Bryan Smith went into Charlotte Half-Mile looking for his first win of 2017. Well he got what he came for: a dominant win, 3.769 of a second over Jared Mees to close the points gap to eight points and get a little redemption for last year’s steel-shoe debacle.
“We kicked their ass, it’s pretty easy to write that quote,” Bryan said with a laugh. “Obviously you go to every race and you want to win but until you get out there you really don’t know what’s going to happen. All day I just felt really comfortable; kind of similar to how I felt in 2015. I felt like if I needed to go faster I could and it wasn’t like a big deal to go that little harder. Usually if you’re going for a win – or even if you’re not – on a 750 you’re going as hard as you can. So when somebody passes you and you got to go more usually it’s like your eyes get big and you get death grip, but today it just felt like: ‘Okay, Brad’s (Baker) right there. I’ll go a little bit more, work around, find a better line.’ I just felt really comfortable today. It was one of those days that don’t happen very often: where you just feel comfortable right out of the truck. I was definitely stoked on just having fun riding, not really having to work hard at anything. It just happened.”
And of course winning’s always fun, but it’s also critical for defending that number-one plate. So Bryan is happy to have the win and disrupt Mees’ momentum going into the five-week break before the Mile tracks.
“It’s bragging rights going into the break,” Bryan said. “It shut Jared (Mees) down from his helmet getting any bigger. Then obviously we get a break and then going to the miles, so it’s not like we had to wait until the miles to win. Seriously: I want to keep this number-one plate. It’s time to win. Like I said before, I feel like if I beat Jared I’m going for the win, or if I beat Jared I’m going for the championship. So I just got to keep beating him.”
Before the third round of the American Flat Track Series at the Charlotte Half-Mile, there was a big production shoot for NBC Sports network at NASCAR’s photo studio in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina. In between the photo shoots and video takes, Bryan Smith had a chance to talk about The Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway and his thought’s going into the Charlotte Half Mile.
“I like Charlotte. I like the track,” Bryan said about the facility. “I won it two years ago. I was in the hunt to win it last year until my steel shoe came off. So I’m excited. Since I’ve been racing we’ve always struggled with getting to a good track – a consistently good track – with a good facility. So it’s cool to come to Charlotte because you know the facility’s great. We’re in racing country out here in Charlotte. We know the track’s going to be good if not great.”
He also likes where he’s sitting in the championship, even being a bit behind in second.
“Yeah, where I’ve lost the championship has been consistency,” he said. “I finally won it last year being more consistent. This year defending it I’m going to need to be really consistent. We started off with a second and third. As much as you want to win all the races you just can’t. So two of my worst tracks looking at my personal record book, the first two races would be two of my worst race tracks for good finishes. So to get second and third is exactly what I need to do for another championship run, is be consistent. Thankfully we were able to do that with a second and a third.
That being said, Bryan wants to be more than consistent. He wants that win and he wants that win in Charlotte: “I want to win it again. Period!”
It’s not just about winning, it’s about some redemption after last year’s steel-shoe malfunction. So will he be bringing some extra screws? “Yeah, my steel shoes glued and screwed on,” he answered. “I’m going to have to rip my whole boot off.”
Being a champion, the end goal is always to win. But at the end of the day, defending the Grand National Championship is the ultimate goal. So Bryan Smith was okay with getting through the first two tracks – the Daytona TT and Atlanta Short Track – with a decent points haul with a second-place finish in Daytona and a third-place finish in Atlanta before heading to the bigger tracks he prefers.
“Yeah… a TT and technically a short track,” Bryan said about the 3/8-mile clay track in Woodstock, Georgia. “This is a pretty big short track, but… To be right there in the points is good. The ovals are getting bigger and I like the bigger ovals. I wanted to go the other way on the podium and get a win.
“I felt pretty good all day. It was just one of those things. I just couldn’t get that next little click better all day. I was just kind of stuck there in second, third fastest. Slipped back there in the main to fourth for a little bit and finally reeled Brad back in. It was just so one-lined, so then when you’d move off your one line you’d screw up and lose everything you made up. I don’t even know how I could do any better if I could re-do it right now. We got seven days to figure it out.
So Bryan heads to Charlotte with some thinking to do. “I’m going to be beating my head on the wall the next 48 hours over what we can make or change or build to get me a win at Charlotte,” he said. “I won there two years ago and was on track there to win last year, I felt like. It would be a good place to get my first Indian win.”
There were so many unknowns going into this year’s American Flat Track season opener – an all-new purpose-built TT inside the famous Daytona International Speedway, Twins racing TTs for the first time in the modern era, brand new bikes and a new race format. But it wasn’t like Bryan Smith was attached to the Short Track outside of the stadium or racing on Motocross 450s in dirt0track trim.
For Smith, Daytona has been all about getting through the Short Track doubleheader with minimal damage in recent memory, but this year Daytona went much better with a Heat win, a top-three finish in the Semi and a second place finish in the Main for his Indian Motorcycle Racing backed by Allstate squad.
“It’s not been my forte,” Bryan said about the old Short Track. “Neither has TT’s, and I’m second. I was going to be happy with a top five – that was my goal. So I’m happy to leave here second and being real close to Jared (Mees) in the points obviously is good.”
So it was a good start to his Grand National Championship defense, leaving Daytona just five points behind rival Jared Mees. It also was a good night for Indian Motorcycle, a one-two finish straight out of the gate for the brand’s first full-season in the championship in over fifty years.
“It was exciting,” Bryan said about the Main. “I came off the line decent, but kind of got a little squirrelly in the first corner and settled into like fifth or something. Then somebody ran wide, maybe broke. I’m not really sure. It was kind of chaos. I settled in and I saw it was halfway. I thought we were closer to the end. It was a long race. At that point, I was behind Donny Mullen and was thinking, ‘Man, Donny Mullen’s going to school me right off the couch.’ He’s just a heck of a small track rider and this is tight corners. Picked up on a couple things he was doing and finally just out-braked him into the first corner. I then settled into I think third, and then the number 20 bike (Vanderkooi) broke I believe.
“I felt some pressure a few times – I don’t know if that was Hank (Wiles) or somebody else. But as soon as you would hear somebody you’d get on the gas and that would mess you up worse than just not getting on the gas. You were panicking but trying to be a relaxed panic all at the same time. It was a technical track, not just because the long straightaways and the corners but with how slick it was… Second place at a TT at Daytona, I’m happy.”
On the eve of the 2017 American Flat Track season opener of the inaugural Daytona TT, there are a lot of unknowns. A new class structure to race twins on a TT for the first time in 20 years, a new bike – the Indian Scout FTR750 – and a new race format that requires riders to be on their game for more than just a heat race to make it to the main.
So here are Bryan Smith’s thought’s heading into the season opener.”I’m pumped to have the number one plate. It’s really exciting to lead the way, per se, and with a lot of unknowns. Not only here at Daytona but for the whole season, with Indian coming in and obviously Harley stepping up their game… So it’s pretty cool. My expectations are to defend my title and hopefully it starts tomorrow on the awesome TT track here in Daytona.”
At the same time, racers, competitors…they’re all perfectionists. So it’s hard to go into the season with a shorter than normal window of preparation to get the Twin sorted out, let alone a new machine, on a new track. But it’s the same for everyone else, and Bryan’s going with another proven plan outside of preparation – winging it.
“I think it’s the same story for all of us,” he said. “Would we all like to have this replica (track) in our back yard and five bikes to wear out? Yeah. But nobody had that. So we’re all kind of in the same boat. It’s going to be a survival I think more than a race, between the track conditions and everybody’s motorcycles being new, and new to racing at that, with the Indian and the FTR. So it’s going to be fun but are we as prepared as we want to be? I don’t think there’s nobody in the pits in Daytona that’s as prepared as they want to be, but we’re all going give it our 100%. I know I am. Some of my best results came from just winging it and going with it. So that’s what I’m doing tomorrow.”
To watch the American Flat Track Daytona TT live, go to Fanschoice.tv.