AMA/Vance&Hines Harley-Davidson XR1200s at the Red Bull Indianapolis GP, August 27-29, 2011

XR means more than just Xtra Race

story and photos by Tim Hailey

Tyler O'Hara and Steve Rapp race elbow to elbow through turn 10 at Indy


You might say I didn’t have the best attitude. I heard from a couple of sources (the lovely Jennifer Dowling and the dashing Barry Gilsenan) that Orient Express’s Skip Dowling was at the MotoGP race hanging with Chris Taylor of K-Tech Suspensions. So I called him. “Hey,” Skip said, “I’m headed to the front straight to watch the Harley race.”

“Really?” I asked, genuinely surprised.

“Yeah, it’s gonna be a great race.”

Well, it might be a close race, I thought to myself, but a great race? Anyone who talks with me for more than 5 minutes will surely hear that A: I don’t like spec series, and B: nostalgia is for shows, not real racing.

The pack of XR1200s fan out at all angles

The AMA/Vance&Hines Harley-Davidson XR1200s are great looking bikes but in a decidedly nostalgic way. At a quick glance my photos of the bikes at Indy 2011 could have been from 1971, what with the big square number plates and all. But hey, the Harley phenomenon has always been about nostalgia, at least since 1971, anyway, and there’s been plenty of good money in that while contemporary culture has kept yours truly mostly busted.

So, I decided to watch these bikes that pack nearly 10X the displacement of Dorna's 125s and lap the Indy road course nearly 10 seconds slower. Down the front stretch they look more like the Indy Mile (sadly cancelled this year because of the State Fair stage collapse and resulting lawsuits) than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with the riders reaching down to the forks with their clutch hands for a more aerodynamic profile. And aerodynamics are important with these bricks, as Tyler O’Hara took race 1 with a classic draft and slingshot move past Steve Rapp to the finishline.

In the corners they, well, lets say they make taking their picture much easier than a faster bike would. And the riding styles are as diverse as the levels of talent—seasoned pros like Steve Crevier and Jason DiSalvo, aggressive young riders like O’Hara, and H-D dealers’ sons—no, I’m not talking about you here Donny.

Safe! Darren James, who finished 9th in Race 1, slides off turn 10 in Race 2

The pit area was a cool scene, under canopies and much more like a dirt track than the über slick MotoGP garages. Terry Vance was proudly soaking the whole thing in, though it was sort of tucked away in turn 5 (oval turn 2) behind the museum. “We should be up there!” said Terry, waving towards the garages and Ducati Island.

Race 2 again saw O’Hara and Rapp battling near the front, with eventual winner Chris Fillmore inches ahead of them in first. Points leader Fillmore was taken out by a part-timer in Race 1. "I knew what I needed to do and figured if I could stay out front then I'd be in control of everything that happened," said Fillmore. "I got the holeshot and just kept it pinned. Rapp and I went back and forth for quite awhile and Tyler got in there as well. I even fell back to third at one point but I made a quick move and went right back to the front. That's where I wanted to be. I was hoping to dominate but those guys kept me honest. When we got down to two laps to go I went around Rapp on the outside of Turn 1 and really never looked back from there. He stayed close but I wanted that win more than anything."

Chris Fillmore cuts a smooth line on a heavy motorcycle

The win moved Fillmore’s points margin over Rapp to 12 with just one race left this weekend in New Jersey.

After the race I found Skip, his flight cancelled because of Hurricane Irene, hustling off to catch up with Gilsenan for a ride back to New York. I, for one, was glad he talked me into paying close attention to the XR1200s. Sure, this series was no doubt created just to give Harley dealers a reason to attend AMA races, but to hell with being a purist.

complete XR1200 race photo gallery

Find out more about the AMA/Vance&Hines Harley-Davidson XR1200s