AFT Champion Series, Part III: Cory Texter – Patience Pays Off

In the natural world, we know that pressure makes diamonds. But in the human experience, pressure – and the stresses it causes – can be debilitating, and a direct cause of failure and heartbreak…or worse.

Professional flat track racer and 2019 American Flat Track Production Twins champion Cory Texter knows this all too well.

Texter, a 13-year veteran of the American Flat Track professional series on both single- and twin-cylinder motorcycles, made the move to AFT’s new Production Twins class for 2019 and blitzed to a commanding series lead on the G&G Racing Yamahas by winning the first three races of the year – Half-Miles at Texas and Southern California, and the Red Mile in Lexington, KY. Texter not only won them but was dominant, notching fast-qualifier status and leading the most laps at all three. He followed up that trio of wins with a second at the challenging Lima, Ohio Half-Mile in late June.

G&G Racing-sponsored Cory Texter came out of the gate on fire in early 2019, winning the first three Production Twins events and jumping out to an early lead in the point standings... 

Fellow competitor Ryan Varnes had hung close, logging two seconds and a fourth at the Red Mile to position himself solidly in second place. Still, to a lot of folks in the paddock and to a lot of fans, it was starting to look a lot like a CTex runaway in the AFT’s fledgling Production Twins class.

But at round five of the 11-race Production Twins schedule (Production Twins motorcycles only run at Half-Mile and Mile races at this point), pressures that had slowly built within the Texter/G&G Racing camp and within Texter’s own head began to peak … and cause some ugly and unwanted effects. Texter went from winning races to finishing sixth at the Black Hills Half-Mile, and followed that up with an off-the-podium fourth at Sacramento and a thoroughly disappointing ninth at Springfield I.

In dirt track racing, poor motorcycle setup can be the cause of a bad result, and regardless of a rider’s skill, the old racing adage applies: If the bike ain’t right, he or she ain’t riding around it. But for Texter is was more than that.

...but pressure and anxiety about blowing the lead after such an impressive start kept Texter off the podiums mid-season. Scott Hunter.

“I’d won the first three races,” Texter told us a week or so after his first national championship, “and gotten a second in round four. I was loose and comfortable, and it all felt pretty good. But after that I was my own worst enemy. I couldn’t get the thought out of my mind: ‘If you blow this,’ I thought, ‘it’ll be a disaster!’ I didn’t want to be that guy, you know? The guy who blew a championship after generating a healthy lead in the beginning of the season. Man…I was really stressing for a few weeks there. It really affected my head, and my riding.

“It was weird, too,’ Texter added, “because I thought I’d do well at Black Hills and at Springfield. I mean, I’ve felt really comfortable there over the years. Heck, I nearly won an AFT Twins Main Event at Springfield back in 2016, finishing a close third to Kenny [Coolbeth] and Bryan [Smith]. Springfield, especially, wasn’t a track where I thought we’d struggle.

Texter (center), Kolby Carlile (left) and Ben Lowe on the Red Mile rostrum. Carlile would factor into the championship chase right to the end. Scott Hunter.

“Basically, we tried some things with our bike that typically work, but didn’t,” Texter says. “You are always trying to make the bike better, everyone does that, but sometimes what you do isn’t right. We sorta shot ourselves in the foot at Black Hills and Sacto and Springfield, and it got me out of my comfort zone. Combined with that ‘don’t-be-that-guy’ stress, it wasn’t good.”

Pressure on Mr. Texter came from other directions, as well.

“I’m 32,” Texter told us, “and my wife and I have 2-year old son. Racing all these years has made me smarter about the bigger picture, and I don’t take risks on tracks where I don’t feel comfy. I just don’t do it. Motorcycle racing is my thing and has been for a lot of my life, and winning, and winning championships, well, that’s obviously the goal. But it’s not the most important thing, of course. You understand that when you get a little older and have a family. And yeah, it can be really frustrating when other riders, and typically they’re younger riders, are willing to go 100 percent when I’m not. I’m not knocking them; I was there at one point. But when I’m out of my comfort zone, and I was, both mentally and probably a little bit with bike setup at Black Hills and Springfield, I’m just not as fast or as competitive. When you push in those circumstances, it can bite you, and you can get hurt.”

Like any other racer with a family, Texter wasn't willing to push when he wasn't comfortable. Despite that understandable liability, seven-time Grand National Champion Chris Carr helped Texter get his head on straight at the season's halfway point, and helped the 32-year-old father (to Cruise) and husband (to Amber) win his first national championship. Scott Hunter.

Texter’s ‘being smarter about the bigger picture’ quote is particularly apropos in this instance, as his extra degree of perspective on racing and on life helped him make a move that would help get him back on track mentally at the mid-point of the season.

“Heading into Springfield,” Texter remembers, “and feeling a bit uncomfortable and out-of-sorts about my riding, I knew I needed some help, a kick in the pants … something to stop me from stressing on points so much and riding too safely and conservatively. I needed someone to help get me back in shape, back on track, straighten me out.”

Texter with son Cruise at the Strider Bikes/AFT kids' event at Black Hills Speedway during the Sturgis Rally. Scott Hunter.

That someone was seven-time Grand National champion Chris Carr, someone Texter has known for the majority of his 32 years. “He’s sorta ‘Uncle Chris’ to me,” laughs Texter. “I’ve known him, and he’s known me, since I was a baby. I mean, I’ve been going to the races since I was 2 weeks old, and my Dad sponsored him back in the day. He’s a multi-time champion, and a really smart guy when it comes to racing craft, so it seemed like a good fit.”

Cory Texter and 7-time Grand National Champion Chris Carr at the Meadowlands Mile finale, enjoying Texter's very first National Championship.

“He was a baby in diapers when I first ‘met’ him,” remembers Carr. “His dad Randy, who I knew well, took him on the circuit in the late ’80s and early ’90s, so I watched him grow up. He’s a third-generation racer, and a good one, and he has a sister who’s pretty well-known, too. He’s been around racing his whole life.

“Anyway,” adds Carr, “he reached out a couple weeks before Springfield and asked me to come help him, be an extra set of eyes and ears, and give him a swift kick in the butt. So I did. It was a great opportunity for me to get back to the racetrack after my years with AFT, but focus on him, and help him achieve a lifetime goal of winning a national championship. Which he ended up doing. I’m extremely honored to have a very small part in that.”

"Ya gotta go fast to win at this game," says Texter, "but you've also gotta be smart about it. Chris [Carr] and I saw things pretty similarly this year; we both got way into the details about my riding, my competition, the racetracks and the strategy we'd employ. And it worked." Scott Hunter.

“I have total respect for Chris,” says Texter. “He’s the complete package of on-the-bike skills, the mental and strategy side of things, and honesty – which is exactly what I needed. Chris told me what I needed to hear, not what I wanted to hear. It wasn’t easy for me. At Springfield I, I was sucking. Bad. Most guys would probably tell me, ‘You’re OK, maybe try this or that.’ But Chris was brutal with me. ‘You look like shit,’ he told me. And he was right. I was riding poorly and was not my normal self.”

“He was really passive,” Carr says, “and riding conservatively. The track was not a normal Springfield track this year; it wasn’t a lock-down groove as it normally is. Guys were running up higher and zig-zagging all over the place. When he’d get drafted he’d shut down early, and guys were getting away from him. When you give up three bikelengths you’re not going to get it back. It’s like boxing; when you get hit in the face you’ve gotta counterpunch. But he wasn’t doing it. I wanted to make him aware of that, and the need to fight back. Both Springfield races were ultra competitive; you needed to really mix it up if you were gonna contest.”

A points-watching approach halfway through the season turned Texter into a careful, conservative rider, which didn't bode well for his championship hopes. Scott Hunter.

“I wasn’t really seeing it,” Texter says, “but Chris forced me to see what I was doing. We’re both students of the game, probably a little like two quarterbacks on a team, watching film and breaking down what we were seeing. It didn’t help me all that much on Saturday [Springfield I], where I finished poorly [ninth]. It was too early to help, really; my head wasn’t right, and the bike wasn’t right. But it helped on Monday, when I got fourth, and definitely helped set me up for the rest of the season.”

“I reminded him what he’d done to get where he was,” Carr told us. “I reminded him he was capable of the same thing. Throw all that worry about points and such out the window! You are capable of winning. If you’re thinking of just doing the minimum, at best you’ll just do the minimum, and probably worse. Ride the damn motorcycle! The results will end up where they end up. Do what you’re capable of, do your job. Cory had a tough time on Saturday, but rode a lot better on Monday, for Springfield II, where he got fourth and contested. It just took a while.”

Texter on an XR750 Harley-Davidson from a few years back. Texter archive.

In a thoroughly ironic twist, the engine and chassis changes the G&G Racing squad made going into Black Hills, Sacramento and Springfield had an upside. “The changes weren’t right,” Texter remembers, “but they did help us understand what didn’t work, and that helped us during the final stretch. We learned more in those bad finishes than in races we won or podiumed.”

Texter wasn’t alone feeling excess pressure during 2019, either. AFT Twins champion Briar Bauman, a good friend of Texter’s, was feeling some of the same doubts and nervousness going into the final two rounds with his championship on the line. We asked Texter about that, and if it was the same sort of thing.

The Harley-Davidson XG750s from the Black Hills H-D team gave Texter all he could handle at several races this year, including James Rispoli (71).....

“It’s probably more different than similar,” he told us. “Briar is younger and more talented than I am, and has a full career ahead of him. He’s full of confidence right now, and rightly so. I’m further along in my career. So the thing for me was to take advantage of my fast start and do what I could to make it happen, win the championship. The pressure was there for both of us; I guess it’s just a difference in perspective.

“To be honest, I don’t think I have as much talent as most of the guys I race with,” Texter added. “What I’ve been able to do in my career is all down to hard work and grit. When I watch the guys I race with, I’m just amazed how good they are. I have a ton of respect for them. That’s why I work so hard; to be on par with them I have to do it.”

...and AFT SIngles champion Dalton Gauthier (122), who ended up winning two AFT Production Twins races in 2019. Scott Hunter.

That training and hard work took on new meaning for Texter and his family in 2019. “A lot of people have asked me what got me to the championship this year,” Texter says, “and a lot of people have commented on why they think it happened. But the big reason is that I was better prepared. I moved myself and my family to Florida earlier this year, and pretty much trained every day with guys like Brandon Robinson, Briar and Jarod Vanderkooi. And got my ass kicked on a daily basis! It’s the main reason I started off so strongly. I just rode hard, was in great shape and had a lot of confidence. Then, as the season unfolded, I began calculating points, trying things with the bike, and we struggled. That’s when I called Chris, and then things got progressively better.”

In the end it came right down to wire at the Minnesota and Meadowlands Mile finales, with Estenson Racing's Kolby Carlile (136) and Ryan Varnes making Texter earn it the hard way. Scott Hunter.

After dual Springfield Miles (grouped in one weekend due to a May rain postponement) came the Williams Grove Half-Mile, where Texter regained the podium – though a Varnes victory there kept them close in points. A re-energized Kolby Carlile was also making a championship run after his win at Springfield II, and so it would all come down to the final two races – the Minnesota and Meadowlands Miles.

Carlile won in Minnesota and inched closer, but Texter’s fourth and Varnes’s sixth kept Texter in the points lead leading up to the Meadowlands finale. Going in, Texter knew he had to finish no worse than eighth if Carlile or Varnes won. But the drama was short-lived as Carlile broke early, and Texter, riding one of his best races in months, led by as much as three seconds over Chad Cose until Texter’s G&G Yamaha broke. He was pushed back to the paddock, but due to only 11 starters and a small handful of DNFs, his ninth-place finish earned him enough points to take the title by eight points over Varnes, who finished second to Cose.

“I’m pretty calculating,” Texter says, “so when Kolby broke I knew right away we’d earned the title. I rode really well on a very challenging racetrack, and I so wanted to win that one, put an exclamation point on our season and end it the way we began it. But it wasn’t to be. It was uncharacteristic to have a mechanical; the G&G guys do such a great job with the Yamahas, and did all season long. In fact, I couldn’t have asked for a better team this year. They are a father-and-son duo, totally committed but really laid back, where I’m a lot more high-strung, so that’s a really good mix. They’ll be eating KFC at the races, and I’ll be having tofu! I was a bit uncomfortable with the track at the finale, but Chris had me ready to race. I was proud of that after all we’d been through.”

“He rode really well, especially once the pressure was off,” Carr says. “It’s not easy to manage pressure in that situation, especially for the first time. He learned a lot, and the experience will make him better in the future. Chad was close before the mechanical, but Cory was thinking big picture.”

“I’m really happy with everything,” Texter says. “It all feels a little surreal right now, but it’s sinking in…and things will go back to normal pretty quickly. It’s been a great run, and I’m not done yet. I’m happy with my accomplishments. I’ve had a national number for 12 years. Been a tough competitor. Worked my ass off. Done it in dirt track and some road racing. Lots of blood, sweat and tears. Didn’t think I’d race after my dad passed in 2010. Been underestimated, too. I don’t think many would’ve thought I’d win a championship before Shayna, but my path is different from hers.

Fans like to compare Cory with sister Shayna, but the two are different racers and different people on quite different paths. And there is mucho mutual respect between them. Scott Hunter.

“It’s been hard. 2018 on the single was crazy difficult. I got pretty discouraged. Traveling, trying to figure it out, being away from my family, not making much money. It’s hard. Heck, promoting races, college, writing for Cycle World …all that’s pretty easy compared to racing. Racing is so challenging. But that’s what draws me to it, keeps me coming back. That it’s hard to do. It’s the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. And I’ve always had a ‘what’s next?’ mentality.”

Texter credits the G&G Racing team with superb Yamaha motorcycles and a near-perfect attitudinal match with his sometimes-manic approach. "We work together really well," he says. Scott Hunter.

So what’s next for 2019 AFT Production Twins champion Cory Texter?

“I’d consider a variety of options depending on what makes the most sense for me at this point in my career and for my family,” says Texter about his 2020 plans, “but at this point I’ll most likely defend the Production Twins title with the G&G Racing guys. Together we beat some well-funded teams out of a van, though it’d be a lot harder to do something like that in Super Twins. But I’m big on loyalty, so I’m guessing I’ll be back with John Sr. and Lil’ John, who we call ‘LJ’, at G&G. We work so well together, and we had a great season. I gotta thank Shayna and Briar, too, and also my wonderful sponsors, G&G Racing, Alpinestars, Bell Helmets, Tucker Powersports, Fredericktown Yamaha, Holeshot Powersports, Stay The Course, Motul, Kicker Audio, and another who would like to remain nameless. And of course there’s Chris…would love to work with him again.

"If you'd told me after the first three races that we wouldn't win again all season long," says Texter, "I'd have said you were full of it. But while that actually happened, we were competitive and consistent enough to grab the title." Scott Hunter.

“We had a good season,” Texter adds, “but I know there is so much I can improve on heading into 2020. After being in a points battle and knowing what that feels like, I expect to ride so much more relaxed in a similar situation. We won the championship, but I want to improve on what we were able to accomplish this year and I feel confident we can do just that.”

As always, racing is a pressure-packed sport. But with friends like G&G Racing, Chris Carr and Texter’s handful of sponsors, pressure can make diamonds. Ya just gotta grind a little.

A first National Championship. How sweet it is. Scott Hunter.