Harley-Davidson is looking to bring flat track bike racing to a national TV audience.
The motorcycle company, with a successful history in the sport, will sponsor a new event in June at the ESPN X Games in Austin, Texas.
The inaugural race will be invitational. Team Harley riders on XR 750s will compete with riders on bikes from other major brands.
Flat track racing is one of the few motorcycle racing events in which Harley is still competitive. Harley team rider Kenny Coolbeth Jr. is currently the series points leader in the AMA Pro Flat Track's GNC 1 Flat Track division.
The sport got its start in the early part of the last century and is not much changed since then. Racers ride powerful, lightweight motorcycles on dirt ovals, often one mile in length, hitting speeds of 130 mph in the straightaways and going through the corners in long, steady power slides, with one foot skidding on the dirt for support.
The racing style, and the look of the classic flat track bike, is currently undergoing a rediscovery, as hot designers like Deus Ex Machina and Roland Sands incorporate flat track design and sensibility into their custom bikes.
The sport itself is undergoing a renaissance too. Flat track races occur regularly at Perris Raceway, and the traditional horse track at Del Mar now features periodic 1/8-mile dirt track racing.
Harley's U.S. marketing director, Dino Bernacchi, said Harley and ESPN dreamed up the race event after partnering last year to showcase ice racing on Harley motorcycles. Harley was promoting its new Street line of motorcycles, and the exhibition led to the creation of a new X Games event.
Harley believes the flat track racing event will be a sustained effort, unlike the one-off ice racing.
"It's here to stay, as far as we're concerned," Bernacchi said.
The summer X Games, which are more known for skateboard- and BMX-related competitions, are promoting an increasing number of motorcycle events, including motocross and enduro cross races and exhibitions.
The inclusion of flat track racing involves a substantial commitment. The ESPN-owned X Games is building an entirely new 3/8-mile track for the dirt oval races on the grounds of the massive Circuit of the Americas racetrack, also known as COTA.
The flat track races, which will be the kick-off event for the June 4-7 games, will give Harley a good opportunity to show off its XR 750 but will also be a showcase for either a new line or new model -- Bernacchi wouldn't say which.