Brandon Robinson: Back and Better Than Ever

The recent history of Progressive American Flat Track has been written as a clash of titans featuring two great Grand National Champions angling to secure their place in the sport’s annuls as they attempt to overcome the other.

Between the two of them, reigning double Mission SuperTwins presented by S&S Cycle king Briar Bauman and multi-time GNC Jared Mees have combined to reel in 25 of 35 premier class victories since the start of the 2019 season. During that span, the two factory Indian superstars are separated by just eight points. No other rider is within even 200 points.

Transforming the 2021 title fight into something other than a two-rider affair is the optimistic ambition of pretty much the remaining entirety of a stacked field. And one rider in particular brings an argument that can’t be dismissed off hand.

Of the ten wins taken by anyone other than Bauman or Mees, a full half of them have gone to Mission Roof Systems ace Brandon Robinson. More compelling yet, three of the last four races full-stop have been taken by the Pennsylvanian.

Photo: Kristen Lassen, American Flat Track

That’s a good start, but that’s all it is according to Robinson.

“I mean, wins are great, but the main goal is to compete for the title,” he said. “If I'm there and have a chance at the last race of the year, that's what I'm going to deem a successful season. Obviously, I want to win, and if you do, wins are going to put you in that position. That's all there really is to it. It's a pretty simple method really.”

Not surprisingly, Robinson’s confidence is soaring. And it’s not just down to recent results. Last season, he limped into the opener weeks after breaking his ankle and still managed to qualify fastest on the first night and put it on the box the second. And then he “walked” into the finale on crutches after breaking his foot and still managed to sweep both races.

At last fully healthy, Robinson feels he couldn’t be better set to capitalize with a monster year.

“Confidence is pretty much everything when it comes to racing. When you show up at a race and feel like you're the baddest dude there, good things are gonna happen. I’m just feeling good on a motorcycle -- feeling really good with where I'm at and especially with my team.

“I can't really say much more than that other than I'm kind of in the best position I've ever been in my career, and being healthy on top of it doesn't hurt... But when you can beat the best guys on crutches, it -- I don't know -- it adds a little bit of a swagger.”

Photo: Scott Hunter, American Flat Track

If Robinson appears to be riding like he’s making up for lost time -- well, he is. He was just entering his prime when he got the opportunity promising dirt track racers had dreamed about for generations. It was announced live on network television that he had signed to join multi-time Grand National Champions Kenny Coolbeth and Jake Johnson on the all-powerful Harley-Davidson Factory Flat Track Team for the 2017 season just as the manufacturer was preparing to square off with the nascent Indian Motorcycle effort.

As it played out, the Indian was immediately established as the dominant motorcycle on the grid and Robinson struggled to make much of an impression during his two full seasons with the manufacturer.

Asked if having to combat the FTR750s on a weekly basis made him become a better rider on the one that he now rides himself, he said, “I don't know if it made me a better rider or not. I think it taught me patience more than anything. It was a long two years, man, getting my (butt) paddled on a weekly basis and not really being able to do anything about it. It was mentally defeating. You show up at the track and you don't even want to be there because you know you don't have a shot to win. To me, it was like, I worked so hard during the week, why am I doing that to basically have zero shot to win?

“I loved being there -- it was a great atmosphere and a great team. It was everything I thought and hoped it was going to be besides the results not being there, and that was it. It was an unfortunate situation the way things turned out, but I still don't think I would trade it either. It was a learning situation. It made me who I am. So, I'll take it.”

It didn’t take long for Robinson to prove the lack of results during that time weren’t down to his ability. In just his second ride on an Indian, he won. He’s added four more since, and it’s become evident that his best is every bit as good as Bauman’s and Mees’.

But what has separated those two so cleanly from the contenders is that their bad nights aren’t bad by anyone else’s measure. An off night for either of them tends to be a third, a fourth, or a fifth, rather than a seventh, 11th, or 18th.

If Robinson -- or anyone else, for that matter -- is going to join the party, that’s where the ground must be made up, and he knows that. “I’m just trying to be more consistent on a weekly basis. Obviously, I know I've got the speed to win. I know I can. It's just being as consistent as them.

Photo: Scott Hunter, American Flat Track

“They've shown the recipe for success on how to win a championship over the past four or five years. They are on the box 90% of the races, so that's the goal -- to be as good as them on a weekly basis.”

Volusia II may have been an example of that. Despite dealing with an underlying machine issue that wasn’t discovered until the team returned to the shop, and despite dropping to last place after getting his bar snagged and bumped off the groove in the race’s opening corner, Robinson systematically made his way up to an eventual fifth.

As a result, he’s currently second in the points, splitting Mees and Bauman in the standings.

“We battled back and made the best of a bad situation. It's just trying to minimize those. I can't get in those positions. We have to be on our game every time we're on track, not just here and there.”

That includes the TTs, which are historically a weakness of Robinson’s and now looming on the slate with the Atlanta Super TT coming up next.

“I need to get out of there fifth or sixth, honestly,” he said. “That's a realistic possibility and would keep me close in the hunt.

“I feel more confident than I ever have as far as riding a motorcycle in general. I’ve definitely put a lot more time in on a moto bike. I think I always kinda work on my weaknesses as much as I can. I can't even tell you the last time I rode a flat track to practice on. No problems turning left, you know?

“I'm feeling more comfortable and confident overall, so I don't see why we can't do that. And if we do, I think I'll be right where I need to be coming out of there. We have a lot of good tracks for me this year for the rest of the schedule, really.”

While Bauman and Mees have set the bar, and set it sky high, Robinson will also need to be aware of the progress of his Mission Roof Systems teammates as well. Jarod Vanderkooi is extremely talented and in a similar position to what Robinson was two years ago coming off a stint on the factory H-D. Meanwhile, Brandon Price is on the rise and capable of getting his first career premier class win at any moment.

If the team is to contend for a title, it will be critical that this emerging paddock powerhouse feeds off one another rather than upon each other.

Photo: Jenn Molisani

Robinson said, “There's no secret that JV and I are really good friends. He's actually the best man in my wedding. We've been really good buds since we were both on the factory Harley team. I kinda took him under my wing a little bit. He was kinda like my little brother in a sense -- the one I never wanted but now I've got (laughs). And now I'm stuck with him again. But it's been fun. I enjoy having him there.

“And Price is a good kid. He's hungry and young and he's still learning. So it's good for him, I think, to have me and Jarod there with him, just two guys who have been there a little bit longer and he's able to feed off of us a little bit.

“JV and I share a little bit more just because our set-ups are usually very similar. I notice that even from the Harley days when we worked together we'd end up with basically the same set-up for the Main Event every single time. We would kind of keep working together, getting faster. Price has got quite a bit different riding style and the way he likes the bike, so it doesn't translate for him as much. But we can talk about the track and line choice and that kind of stuff, so it definitely helps everybody throughout the day.

Photo: Scott Hunter, American Flat Track

“If anyone is struggling, I guess you could say, we can always help one another out and say, ‘Hey this is what we're running for gear, or this is what we're doing... I don't know if it's going to work for you or whatnot.’

“It's definitely good to have a few guys to bounce ideas off of. It makes the whole team better.”

Photo: Kristen Lassen, American Flat Track