2021 Game Changers

At this time two years ago, two-time reigning Mission SuperTwins king Briar Bauman had had never come within 60 points of a Grand National Championship, 2020 AFT Production Twins champion James Rispoli was fresh off a season racing British Supersport bikes, and defending AFT Singles champion Dallas Daniels was still an amateur several months away from making his Progressive American Flat Track debut.

While elite riders can remain relevant for a decade or (much) more at the top of the sport, Progressive AFT is defined as much by rapid change as it is long reigns.

Bauman, Rispoli, and Daniels -- along with the likes of Jared Mees (No. 9 Indian Motorcycle/Progressive Insurance FTR750), Sammy Halbert (No. 69 Coolbeth-Nila Racing Indian FTR750), Henry Wiles (No. 17 American Honda/United Rentals Honda CRF450R), and Cory Texter (No. 65 G&G Racing/Roof Systems Yamaha MT-07) -- expect to continue to make headlines in 2021.

That said, history suggests some other riders will step forward and prove to be “Game Changers” -- racers outside the established order with the potential to make a big leap and/or big waves.

Mission SuperTwins presented by S&S Cycle

No Mission SuperTwins rider seems so well positioned to take his game to the next level as Jarod Vanderkooi (No. 20 Mission Foods/Roof Systems Racing Indian FTR750).

At last battling on equal terms aboard a private Indian, Vanderkooi finally has an opportunity to unleash his full potential.

Jarod Vanderkooi
Photo: Scott Hunter, American Flat Track

We’ve seen the recent upticks in results for his former teammates Sammy Halbert and Brandon Robinson after making similar moves. The fact that they ended up the third- and fourth-ranked riders in the series a season ago didn’t come as much of a surprise, however, because they had previously proven themselves contenders at the highest level.

Jarod Vanderkooi and teammate Brandon Robinson.
Photo: Scott Hunter, American Flat Track

Vanderkooi is a bit more of an unknown. He held his own against both Halbert and Robinson on identical equipment and his ceiling has not yet been established. Could he break through to join them as a race winner -- and perhaps even emerge a championship threat -- in 2021?

James Rispoli
Photo: Scott Hunter, American Flat Track

The aforementioned Rispoli (No. 43 Latus Motors Racing Harley-Davidson XG750R) will also merit close observation as he graduates to the premier class and defends the proud H-D GNC legacy.

AFT Singles

By its very construction, AFT Singles is designed to break in the sport’s next generation of stars. Just last year, Daniels (No. 1 Estenson Racing Yamaha YZ450F) and Max Whale (No. 18 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 450 SX-F) transformed from riders who finished 11th and ninth, respectively, in 2019 into the class’ 2020 champion and runner-up.

Max Whale
Photo: Red Bull KTM Factory Racing

Despite still seeking his first career professional victory, Trent Lowe (No. 48 Wally Brown Racing/American Suzuki RM-Z450) is on a trajectory that hints at multiple race wins and championship contention in the very near future.

Trent Lowe
Photo: Kristen Lassen, American Flat Track

After showing serious flashes as a rookie in 2019, Lowe stepped up big time in 2020 to finish the season ranked fifth while reaping two podiums and six top fives. He still has room to grow and could take an equally big step forward in 2021.

It’s a similar story for Brandon Kitchen (No. 105 Husqvarna Motorcycles/Vance & Hines Husqvarna FC450), who improved from 20th to eighth -- highlighted by a maiden victory -- in his sophomore season.

Brandon Kitchen
Photo: Scott Hunter, American Flat Track

2019 Nicky Hayden AMA Flat Track Horizon Award winner Trevor Brunner (No. 21 American Honda/United Rentals Honda CRF450R) matched the incredible accomplishment of 2018 recipient Daniels by scoring an AFT Singles victory in his rookie season. In fact, Brunner’s results across the board were not overly dissimilar from Daniels’ in his first attempt, which bodes well for the prospect of a monster second year in 2021.

Trevor Brunner
Photo: Kristen Lassen, American Flat Track

And now it’s up to 2020 Nicky Hayden AMA Flat Track Horizon Award winner Kody Kopp (No. 143 Latus Motors Racing/Fast Track Racing Honda CRF450R) to keep that rookie win streak alive for Horizon Award winners. It’s a huge ask, but Kopp is a huge talent capable of making serious waves on a regular basis in his first go.

Kody Kopp
Photo: Scott Hunter, American Flat Track

Texas HM sensation James Ott (No. 19 Media Home/Pro-Tech Systems KTM 450 SX-F) and former four-wheel ace Aidan RoosEvans (No. 26 KTM/Waters Autobody Racing KTM 450 SX-F) are among the other youngsters with the potential to climb up the rankings and onto the podium this season.

James Ott
Photo: Kristen Lassen, American Flat Track

Aidan Roosevans
Photo: Scott Hunter, American Flat Track

Meanwhile, long-time class superstars Shayna Texter-Bauman (No. 52 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 450 SX-F) and Ryan Wells (No. 94 1st Impressions Race Team Honda CRF450R) could easily rebound and reestablish themselves frontrunners after finishing outside the top ten a year ago.

Shayna Texter-Bauman
Photo: Red Bull KTM Factory Race Team

Ryan Wells
Photo: Kristen Lassen, American Flat Track

AFT Production Twins presented by Vance & Hines

2020 Mission SuperTwins pilots Dan Bromley (No. 62 Yamaha MT-07) and Dalton Gauthier (D&D Cycles/Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson XG750R) are a pair of big-time talents who have won titles on the undercard and run near the front in the premier class. Their respective shifts to AFT Production Twins makes each of them worthy of title consideration before turning a wheel this season.

Dan Bromley
 Photo: Kristen Lassen, American Flat Track

Dalton Gauthier
Photo: Kristen Lassen, American Flat Track

And with a season to work through the teething pains the Twins FT under his belt, Johnny Lewis (No. 10 Moto Anatomy X Powered by Royal Enfield Twins FT) should prove an even bigger threat in 2021. That’s a scary thought considering he ended the season with a 1-2 at DAYTONA.

Johnny Lewis
Photo: Scott Hunter, American Flat Track