Michael Lock retools the American Flat Track for the 21st century

American Flat Track (AFT) is one of the oldest, and arguably the most extreme, forms of motorsport in the United States. Over the past six years, the series has sought to create the perfect competitive mix of multiple riding disciplines with Michael Lock. at the bar.

The series formally dates back to 1954, but its roots were firmly established decades ago with motorcycle racers roaming the country. And like most major sports, AFT is continually challenged to stay at the forefront of relevance.

A combination of motocross, road racing and track racing skills is required to win the championship as AFT competes on half-mile and one-mile dirt ovals and hybrid tracks known as the name of TT with left and right turns. The series competes on tracks often associated with much heavier sprints, midgets and stock cars that rely on a cushion of dirt to help them glide through the corners. It’s tough with four wheels – and even harder on two.

As riders seek to achieve balance on their bikes, Lock is tasked with finding the perfect balance for the series.

“We have elements of everything,” Lock told NBC Sports. “This is one of the interesting factors around American Flat Track, which you can relate to a wide variety of other motorsports, both two and four wheeler. One of the cool things about it is that it sits almost completely in the middle of motocross and road racing. It’s almost dirt road racing.

“I thought back to the history of American Flat Track, and in the 1970s the legion of world-class and famous American road racers who dominated MotoGP throughout the 1980s all came from Flat Track. They all first learned their skills on the dirt and then translated them into road racing.

“Then you move quickly towards the rise of motocross and supercross in the ’80s and’ 90s and you can see that crossover there as well. What we’ve been doing for the last couple of years is trying to come full circle. and put back into Flat Track some of the things that left it between the ’70s and’ 90s. We have famous names from motocross and supercross that raced in our series. We have famous names from road racing that have raced in our series. run in our series, mixing it all together is a real advantage for us.

Think of it like trying to insert a square dowel into a round hole while also inserting a triangle in it.

After meeting Jim France at Daytona Bike Week in the 1990s, the two developed a relationship that ultimately led Lock to lead AFT.

While his brother Bill France, Jr. led NASCAR to its heyday, Jim guided AMA Pro Racing. After that fateful day at Daytona, Lock and France went their separate ways, with France eventually taking on increased responsibilities at NASCAR and Lock working with renowned brands such as Triumph and Ducati motorcycles and Lamborghini.

Michael Lock monitors the TT course in the Atlanta Motor Speedway infield, a track that combined left and right turns, jumps and directly incorporated the paved front as the finish line. (American flat track)

“(France) asked me to come and help them innovate and modernize professional racing AMA, which is the sanctioning body for American Flat Track and various other disciplines, ”said Lock. “It was in 2015. I came to Florida to take a look at the business and write a strategic proposal on how to develop the sport. He liked it and offered to come and do it.

Two years later, AFT signed a major deal with NBC to broadcast their events and the Championship was revamped to its current iteration.

The synergy between AMA Pro Racing and NASCAR has paid off.

“We explore the crossover (between NASCAR and AMA) all the time to try to determine what the value is,” Lock said. “But I can tell you that over the past two or three years, the greatest value for us with our association with NASCAR has been tapping into their expertise. The number of bridges they have crossed in the last 40 or 50 years.

“The number of things they have learned are real nuggets of intelligence, because where we are with Flat Track is: we take a very traditional motorcycle sport, the oldest form of motorcycle sport, and we let’s try to calibrate it for the 21st century so that it’s not just relevant to the legion of fans who love it, who could easily be called baby boomers, and try to rotate the sport and make it relevant. and exciting for new generations.

“It’s been a priority for NASCAR for some time. So it’s been very helpful for us to understand some of the things they’ve done and try to translate them into our sport.

Jared Mees enters the final with four straight wins, including a double sweep of the Illinois State Fairgrounds Mile. (American flat track)

It’s worked.

This year AFT kicks off its season finale on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Dirt Track Half Mile the same week NASCAR faces Roval. Austin Dillon will be the Grand Marshal for the AFT season finale as they look to make even more connections to the stock car series.

And Dillon and the fans will witness one of the tightest battles in AFT history. Four points separate two title contenders in the Mission AFT Twins premier division, essentially making it a win-win event.

Jared Mees and Briar Bauman have dominated in recent years. Mees won the Twins title in 2017 and 2018; Bauman was victorious in 2019 and 2020. This year they have accumulated 10 wins in 15 races. Each rider only managed to reach the podium twice during the remarkable battle.

Bauman quickly took the lead in points as Mees got injured before the third round and lost a lot of ground. With a handful of races remaining, Mees turned up the heat and won five of the last six rounds.

“We’re really looking forward to (the final),” Lock said. “I’ll tell you that we haven’t had a chance to properly combine our program with a NASCAR program before. We went to Charlotte last year on NASCAR weekend but we had rain so unfortunately we couldn’t take advantage of it.

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