Harley-Davidson came to race at Indy recently for the first time since the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened in 1909.
To call attention to the 2012 Harley-Davidson Night Rod Special, the Milwaukee-based bike maker used the backdrop of the the 2011 Indianapolis Moto GP race to gather journalists and Harley Owner Groups at “The Racing Capital of the World.” Visitors could get an up close look at the special V-Rod model and to take in the first ever AMA Pro Vance and Hines XR1200 Racing Series events at Indianapolis.
The weekend kicked off with a parade of the 2012 Night Rods around the Motor Speedway’s Moto GP course. For two-wheel racing events, the 2.5 mile track incorporates its first and fourth and its straight away (with its famous Yard of Bricks finish line) into a multi-turn road course taking up a portion of the track’s infield.
After the first day’s time trials by the professional Moto GP and Moto2 racers, Harley riders took to their own bikes for ceremonial laps around the course. Journalists brought up the rear with a chance to get a feel for the new Night Rod. While sharing the general lines and feel of a traditional Harley-Davidson cruiser, the Night Rod just might reflect the manufacturer’s new design directions more than any other bike in their line.
The wider rear tire and elevated tail section are clearly inspired by sports bikes with a racing pedigree. The low-rise handle bars and lack of a windshield also borrow from racing bikes that have been largely alien to Harley-Davidson since the company went its separate ways from Buell years ago. The result is a sleeker, eye-catching bike that grabs the attention of passers by as much as any motorcycle Harley-Davidson makes – with the possible exception of the Dark Custom Blackline.
The ride is smooth and quick thanks to an engine designed with Porsche. The resulting V-Twin Revolution uses fuel injection, liquid cooling and dual overhead cams to produce 125 horsepower with minimal vibration or hesitation. Starting north of $15,000, the Night Rod isn’t the most affordable bike in the Harley-Davidson line, but it’s the bike for any rider looking to split the difference between a metric sportster and a traditional cruiser.
Once the Night Rod’s cleared the track, the weekend’s racing begun. While more than 100,000 fans watched from the bleachers over the course of two days, Australian Casey Stoner continued to dominate the Moto GP circuit with another easy win, pushing him farther up the points standings.
But, the Indy debut of the AMA Pro Vance and Hines XR1200 races were the story of the weekend. The AMA Pro Vance & Hines XR1200 Series is a spec-bike race tour featuring specially modified XR1200 motorcycles. The kits every racer uses consists of a Vance & Hines XR1200 exhaust system, a Fuelpak fuel management system, race bodywork, single-seat tail section and belly pan, 17- inch front wheel with matching front fender, steering damper, oil cooler re-locater and race decal package.
The kit sells $3,500.00, while the standard XR 1200 goes for just under $12,000 and packs around 90 horsepower out of the showroom.
The resulting racing was the tightest and most competitive of the weekend – largely because the bikes are so basic and evenly matched. In the Moto GP world, the major sponsors and designers like Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki and Ducati dominate as the best funded, best crewed set-ups. Comparatively, it takes about $40,000 can get a racer ready to run in the XR1200. The big Moto GP teams can spend that much on a front-end component on their super bikes.
The big winner on the weekend was 23-year-old Tyler O’Hara, a part-time pro bike racer who funded his own XR1200 for his 2011 run. He came in without a sponsor and won the first race before finishing third in the second and last event of the weekend. The odds are he won’t leave Indianapolis without said sponsor.
“I’m just grateful to have the opportunity to run this Harley class,” O’Hara said. “I think Harley-Davidson and Vance and Hines have a good thing going here. I think this is going to be the future of racing, and I’m glad to be a part of it.”