Terry Rymer's Black Hills H-D Race Team: A New Dawn for the XG750R
Deep into the AFT Production Twins Main Event at the Law Tigers Sacramento Mile presented by Cycle Gear, Dalton Gauthier took a moment to look back. By that point, his advantage was so great that he couldn’t see any bikes close enough in pursuit to push him for the win.
But at that same moment, the collective American Flat Track community looked back and saw visions of literally hundreds of race-winning machines behind him as he sprinted to the checkered aboard the No. 122 Black Hills Harley-Davidson ProBEAM XG750R.
Harley-Davidson’s historical place in dirt track racing is undeniable. Even as Indian Motorcycle racks up Grand National race win after Grand National race win, season after season, the combined premier-class wins tally for all manufacturers other than Harley still trails the astonishing 679 wins of the American icon by a triple-digit number.
But more than a reminder of a glorious past, Gauthier’s triumph was a look ahead toward a shining future. The maiden victory for the XG750R did more than offer hope; it served as concrete proof of renewed relevance and -- perhaps more importantly -- set a precedent.
The Black Hills Harley-Davidson squad is fast emerging as an AFT Production Twins juggernaut. The team has stormed to a win, three podiums, and five top-fives in the last three rounds alone, and it only looks to be gaining strength going forward.
That’s not too shabby when you consider that the program was only dreamed up after the 2019 American Flat Track season opener at DAYTONA.
Black Hills Harley-Davidson General Manager and co-owner Terry Rymer was already heavily involved in the sport, fielding Dawson Schieffer on a ProBEAM/Terry Rymer/Black Hills H-D-backed Yamaha YZ450F in the AFT Singles class, but a post-Daytona conversation turned out to be a light-bulb moment.
Rymer said, “I was talking to (AFT Chief Competition Officer) Joey (Mancari) on the phone, and he said, ‘You ought to see if Terry (Vance) could put together a Production Twin for you.’
“I’d never even thought of it, just because Vance & Hines has been so busy with the factory team in the AFT Twins class. I called Terry, and he said, ‘Aww, I don't know, we're so busy with this other program. I'll talk to my guys, but I don't think we can... But, hey, thanks for the thought...'
“I sent him a text the next day just to say, ‘This would be good for you, Harley, me, and American Flat Track. This is a winner. What do we have to do here to make it happen?’ And by god, a couple days later, he said, ‘Okay, here's the deal, we're going to have a bike ready at the Dallas round. You've got to get a rider.’”
With Schieffer on the shelf, Rymer signed up multi-time national champion Danny Eslick for the occasion. Together, they demonstrated enough promise with the Production Twins-spec early-gen XG750R that the one-off experiment got the green light as to full-season effort.
That led the team to another multi-time roadracing national champ in James Rispoli. Rymer said, “Danny did a good job, but once we decided to put a deal together for the full season, I had to look at it fiscally. Danny didn't have a Singles program and wasn't prepared to go AFT racing throughout the year. I knew Rispoli was, and I had been talking to him prior to that. He was going to be at all the races anyway, and he was pretty stoked.”
Rispoli jumped onboard and his adaptation to the bike and the class has been impressive. He’s quickly grown from top-ten runner to week-in/week-out podium contender on the XG750R.
The effort then went from strength-to-strength with the addition of the immensely talented Gauthier ahead of the team’s home race -- the eponymous (and naturally important) Black Hills Half-Mile, set in Black Hills H-D’s hometown of Rapid City, S.D., right in the midst of the fabled Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
A program that started on a whim only months prior very nearly had its storybook moment. After Rispoli won Semi 1 and Gauthier matched him by taking Semi 2, a 1-2 Main Event finish seemed entirely within reach.
While the two did fare well in the Main -- Rispoli edged his new teammate for the final spot on the box by 0.030-seconds -- hopes of a landmark win/runner-up in front of the highly partisan crowd were dashed.
Ultimately, Rymer was okay with that. “That would have been so bad ass, but I was happy with (third and fourth), just because I know all the riders. I was happy for everyone in the class, especially (race winner Ryan) Varnes -- I raced with his dad. To see him to do well, and also (runner-up) J.R. Addison... I'm just happy for all those guys.
“It was Dalton's first time on the bike, and James has had some seat time, and he was trying hard. No one puts in the work more than James Rispoli -- no one. So it was cool to see him get back on the box. If they could have pulled off the 1-2, that would have been epic, but as long as the racing is good, I'm happy.”
As it turned out, Black Hills Harley-Davidson and the XG750R wouldn’t have to wait long for that breakthrough victory. The aforementioned Sacramento Mile blowout came just four days later, even if Rymer’s many responsibilities as GM of one of the nation’s largest Harley dealers during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally meant that he had to celebrate Gauthier’s runaway win from afar.
“Dalton’s a special talent,” Rymer said. “There's just a handful of those guys that come around every now and then. You see them on a bike and just go, 'How does he do it?' It doesn't matter -- set-up, tire pressure whatever -- just make sure there's gas in it, and he’ll just go out and be fast on any track or any bike.
“I wish I could have been there. I actually had an offer from Terry to get on his jet Saturday morning, and we'd have been there in plenty of time, but if you've ever been to our lot during the rally... it's a big deal. There's a lot of work. A lot of details.
“But it’s awesome for the team. It really is. It's just a plan that's coming around… We just kind of stumbled into it, and then Vance & Hines really took the ball and ran with it. I just went along for the ride.”
It’s a ride Rymer hopes is replicated by others many times over, even if that makes his team’s life a bit more difficult in the years ahead. It’s his (and many others’) great hope that the winning example being set now by Black Hills Harley-Davidson with inspire other H-D dealers to get more involved in American Flat Track racing.
He said, “We're really excited for the future. I know the plan with Harley-Davidson and Vance & Hines is to sell those bikes and make them available to dealers. I want other dealers saying, 'I want to whip his ass,' and then we can all have a beer at the Dealer Show and talk about how good we are. We’d love for American Harley-Davidson and Latus Motors and other dealers like that to jump in too.”
As critically important as the help from Harley-Davidson and Vance & Hines has been to quickly establish Black Hills H-D’s AFT Production Twins program as a winner, the plan is for that success to funnel upward as well.
Rymer said, “If you look, the last few races, the Production Twins are laying down similar -- sometimes better -- lap times than the AFT Twins. There's information that can be shared there.
“It's really working out. Rispoli is a good developmental rider, and the guys at Vance & Hines like him a lot. He knows the MoTeC fuel management system and how all that works and percentages and how you feed it in. He’s been really good for them, so that's cool.
“Hopefully, Sammy (Halbert) and Jarod (Vanderkooi) can hang at these Miles. It’d be good for (Jared) Mees, it’d be good for (Briar) Bauman, it’d be good for the sport -- if they were to get beat straight-up by a factory Harley. It needs to happen.”