number of races in the Pro Singles division last season before moving up to the Expert ranks under the guidance of former national champion Joe Kopp.

Texter won on her way up to the Expert ranks, and should be promoted the way Danica Patrick was promoted. Unfortunately, some feel that the Daytona Motorsports Group — which promotes the series under American Motorcyclist Association sanction — is only interested in pulling profits, rather than making a proper investment in the series.

And Texter is not the only woman riding in the Expert ranks; Nicole Mees, wife of Lima winner Jared Mees, also rides competitively against the men on the track.

Competitive is an apt description for this type of racing. Lima’s Expert main began with Sammy Halbert jumping to a big lead, but near halfway he blew his engine. That handed the lead to Bryan Smith, who had a fierce battle with Mees before Mees secured the lead and the win. Brandon Robinson got ahead of Smith for second; later reports indicated that Smith had no brakes left at the finish.

The annual Hub City Classic AMA Grand National Flat Track event will be held Saturday night at Hagerstown Speedway. Racing starts at 6 p.m. This race gets my highest recommendation. If you’ve never seen flat track motorcycles compete, here’s a chance to see the best of the best race nearby. Go to hagerstownspeedway.com for ticket information.

The flat track competitors come back to the region in August to race on the 1.25-mile Colonial Downs facility, east of Richmond. That also gets my highest recommendation. But for now you can see the true outlaws of motorsports compete at Hagerstown on Saturday.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.