Harley-Davidson brings old-school cool with flat track racing at X Games

Flat track racing came roaring into Austin last night, courtesy of Harley-Davidson. The classic racing style kicked off four days of sport at the X Games, under a cloud of Texas dust and the perfume of exhaust.

Flat track racing is beautiful in it's simplicity: A dirt track hammered by light, powerful bikes that can reach up to 130 miles per hour, all without front brakes. Drivers use a metal shoe to balance themselves as they drift through the turns.

The racing style is one of the oldest in the country, and began when motorcycles were used to pull bicyclist to high speeds as they rounded velodromes in the early 1900s. Soon motorcycle racing became an end in and of itself. Indeed the vintage sport drew a younger, hipper crowd than the majority of races, with more ironic tattoos and high-concept haircuts in sight than classic biker fare. Drivers took to the 3/8ths of a mile track on twin-cylinder motorcycles from a wide range of manufacturers for a chance to take home the first gold of the games.

The race was close, but soon three riders broke out as the clear favorites to take home the gold, silver and bronze medals. Jared Mees, the defending American Motorcycle Association Grand National Champion, lead the pack for 19 and a half circuits, but suffered a mechanical failure within sight of the finish line.

Mees' breakdown allowed Kid Rock sponsored rider, Bryan Smith of Swartz Creek, MI, to pull ahead and take home the gold, as well as a new Harley-Davidson. Sammy Halbert followed Smith to win the silver and Brad Baker took bronze. Mees ended up in 11th place, but still has the satisfaction of beating his wife Nicole in the final race.

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