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Grid Talk – Mick Kirkness | Columns | Gassit Garage

Flat track is enjoying a surge in popularity – and it’s not just the Yanks who are doing it

You competed in Flat Track in the X Games ’17. How did that come about?

I’ve been invited to all the X Games they’ve had now: ’15, ’16 and ’17. I think that’s largely because I spent quite a bit of time racing in the States – ’06 was my first year.

I made my first main event in ’08, was Rookie of the Year in ’09, and I’ve been going over and making at least one main event every year since then, to keep my national number.

We went over to Daytona in 2015, Dan Johnson was organising it, and I said you can’t really have X Games, supposedly the best in the world, with just Americans! You’d better invite some Australians.

Lucky enough I got in and made the main event, and I’ve been getting an invite to go back each year.

Can you tell us what the main difference is when you’re flat-tracking larger bikes like the Harley XR750?

With the bigger bikes, I think the idea is not to be so aggressive with them. They’re a big, heavy thing, so you sort of have to let them find their own way.

Unlike a 450 where you just throw it where you want it, with the big twins you don’t really want them in hard turns where you will upset them. You need to keep the wheels in line a bit more and drive sideways.

When you first sit on them, they feel really awkward, uncomfortable and weird! But once you get to go around the track on them, you find out they work pretty good. Once they are up to speed on the bigger tracks, you don’t even notice how heavy they are.

Do you get much scope for changing bike set-up in this type of racing?

You can adjust a lot actually. You can start with wheelbase, back and forth with the rear.

They have a heim joint on the bottom of the shock, so you can alter swingarm angle to adjust the ride height. Preload on the spring, of course. Compression and rebound front and rear … and you can alter the offset of the triple clamps so you can shorten or lengthen the front, which will make it turn a lot quicker or slower, or make it drive harder. It can also make it get real twitchy, so you get sideways easier. The steering head bearings are in an offset cup, so you can alter the rake as well as the offset. These bikes are really quite adjustable!

You can drag them out of the truck one day, and the thing is just dialled. Two days later you pull them out somewhere else and it’s not even close to the money. You really need to be on them all the time so you know what to change at each track and be consistently good. That was one of the biggest challenges of going over there for a one-off ride.

The track you were racing on at Minneapolis for the X Games, is that typical? It looked really bumpy…

Nah, they’re not usually like that at all. Most of the racetracks in the US are really old sprint car tracks that have had a lot of use, and they prep up really, really smooth.

At X Games, they just put six inches of dirt on the parking lot of Mall America a few days before the event! It didn’t get time to settle. Tracks like that are never smooth – but they did do an awesome job for what they had to work with.

Since you were there last time, are the crowds changing? Is flat track getting more popular?

I think the X Games concept is unreal. Everybody’s pumped to be there and it’s probably a younger sort of fan base. I think with Indian coming back there is a lot more hype in the series – some new rules and more manufacturers, more bikes. Flat track has so much potential at the moment, and with a few tweaks it could really be something.

These bikes, on a mile track, will do 130mph. It doesn’t matter how well the track is prepped, there is always going to be a groove or notch you want to try and stay on. Obviously, the longer races in the States are a bit more strenuous, but I do like that. It’s a real strategy thing, because rather than having to rush into things and get a pass happening quickly, you can pick people off. So I like the longer races, I love it.

What are the next big things you have coming up?

There are some big meetings coming up – NSW Championship and Australian Championships in Mildura. But the biggest thing is I’m about to be a dad! That’s the most important thing on my mind at the moment.

  Interview MATT O’CONNELL