299 Days: Briar Bauman on Defending a Championship
It was nearly five months ago that we last checked in with reigning Grand National Champion Briar Bauman to speak about his impending title defense ahead of the (then) fast approaching 2020 American Flat Track opener.
At that time, Bauman delved deep into both his physical and mental preparation in anticipation of his greatest challenge as a racer yet.
Now we’re doing it again, and for good reason.
What lies ahead is an all new season, even compared to the old new season. The schedule is different, not just in its dates and venues, but in its construction and flow. The physical and mental pressures are different. The entire world is different.
299 days will have passed from the time Bauman earned the #1 plate to the when he actually first brandishes it on his factory Indian Motorcycle FTR750 for battle in AFT SuperTwins presented by Vance & Hines competition. A not insignificant portion of those days was spent in limbo, not quite sure how the season (and world at large) would take shape or how to best prepare for it.
Bauman proudly brandishing his freshly-earned #1 plate at the 2019 Minnesota Mile.
Photo: Scott Hunter, American Flat Track
Before the cancellation of the DAYTONA TT and subsequent postponement of the season, Bauman was living his off-season dream, working with legendary trainer Aldon Baker to lay the foundation for his bid to repeat. Everything changed rapidly after that.
“When DAYTONA got cancelled, (fiancée/AFT Singles presented by Russ Brown Motorcycle Attorneys star) Shayna (Texter) and I came back to Pennsylvania. It was like going to a different country. Florida was like, ‘Ah man, there's something going on…’ But we got back to Pennsylvania and you couldn't buy half the things you needed; all the meat sections were cleaned out, the toilet paper was cleaned out, every gym was closed, every motocross track was closed. Like I said, it was basically a different country.”
“It made it tough. Originally, we thought we were going to get back to racing right away, or at least within a couple of weeks. That was a lot of the racers' mindsets because we were so excited that we were kinda overlooking how serious everything was.
“After like three or four weeks, it was like, ‘Wait a minute, let’s slow our roll. We don't know when we're going back. No one does.’
“So basically, we didn't get a chance to motocross or ride at all for a while. We kept up on the gym stuff because luckily, we have quite a bit of equipment here at our house. But even that had to get toned back because we were doing all the same training as if we were prepping to go into the season, but suddenly, we weren't.
“We got to a point where we accepted that we didn't know when we were going to get going. Aldon pulled the reins back a bit. I enjoy doing some of the stuff. I enjoy riding my bicycle. But, the actual day-in and day-out grind... By the end of the year, I'm over it. So… I don’t want to say not having a purpose, but not having a date to shoot for, it was brutal, so we mellowed out a bit.
“But finally, as of the last month or so, the motocross tracks opened back up. We've been getting back to riding again pretty frequently, like two to three times a week again. That’s been big.”
On the bright side, the forced time away gave Bauman’s left wrist -- which he broke and secretly nursed for the majority of his triumphant ‘19 season -- ample time to mend.
Bauman quietly nursing his injured wrist before a victory lane T.V. interview.
“I'd definitely say I'm 100% there now,” he said. “I feel I've had a chance to ride quite a bit again lately, and as far as on the bike, I'm 100%. It feels so good to be able to grip with both hands now compared to three-fourths of the season last year.
“I don’t have quite the full range of motion that I did before. I would still say I'm at 95% in terms of range of motion, which can be tough sometimes. But for what we do on the bike, I’m good. That’s one bonus of the whole deal.”
Baked into Bauman’s explanation of the difficulty of properly preparing his body ahead of a nebulous season opener is the implication of the even greater challenge preparing his mind.
He explained, “There's so much hype for DAYTONA, your adrenaline is through the roof. No matter how many times I do it, I always have first race jitters. So when AFT had to cancel that race, and we were just left hanging... I was like, 'Man, I just want to get back out there and see where we stand.' It was hard to just wait.
“I question myself, for sure. There are a lot of insecurities about being a motorcycle racer. Even though I had a great season last year, you always question yourself. ‘Can I do it again?’ Some guys can kinda roll over on that, like the question overwhelms them and then they can't do it again. I use that question to fire myself up and get ready to go.”
In late May, AFT helped refocus Bauman by giving him a date to circle on the calendar with the announcement of the reconfigured 2020 schedule.
“We're just fortunate that AFT got a schedule out for us and it’s something we can work toward and build on. We'll just try to make as much of a 2020 race season as we can. There was a time when it didn't look too promising, so to have something right now is definitely better than nothing at all.”
That announcement also provided a preview of an even steeper hill to climb in his quest to retain the #1 plate. The reconfigured schedule is decidedly Half-Mile heavy and TT light. And while Bauman is a certified HM expert, his all-around excellence is where he truly separated from the pack in ‘19. The unusual schedule may provide a number of his rivals a realistic path to the championship that previously didn’t exist.
“I mean, if I were to be greedy, I'd be kinda bummed that there aren't any TTs,” Bauman said. “At the same time, I also love Half-Miles and Short Tracks, and I did pretty well on those this last year.
Photo: Bill Gutweiler
“But yeah, take a guy like Brandon Robinson… He struggles on the TTs, but he does great on a clay Half-Mile. And look at Jared Mees. Mees was great on the Miles last year. He was good on the Half-Miles for sure, but he was great on the Miles. Not racing on half of the Miles, where last year he banked every one as a win, that could play a factor as well.
Photo: Bill Gutweiler
“I think it's going to level the odds a little bit. It is going to be tricky. I do think that some of the Short Tracks will break it up a little bit. And all in all, the cream always rises to the top over the course of 18 rounds.”
The track balance of the schedule is not the only twist. In fact, it may not even be the most impactful change, as the riders will also be confronted with a full season of doubleheader rounds.
“I think the back-to-back days are going to be really tough,” Bauman said. “I've talked to a few racers, and it's tough to wrap your mind around because it's so different. I know a lot of guys are used to routine, and I'm one of them for sure. A change can always be a shock to the system at first.
“And the physical side is going to be difficult too. It takes me a week to recover from some of the tougher tracks after doing one round, and now we're doing two in a row.”
Of course, there’s the benefit of not necessarily being forced to stew for long in the event of an off round. Last year, Bauman bounced back from his two worst results with resounding victories. He welcomes to the opportunity to potentially right any wrongs in a matter of hours rather than days or weeks.
“I'm a big rebound guy. So, if you do find yourself in a position where night one doesn't go very well, I don't do well sitting there thinking about it. I think it over, but it fires me up to get to the next one. I want to get right back out there and try again. So now, we'll have that to look forward to. That is definitely a positive to the doubleheader races.”
Photo: Bill Gutweiler
After once seeming never-coming and then forever out, the reanimated 2020 season is now just over the horizon. Bauman has been back on his factory Indian FTR750 a handful of times in recent weeks, both to reacquaint himself with the dominant machine and get in sync with his crew, which features a new face in mechanic Dustin Say.
Photo: Bill Gutweiler
“We did a little bit of testing (last week). Mainly, they had me and Bronson (Bauman) come out and spin some laps and just try to stay as in shape on the bikes as we can.
“It's tough with the way our series is. We're almost like MotoGP where we don't get a chance to spend much time on our actual racebikes. So the goal was to spend as much time as we could on them. We were lucky to get two good days in to just ride and get ready. It seemed like the season was really far away, but now it's coming up fast.”
As for the new face...
“(The relationship with Say) is good. It's really cool actually. I think we were both kinda nervous in Daytona -- and I think no matter what we'd probably be nervous -- but now we've had a chance to have three good hangout sessions where we rode. And we actually did one race together at Travelers Rest. We're jelling pretty good. Him, Dave (Zanotti), and I... the whole team is awesome, really. We all get along well. It's just been good to spend a little bit more time together.
“It's been such a long break. As racers, obviously, it's hard not going racing. It's good to see the season opener on the schedule. Everyone is just fired up to get back to it.”
Photo: Bill Gutweiler