Back in 1953 when an Indian motorcycle took its last turn around a flat track, there were probably more than a few people who thought they’d never see the company field a race bike again. Gone would be the longstanding rivalry of Indian vs. Harley Davidson, and with it the Indian Wrecking Crew of Bill Tuman, Bobby Hill and Ernie Beckman roaring down a packed dirt straight away at 100 mph winning one race after another.
Nearly 65 years later, the doubters have been proven wrong, and Indian’s return to the sport has given fans of flat track a return of a rivalry to look forward to. But the path to get here hasn’t been easy for the sport or Indian’s most recent owner, Polaris.
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For decades flat track had been the most popular motor sport in the US, but by the 1980s fans began to lose interest, drawn instead to the crazy antics of motocross and the knee and elbow-down physics-defying MotoGP racers.
Flat track races are a loud, dirty, brawl on two wheels. Racers go handlebar-to-handlebar around the entire track, lap after lap. The races are mostly held on either half-mile or mile courses on hard-packed dirt. Horse racing tracks are sometimes used as a venue for the longer races.
Engines in the top category can’t exceed 750cc, there are no front brakes, the bikes can’t weigh more than 300 lb (136 kg), and the riders are more often than not built like horse jockeys.
On mile tracks, they’ll hit speeds of up to 120 mph (193 km/h) by the time they hit the left-hand turn. The bikes are slowed with a combination of downshifting, rear braking and an extended left leg.
For some, flat track is an acquired taste, but for a growing number of…