Flat track racing in the 1960s and 70s was ranked the No. 1 motorcycling event in the nation. Rosters were lined with star-studded talent like Kenny Roberts, Freddie Spencer, Eddie Lawson and Wayne Rainey. By the 1980s, those stars and the manufacturers who supported them transitioned into the more glamorous road racing arena, adding more money and more profile into the sport. The second wave of motorcycle racing continued into the evolution of motocross and Supercross racing in the new millennium. As a result, the dust had settled on the oval, but flat track racing wasn’t left behind. Rather, it was anticipating its moment to reclaim the spotlight.
This year, Progressive American Flat Track is ready to welcome both racers and fans back, with an exciting new season, beginning March 12.
“In 2020, we found ourselves in a position where we had to postpone our season’s starting, 22 hours before we were due to race at Daytona Motor Speedway,” said Michael Lock, CEO of Progressive American Flat Track. “We were really forced to think about what we had to do to get the show back on the road. We were very fortunate that we had a lot of experts working across the street from us at NASCAR, looking at the same set of problems. We put together a set of protocols of how we would behave, with track and trace and social distancing. By the middle of July, we got our season going and we ended up running 15 out of 18 races last year and that really set us apart.”
Lock commented that Progressive American Flat Track is now a year older and wiser as a result of the pandemic in 2020.
“We’ve carried protocols forward and modified a few things because the environment this year will not be the same as it was in March last year,” Lock said. “When we announced our schedule, we did it on the basis that we have a very high level of confidence that we will actually be able to run those. We put a lot of work into this because we realized early on that our survival as a sport depended on convincing people who had no interest in our sport to let us run. In that respect, we had to join other people’s worlds rather than get them to join ours. And that thinking was what guided us from the beginning. I think it’s been successful.”
With a history of strong self-sustaining sponsorships, overcoming the hurdles of 2020 propelled businesses to bring that glamor back into the sport with non-endemic partnerships. Mission Foods – the nation’s top manufacturer of tortillas, tortilla chips, flatbreads and other baked products – has been named the official partner of Progressive AFT’s premier class, now known as the Mission SuperTwins class, as well as the “Official Tortillas and Chips of Progressive American Flat Track.”
“First, I think it is a sign that the sport is a desirable place to be, it has growth and excitement about it. Second, the sport is not to be underestimated at all,” Lock said. “This partnership brings reach for the sport to the outside world. We spoke with the Mission team and they have a set of promotions for this year where Progressive American Flat Track displays will go into grocery stores in cities where we’re going to be running our races. We couldn’t have dreamed of something like that! Motorcycling getting into grocery stores! It’s been a long, long time since anybody has been able to do anything like that. So, the importance of these partnerships is not to be underestimated.”
Not only will the Mission Foods partnership bring new reach to the sport, riders will be rewarded and featured to a greater audience, opening the door for them to obtain personal sponsorships.
“If we put the glamour and the money back, I think we can resurrect the sport,” Lock said. “Having Mission promote our stars and put them into grocery stores where the general public will see them is a bridge to creating the next generation of new riders.”
For the audience, both in person and watching from home, Progressive American Flat Track has a lot to offer this season.
“The three classes are all very different to each other, not only with the machinery, but with the characters involved,” Lock said. “We attract people who love the sport. We have several young athletes from small-town America. These kids grew up with wide open spaces and not much to do other than riding the bikes in dirt ovals and hanging off the bike and going sideways; that’s the heritage of the sport. If you fast forward to now, when you walk through our paddock, you will see father and son teams, or you will see the small local business who support these the talented kids. And for new fans, they can find a comfortable landing coming into the sport where they can relate to the people involved.”
Attracting younger fans who are of the “instant gratification” generation, flat track is the perfect format to keep their attention.
“Unlike road racing, flat track races are in a short format. Our semis and our main events are races that can be anywhere between five and 15 minutes and there are nine races in each event. And on top of that, if you sit in the grandstand at any flat track race, you can see the whole track and watch the race develop. It keeps fans motivated and wanting more!”
Don’t miss the 2021 season of Progressive American Flat Track racing, beginning on March 12 and 13, at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, FL, or watch from home on NBCSN and TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold.
For more information about Progressive American Flat Track, visit americanflattrack.com.