A New Event for an Old Track
A new one-mile dirt track was christened in New Jersey on October 6, 2018.
Well, no, not really, the track has been there for 42 years. But for the first time in its long history, the Meadowlands racetrack in East Rutherford, quite literally within view of the skyscrapers of Manhattan and ordinarily host to horse racing, roared with motorized competition. On a comfortable but damp early Fall evening, the American Flat Track Series presented the “Meadowlands Mile,” the season finale for its single- and twin-cylinder motorcycles.
We are not privy to any financial spreadsheets but in our judgment the spectator turnout was impressive and the racing was engaging so we expect that this will not be a one-and-done.
“It’s different, “ AFT Pro Singles rider Jesse Janisch said of the Meadowlands surface when asked how it compared to the other horse tracks the series visits, “but I don’t know whether that’s good or bad.” Janisch noted that the weather conditions, a persistently damp day with intermittent mist, made it difficult to judge, and at the time of his comments he had not yet run the 15-lap main event, just practice, qualifying, and a 6-lap heat race.
Janisch, a Wisconsin native now living in Texas, said that the combination of the loose track surface and the mist made visibility difficult, even though from trackside the spectator view was clear and relatively dry. Of the disposable “tear-off” shields used on the helmet visors of dirt track racers everywhere, Janisch said, “We’re using one every lap.”
Janisch did have praise for the Meadowlands facility overall, with his only complaint being a minor observation that the area’s convoluted roads meant that his hotel, visible from the track, was a 20-minute drive away. Some of his satisfaction with the facility, which is without question a clean and modern place, may have stemmed from his strong showing to that point: Janisch recorded the fourth fastest practice lap in field of 29, qualified his Yamaha YZ450S fifth overall with a lap time of 40.844 on the mile, and raced to a stand-em-on-their-feet second-place finish in the first heat, a mere two one-hundredths of a second behind (alongside, really) winner Kolby Carlile on a similar Yamaha.
In the feature, Janisch came home eighth, while up front Carlile was scored just six one-thousandths of a second off race winner Shayna Texter. Texter was riding a Husqvarna, one of only three in a field of entries otherwise consisting of Hondas (17), Yamahas (5), Kawasakis (2) and KTMs (2).
(Wait, a motorcycle racer who’s a Texter? Is that a good idea?)
Seriously, in a world where race car driver Danica Patrick is given attention as much for her gender as for her accomplishments on the track, flat track motorcycle racing has long been a place where women have been competing with men on a (literally) level playing field for several decades.
Elsewhere in the paddock was Jared Mees, a rider in the AFT Pro Twins who, despite the Meadowlands Mile being the last event of the year and promoted as the race where the series’ championships would be decided, had already sewn up the 2018 title and whose Indian Scout FTR750 will carry the #1 again in 2019.
(Similarly, Singles rider Dan Bromley had clinched that division’s championship before racing to a third-place finish in the New Jersey finale.)
Mees, a Floridian who has won the championship previously, is essentially an Indian factory rider, and Indian appears to be the machine of choice in the Twins, as Scouts swept eleven of the top 12 places in practice and ten of the top 12 spots in qualifying.
Mees then went on to win his 8-lap heat, but so did his Indian teammate Bryan Smith who ran away from everyone in his heat. In the main event, Smith led Mees to the checkered flag, with just 0.343 seconds separating them.
The top four in the 25-mile Twins main event all finished within a less than one-second window, the proverbial “blanket finish.” The top five were all Indians, and nine of the top 12 were Indians. Indian dominated the entry list with 13 on hand, with the balance of the 30 entries in the Twins being Kawasakis (7), Harley-Davidsons (4), Yamahas (3), Ducati (2) and a lone KTM.
We spoke to Mees while he was affixing the tear-offs to his helmet prior to qualifying, but we neglected to ask him how many he might need for the feature. Instead, prior to the start of racing we joined his father and others for a buffet dinner in the terraced restaurant overlooking the track. As Janisch noted, the Meadowlands is a nice place.
By the way, the overall top lap time in practice and qualifying was a 37.639-second lap turned by Indian rider Briar Bauman in the Twins. Bauman came home fourth in the main event, under that blanket we mentioned.
Major racing series such as Indycar and NASCAR, and even Formula One, have long been looking for a way to penetrate the New York City market. The Indy cars did in fact race at the Meadowlands in the 1980s, but that was on a temporary circuit laid out in the parking lots of the Meadowlands complex that includes MetLife Stadium, home to both the New York Giants and the New York Jets. Although it lasted a couple of years, Indy car racing at the Meadowlands was not a sustainable event at the time.
The Meadowlands Mile, on the other hand, may prove to having staying power. Advance ticket sales are one thing, but on this day when the questionable weather would certainly impact the day-of sales the turnout was strong. The place was not full but it was far from empty, the racing was compelling, and the fan engagement was some of the best we’ve seen in any form of motorsport.
Even if, like your reporter, you’re more of a “car guy” than a “bike guy,” we recommend that you put at least one of the 2019 American Flat Track events on your calendar. Maybe even on your bucket list.