He’s the man to beat on the mile. Race results speak for themselves. Crosley Radio Kawasaki rider Bryan Smith has won all three AMA Pro Flat Track mile races this season, most recently on Du Quoin’s “Magic Mile” where a perfectly timed move out of the draft of Jared Mees and Kenny Coolbeth, Jr. helped him slingshot up the inside past them to win the race by a hair. He’s won five consecutive victories on the Sacramento Mile to go with five wins on the Springfield Mile. He’s the 2012, 2013, and 2014 GNC Expert Twins Champion, and were it not for a broken oil sight glass and a smoking motorcycle in the next-to-last race at Calistoga, most likely he’d have been the 2014 Grand National Champion as well. But such is the fickle fate of racing.
Smith though isn’t the type to cry over spilled milk. There’s no changing the past. But he can use it as a driving force to capture what has so far been the elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, flat track’s Grand National Championship.
“Definitely after missing out on it by the slimmest of margins last year it’s only made me hungrier this year. I worked hard in the off season to make my team and myself better for this season and I think it’s showing already. We’re here to do business this year, for sure,” said Smith.
His chances of finally capturing the title he seeks look favorable. A peek at the remaining races shows six out of eight are on Twins, with two miles and four half-miles on the docket. The Kawasaki rider has been on a tear this season, not only winning all three miles, but claiming gold in the first-ever Harley-Davidson Flat Track race at the 2015 X Games. No other rider has won more than one GNC1 race this season. And while X Games gold is sweet, no amount of X Games gold is as sugary as the Grand National No. 1, Smith’s ultimate goal.
“It’s what I’m working for, it’s what I’ve always been working for ever since I was a kid. Even if I win 200 X Games gold medals, it’s still not the Grand National Championship.”
When asked why he’s such a beast on the mile, Smith said there’s no real answer.
“It’s like, why is Henry Wiles so good at Peoria, he’s won it 10 times in a row. It’s something he probably can’t explain and I can’t really explain why I’m better on the mile.”
But he did give clues to his success.
“My style as a racer has always been inherently smooth and calculated and miles reward smooth, calculated riding. When you’re going 130 or 140 you’d think it’d be aggressive, but really the smoother and more precise you can be, it all leads to momentum and miles-per-hour which is what you’re going after on the mile,” Smith stated.
He also credits his success to watching nine-time Grand National Champion Scott Parker on TV, reasoning that to be flat track champion, he’s got to win those miles.
Smith’s association with Parker runs deeper than simply watching him on TV though. Smith’s father and Parker went to high school together. And while the rapport between the two waned for a few years, about the time Smith started riding motorcycles his father and Parker reestablished their friendship. Parker was Grand National Champion at the time and Smith and his dad would watch him race on ESPN.
“So here I am meeting the best racer in the world that’s on TV at that time and I’ve got a bike at home so I’m riding around pretending I’m gonna be Scott Parker one day.”
Not only did he watch Parker race growing up, he also had the privilege of joining him on Michigan’s frozen lakes near their hometown during the winter for some two-wheeled ice riding and racing.
“When I was a kid that was actually the first place before I raced, I actually rode through the winter on the ice. You’d show up just to ride on the lake and there’d be 50 guys at least every weekend riding. So I’d show up as a little kid and like I was telling you, there’d be Scott Parker out there riding and Jay Springsteen, and then there’s a whole gaggle of pros and coming-up pros that’d be out there riding and other amateur kids. So literally I spent my whole time growing up chasing those guys around the lake,” Smith said.
The bonds between the Smiths and Parkers has grown to the point where they consider each other extended family members. And if you’re going to have a mentor as a flat track racer, it doesn’t get any better than having Scotty as an advisor. This bond is another reason Smith points to when talking about his success in the mile.
“So growing up, every time I got a shot at riding the mile it was extra cool to me because now I’m doing what Parker did and I’d hang it out a little bit more, and for whatever reason that made me better in the miles, I guess.”
Their friendship would come full circle when Bryan won his first Springfield Mile.
Smith won a 2015 Harley Street 750 at the 2015 Austin X Games to go along with his gold medal.
“The first time I won the Springfield Mile was 2007 and he was there that day. I come around and everyone’s standing there cheering that I won, which was cool. Then we got back home the next week and we had lunch together, me and some of his buddies that I’m friends with, and he goes, ‘Man, you come out of the fourth with the checkered flag and I had a tear in my eye. I never cried once when I won, but for some reason, I was all emotional. I remember when you were just a little kid over in the garage hanging out with your dad and now here you are winning the Springfield Mile. I couldn’t believe the emotion I had for it. That was pretty special to me to hear him say that,” Smith recounts.
He also praises his team and Kawasaki’s 650 Parallel Twin for his success, saying gradually they’ve been getting it a little better every year. This year has been particularly competitive, with races decided by inches. Smith credits the Harley teams for doing their homework over the winter, then adds “luckily my guys did, too.” And while the bikes have been getting faster than ever, it also makes them harder to ride in the corners. That’s when knowing when to unleash the Kawasaki’s powerband plays in his favor, as does experience on mile-long courses because often riders have a micro-second to make a race-winning move.
When asked what it’s going to take to bring home the championship this year, Smith said “Just keep doing what I’ve been doing – win. There’s two more miles and I need to win them and do really, really good on some of these half miles. It’s definitely possible after last season’s half miles we were really good in.”
Smith would like to whittle into Mees’ lead a little every weekend, hoping to make as many points as possible before the indoor short track finale in Las Vegas because he says Mees is one of the best in the world on that type of track. He’ll do his homework and be ready, though, and will work hard sharpening his game on the Singles and improving his game before then.
“It’d be real nice to go into that Vegas race and have it wrapped up before then so I can sit in the stands and drink beer and watch those guys run around the short track,” Smith said with a hearty laugh.
While Smith has been the hottest flat track racer as of late, the style of racing he loves has also been a hot commodity. He had a few ideas that have contributed to the rise of flat track’s popularity recently, including the fact that high profile MotoGP racers like World Champion Marc Marquez are using the sport to train and the return of the Superprestigio competition. The exposure it received from the X Games definitely helped, too. Having former World Superbike champ Troy Bayliss come to America and compete in the AMA Pro Flat Track series helped draw international attention, too. Another former WSBK champion, Colin Edwards, has his own flat track school, and the Hayden family has always ridden flat track. Add it all up and suddenly flat track racing is the cool thing to do.
Speaking of Superprestigio, Smith said he’d be competing in the first Superprestigio of the Americas this year. When asked if he’d be competing in the international Superprestigio in Spain, he said it’s a possibility but preferably with the Grand National title under his belt. If he does go, we said he’s got to beat Marquez, Smith assuring us “I’ll win it or wear it!”
Before rubbing elbows with Marquez though, Smith has business to attend to. It starts this weekend at the Indy Mile. It continues on seven dirt tracks around the U.S. after that. It will culminate in Las Vegas November 20. After that, maybe Smith will have a chance to get together with friend and sponsor Kid Rock, crack open a can of Kid Rock’s BadAss Beer to mix with the taste of GNC gold lingering on his palate.