The AFT Interview: The Brothers Bauman
In any sport or business venture you can think of, losing two thirds of your championship-caliber or award-winning team is almost never a good thing. Of course, that’s exactly the spot Indian Motorcycle found itself in by the end of the 2018 American Flat Track season.
Brad Baker left midway through the campaign via a season-ending crash during practice for X Games, and Bryan Smith checked out after stunning wins at three of last four Miles of the year – Springfield, Minnesota and Meadowlands – with plans to join a reunited Crosley/Howerton squad in 2019 with Kawasaki power, just as in 2016 when they won the AFT Twins title, Smith’s first. Reigning AFT Twins presented by Vance & Hines champion Jared Mees won the 2018 title for Indian with dominating performances nearly all season long, but the holes left by Baker and Smith were sure to be challenging to fill.
Today’s announcement naming brothers Briar and Bronson Bauman to the factory Indian squad for 2019 – along with returning member and reigning AFT Twins champion Jared Mees – clears up most of the speculation and off-season intrigue. Of course, because they’re brothers, there’s bound to be some built-in intrigue going forward: Will they thrive? Will they get along? Will the family chemistry work? Or will they drive each other – or their respective crews – nuts?
21-year-old Bronson, as most fans will remember, was invited by Brad Baker himself to fill in on Baker’s Indian machinery at the Sturgis Rally rounds – the Buffalo Chip TT and Black Hills Half-Mile. He did amazingly well, finishing fifth and sixth, respectively. At first, Bronson’s deal was week-to-week, at least until his excellent finishes throughout the balance of the season (a fifth, two sixths and a second at Williams Grove) registered with Indian Racing honcho Gary Gray, who began to take a much more serious look at the younger Bauman.
“We were very impressed with Bronson during his time with us during the latter part of the 2018 season,” Gray told AFT, “and we loved having him in our pit. He brought energy, excitement and good feedback to the team, and was really fun to be around.”
Still, Bronson wasn’t a shoe-in for the 2019 slot despite his promising end-of-2018 finishes. “We looked at all the available top-level riders,” Gray says, “and interviewed everyone. Bronson was in the mix early on, but at the end of the process we picked him. We feel he has a lot of potential.”
What’s so amazingly ironic about Bronson’s path to a factory ride is that, at the halfway point in the 2018 season, he’d pretty much hit bottom – and nearly retired from racing. He’d quit his team due to poor performing motorcycles and was doing things pretty much on his own, with his own money out of his own van – with a little help from Weirbach Racing.
Older brother Briar, who’s 23, had his own ups and downs in 2018 on his way to today’s announcement. As part of Zanotti Racing, Briar enjoyed a solid and experienced team with plenty of expertise, though they too had their share of mechanical problems. “During the first half of 2018 we were a lot like we’d been in 2017,” Briar told us. “Up and down. Inconsistent. Having mechanicals. Not really prepared. Not really sure where we stood. We had high expectations coming in, but we weren’t putting things together.”
Just before round 10 in Lima, Ohio, the Zanotti team put its Kawasaki racer in temporary mothballs and put Briar on a brand-new Indian Scout FTR750 backed by Roof Systems of Dallas, which he rode for the rest of the season (except for the Buffalo Chip TT, where he rode the Kawasaki). Briar proceeded to go on a tear, scoring seven top-6 finishes, with a runner up at Peoria and a win at Williams Grove. He’d have nabbed a second win at Minnesota had he not run out of fuel in the closing laps, and might even have beaten Smith, Mees and Carver Jr. at the Meadowlands finale had he not run out of tear-offs. Briar Bauman was arguably the fastest AFT Twins rider in the last few races of the season, and given the competition, that’s saying a mouthful.
“Briar was on our final list when we chose our team riders for 2019,” says Indian’s Gary Gray. “He was fast and consistent, a great kid and super positive. We also liked the ‘brothers’ angle, and knowing how close they are, we felt it would be a real positive for the team.”
We caught up with the Bauman brothers a few days before the announcement and picked their brains about how they feel about their 2018 seasons, their relationship with one another, soon-to-be teammate Jared Mees, the rest of the AFT Twins field, and how they feel about their symmetrical appointments to the Indian Motorcycle factory race team.
Briar Bauman (left), Jared Mees and Bronson Bauman (right) constitute the latest iteration of the famed 'Wrecking Crew' - and if their 2018 performances are any indication, they're likely to cause a good bit of competition wreckage during the 2019 AFT season.
How are you guys feeling about all this? It’s got to be amazing and weird at once – both of you getting your dream factory rides at the same time and on the same team? It’s a little crazy.
Briar: It feels good, for sure. It’s funny… I walk around now, and think to myself, and say to Shay [Shayna Texter, Briar’s girlfriend and roommate], ‘I’m going to be a factory rider in 2019.’ You dream of that sort of thing, but wow. It’s wild. I look back at the last six or seven rounds, the way Dave [Zanotti] and I and Michelle [Disalvo] pulled together and meshed with the Indian … this is the spot I think I deserve. I think I earned it, we earned it. It’s payback for the tough times we had early on, and last year , too. Once we got the Indian going I generated a lot of confidence, especially at the last few races.
Bronson: It’s a little crazy, yeah. But I’m really grateful, and excited beyond belief, too, because it’s the best deal I’ve ever had. It’s an awesome opportunity, and I feel like I’ve earned it. The back half of the 2018 season was really great, especially compared with the first half, which was a bit of a disaster for me. I have a lot more confidence now, which I didn’t have early on. Obviously, being here is a dream come true. I always knew I could get here, even when I was down in the dumps. But I have to admit, it came quickly. I was being patient, knew I had to pay my dues, but it’s all happening pretty fast. I’ve definitely gone from the poorhouse to the penthouse, that’s for sure.
How about the ‘brothers’ thing? What’s the relationship like?
Briar: Like most brothers, we go back and forth. We argue, and then get along. And fight, and then get along. But it’s really cool to be doing this with him in 2019. Like me, he earned his spot. He was fast and consistent, and showed great promise; I think that’s what Indian liked about him. It’s so cool for us, our family, and those around us. I remind him all the time to appreciate it, as he was racing out of the back of his van mid-way through the season. He really bounced back. I think we can really push each other this coming year, and a lot more than normal teammates.
Bronson: I love him and hate him, you know? Typical brother deal. He’s older, and when you’re the younger sibling, you wanna be him. And you wanna beat him, too. I really do want to kick his ass this year [laughs]. We’re pretty close. And we’d gotten closer this past season. He’s helped me out a ton, and was in my corner.
Briar was on fire during the last several races of the 2018 season, with five top-4 placings and one win in the last six races. He'd have won at Minnesota had he not run out of fuel, and might have even won at the Meadowlands Mile if he'd not run out of tear offs. Scott Cavalari photo.
Both of you moved from Kawasaki to Indian in 2018. Tell us about the differences in the bikes?
Briar: Well, there are a lot of different Kawasaki chassis out there, but only one Indian chassis. In the end it’s how you set them up. The engines are really different. You can tune a Kawasaki engine to be one way, maybe really good on a Mile, but depending on the track and the traction, you can be way off. The Indian engine is a lot more consistent; it’s good just about everywhere, and that’s the magic. Out of the box it’s pretty much perfect. With more time, we can do better, I think, but it’s just great as it comes. Indian did a heckuva job with it. You have to finesse the Kawasaki a bit, be a little more careful how you get back on the throttle, and it seems like you’re always chasing a particular power package or setup. Not so with the FTR; it does well everywhere. You have to ride them totally differently.
Bronson: They’re really different, especially engine-wise. When I first rode the Indian, I was amazed how good it was, especially compared to the stuff I’d been riding. I used some pretty colorful language that day! You can make a mistake on the Indian and it doesn’t penalize you too much. On the Kawi it costs you more time. The Indian is more forgiving. The entire package just works. Which is why you see them winning everything.
Tell us about your crews going into 2019 – if you can.
Briar: For me it could not be better, as I’ll have Dave [Zanotti] and Michelle [Disalvo] in my corner again, which is the best possible scenario. We can continue where we left off last year, which was at a high level, and keep working, keep developing, and continue to focus. And we’ll have more support this year, factory support. It’s the perfect thing, really, as we really jelled in the second half of the season once we found that sweet spot with the bike. The confidence going in is really good.
Bronson: Dave [Zanotti] will be the crew chief, so I know things will be done right in our pit. For me, having a great crew means I don’t have to worry, or question things, like, ‘did I tighten this or adjust that?’ I can focus on me, my riding, and try to be the fastest guy out there that day.
Bronson (seated) spent the latter half of the 2018 season as part of the Indian factory effort, filling in for the injured Brad Baker. He did better than anyone suspected - except maybe himself. Scott Hunter photo.
Bronson, you’ve spent some time with this team. Have any advice for Briar?
Bronson: Not really. Briar gets Dave and Michelle back, which is good. There won’t be any new faces for him except Gary [Gray] and some support crew, so for Briar, there will be nothing to worry about.
Will you guys work out of the same rig like Brad and Bryan did? What’s the upside or downside to that?
Bronson: As far as I know we’ll be in the same rig, and that’ll be really cool. I’ve always said, we’re teammates even when we’re on different teams, so being on the same team we can really help each other.
Briar: We need to push each other, and being together like this, we will. I think we’re better together than apart. It’ll be interesting, for sure.
How do your parents feel about this?
Briar: Mom knows, but Dad doesn’t!
Bronson: Our dad is a loving dad and very proud, so he’d want to tell everyone. If he saw a homeless guy on the corner, he’d go over and tell him his two sons are Indian factory riders!
Briar: So we’re waiting until the official announcement with him. He’d call everyone!
Are you guys going to spy on Jared, maybe discover his secret sauce? What’s it gonna take to beat him consistently?
Briar: Well, he and I are friends, and we talk a decent amount. For this trip to California for the Long Beach Show and the announcement, we’ve been talking travel plans and flights and all that. Usually, Shayna does that stuff for me. He’s typical Jared; curious, asking questions, it’s cool, he’s such a competitor, and we certainly battled a lot at the end of the season. It’s funny, we’re buds but we push that aside – like most good racers do – on race weekends. We can battle on the weekends and then hang out and talk during the week. We understand the differences between racing and real life.
Bronson: He’s tough. A real competitor. A good guy. And we’re friendly. But none of that affects me, really. I’d move my own brother out of the way for a race win, so it’d be easy to do it with someone else.
Who’s going to be fast this year?
Bronson: Bryan [Smith] and Ricky [Howerton]. They are determined and very smart. Bryan’s just phenomenal on the Miles. They’re gonna come out swinging, gonna mean business. We all do, but they definitely have something to prove. Jake [Johnson] and JD [Beach] will be fast, too, on those Yamahas. [Jarod] Vanderkooi showed flashes of brilliance this year, and Harley-Davidson needs to do well. Lots of guys, really.
Briar: Bryan and Ricky will be good, especially on the Miles. It’ll be interesting to see how the Indian stacks up to their new bike. Pretty hard to go against any of the top six or seven, really. JV, Sammy, Brandon…they’re great, and Chad [Cose] and [Davis] Fisher and Jeffrey [Carver Jr.]. And of course Jared.
What races are you most and least looking forward to?
Bronson: Hmmm...Lima? Buffalo Chip? I like the TTs. The new Arizona TT venue should be cool. Least? Probably Red Mile. And Turf Paradise, but it’s gone now.
Briar: Lima and Minnesota. Least? Based on results? Dixie Speedway. When I struggle somewhere, I want to go back. Wanna do well. I had a bad main in Atlanta. I’ll be interested to see how it goes there.
Briar: It’s funny, thinking back. Mid-season, I got a call from Indian, but they were after Bronson’s phone number, and not interested in me. Funny how things work out. Another thing I remember, from one of the Sturgis races, I think, in the Semi; Bronson was on the Indian, and he passed me. And I remember thinking, “Holy Cow, this ain’t right!”
Bronson: Ups and downs? Man, that’s an understatement for me. I had the lowest of the lows, and now, the highest of the highs. But that’s flat track racing for you. I’ll say it again: I’ve gone from the poorhouse to the penthouse! It’s all pretty exciting. I can’t wait for the season.
Bronson remembers voicing a flurry of profanity when he first rode the Indian Scout FTR750. "It's just [bleeping] amazing," he says. "It's easy to ride and doesn't penalize you when you make a mistake." Scott Cavalari photo.