The Rockstar Rookie: A Post-Williams Grove Chat with Brandon Price
American Flat Track’s claim of being “the world's premier dirt track motorcycle racing series,” is without a trace of hyperbole. And at the peak of that motorsports mountain is the premier AFT Twins presented by Vance & Hines.
The AFT Twins’ undisputed global status combined with the sport’s nature in which a rider’s prime can approach two decades, has resulted in an absolutely loaded field stocked with among the greatest dirt track riders that have ever walked this planet.
Not surprisingly, the barriers to superstardom are sky high for aspiring AFT Twins pilots. A quick look at the Roof Systems AFT Singles presented by Russ Brown Motorcycle Attorneys championship standings makes that readily apparent. Five of the top seven riders in the feeder series previously tried their hand in AFT Twins with varying degrees of success before thinking better of it and refocusing their attention on the AFT Singles championship.
And even up-and-comers who have successfully made the transition have only done so with great difficulty as of late. Bronson Bauman, Davis Fisher, and Jarod Vanderkooi represent the most recent generation of riders who have graduated up through the ranks to make their mark in AFT Twins, and yet it took Bauman three seasons to get his first premier-class podium and four to score his first win. It took Fisher and Vanderkooi four seasons to get their debut podiums, and they’re both still looking for that elusive maiden AFT Twins victory.
In other words, it’s not easy to etch out a place in the upper echelon of the sport. Not that it should be, but don’t look for young dirt trackers to be any more deterred by that reality than high school and college football players are about their prospects to make the NFL. Chasing the dream is part of the deal.
In 2018, Brandon Price was positioning himself to be the next to attempt the AFT Twins mission impossible. Six races into the season, he led the AFT Singles championship on the strength of five top-fives, four podiums and a victory.
However, everything changed at the Springfield TT, where a terrifying crash put him on the shelf for months. A broken scapula, bruised lungs, lacerated liver, and traumatic brain injury left him unconscious for a couple days and out of action for the next four rounds, and four rounds was a brief layoff considering his doctors initially thought he may never race again.
When Price returned, he didn’t have quite the same magic -- understandably -- as he worked himself back up to speed. But that fact didn’t delay his plans to ascend into the premier class in 2019. Instead, it only reinforced them.
Price does battle with Mile ace Shayna Texter at the 2018 Meadowlands Mile.
“After the injury, I came back and just wasn't myself,” he said. “Then I said, 'what the heck, let's just move up to the Twins class and see what I've got there.’”
What he had there, at least initially, was pretty much what we’ve seen from other recent AFT Singles hotshots moving up a grade -- a number of Main Event finishes outside the top ten balanced by a few flashes inside of it.
When asked what exactly makes it so daunting for talented newcomers to find success at the sport’s highest level, Price said, “I think the level of competition is the first thing. Everybody is fast. Everybody in the class was winning everything growing up, and now they're all together. Beyond that, just the intensity. When you're battling with those guys, it's completely different than anything in the Singles class.”
However, Price’s true potential was masked during the opening half of the season by yet another injury. He explained, “Before the season I got hurt. I dislocated my shoulder and fractured my humerus and that set me back a little bit, so I wasn't really full strength for the first half of the year. Now I'm getting back up to speed and feeling comfortable on the bikes. I think I’ve proven I belong.”
Price showed skill and precision as he deliberately chose his lines at Williams Grove.
Indeed. Price was a major factor in the epic Springfield Mile II aboard the No. 192 Roof Systems of Dallas TX/DPC Racing Indian FTR750, duking it out for the win to the checkered flag and ultimately finishing fourth, finishing just 0.169 seconds behind race winner and multi-time defending AFT Twins Champion Jared Mees.
“It was pretty crazy to say the least -- going seven-wide with other guys in the corner on the last lap. It was pretty insane. Different people were leading every couple of seconds. I can't even talk about it really. Bottom line, middle lines, people all the way up top. It was just insane to be a part of it.”
Price was even more impressive the next time out at the Williams Grove Half-Mile presented by Appalachian Harley-Davidson, in which he first overhauled Mees and then pushed AFT Twins champion-elect Briar Bauman, lap after lap, en route to second place.
“At Williams Grove, I was just going for the win,” he said. “I didn't care who it was -- if it was Briar or if it was Jared or anybody else. I was just going to try to catch whoever was in front of me and go for the win.
“It was good, but it was also kind of frustrating. I was trying to make up time, and I'd gain a little bit every lap and then he'd pull back away a little bit. At the end, I was reeling him in consistently every lap, but it was just a little too late for me.”
With that, the premier class podium that has typically taken rising stars of the modern era years to attain (if they ever get one at all), was added to Price’s résumé with two races remaining in his rookie season.
When asked how he’s been able to succeed so quickly where others have fallen short, Price said, “I think it's just being aggressive. That's what I've been doing lately -- telling myself to just go out there and go for the win. And that's pretty much what I've been doing the last couple races.”
The next couple of races could prove even more interesting, considering Price’s current form and the fact that both the Indian Motorcycle Minnesota Mile presented by Law Tigers and Meadowlands Mile are perfectly suited to his strengths.
“Wins are what I'm shooting for. That's what I was shooting for at Springfield and Williams Grove. I'm always trying to do what I can to go get a win. I'm really looking forward to them. They're Miles, and I'm one of the smaller guys, so I'll be strong up the straightaways. And it's cushion surface; I had a really good finish at Lima, and I've always done pretty good at cushion tracks. I think they'll both be right up my alley.”
It’s an adage across sports that an athlete typically makes their single biggest improvement from their rookie season to their sophomore campaign. Is it possible that Price could make the leap to full-fledged premier-class title contender as early as 2020?
“That’s the plan,” he said. “This is what I do with my life – I’m an American Flat Track racer. I've devoted everything I've had since I was little to doing this. (The AFT Twins Championship) has always been the dream. Singles class... it would have been nice to win the title, but it doesn't really matter to me now.
“I always felt like I belonged here. The results definitely make it all worthwhile. The hard work is paying off, and I’m contending for wins like I should be.
“And if I'm up front contending for race wins, I should be right there fighting for the championship.”