Former AMA Grand National Champions Kenny Coolbeth, Jr. and Jake Johnson couldn’t do it. Neither could Brandon Robinson, Sammy Halbert, Jared Vanderkooi or Mikey Rush. Will 2020 be the year somebody finally puts the Harley-Davidson XG750R on the top step of the American Flat Track SuperTwins (formally AFT Twins) podium? Chances are better than ever after Harley announced its 2020 factory flat track team of Bryan Smith, Jared Vanderkooi, and Dalton Gauthier.

After the vaunted XR750 ruled over American flat track racing for 44 years, the last three years have been tough for Harley-Davidson racing since switching to the liquid-cooled XG750R in 2017. Even with two former champions and the talented Robinson racing the XG that first year, results were lackluster to say the least. Johnson finished in a promising fourth place at the first race in Daytona, but the team struggled the rest of the year. Harley-Davidson’s factory flat track team continued to search for the right formula in 2018 but again the top step of the podium remained elusive. Last year, Halbert finally put the XG750R on the podium with a third-place finish at the SoCal Half-Mile while Vanderkooi grabbed a few fourth-place finishes, but so far the Harley-Davidson flat track Twins drought stands at three years and counting.

That might change in 2020 though because not only has Harley signed on 2016 AMA Grand National champion Smith, it’s also bringing in the man who helped him win that title, Ricky Howerton. As crew chief and mechanic, Howerton helped lead the Howerton/Crosley team to three AMA Expert Twins championships (2012-2014) in addition to Smith’s championship run in 2016. Howerton will oversee the entire 2020 Harley factory flat track team as crew chief and be responsible for “all technical aspects of tuning and set-up of” the XG750R.

Will the tuning wizardry of Ricky Howerton pay off in wins for the Harley factory flat track team in 2020?

“We are excited to have Ricky Howerton joining the Harley-Davidson Factory Team,” said Terry Vance, owner of Vance & Hines Motorsports, in the team announcement. “He brings a wealth of knowledge and championship experience to an effort that already includes the tuning talent of Byron Hines and engineering resources at the Harley-Davidson Product Development Center. With our trio of great riders, I think we’ll be bringing a formidable team to the track in 2020.”

Bryan Smith is a beast on mile-long tracks, something the XG750R has struggled with in the past. 

Nobody knows the nuances of Harley’s XG750R better than Vanderkooi who is heading into his third year of racing on the machine. His experience and insight will be a valuable tool to his teammates as Vanderkooi posted 4th place finishes at the Daytona TT, Atlanta Short Track, So-Cal Half-Mile and the Laconia Short Track last year. One place the XG750R has glaringly fallen short are mile tracks, which undoubtedly is where the skills of Smith will come into play.

Nobody knows the XG750R as well as Jared Vanderkooi who will be competing on Harley's factory flat track racer for the third consecutive year.

The wild card in the success of the XG750R in 2020, however, is Gauthier. Though this will be the first year of racing in the SuperTwins class for the 2019 AFT Singles champion, Gauthier put the XG750R on the top step of the podium twice last year in the AFT Production Twins class racing for the factory-supported Black Hills Harley-Davidson team. The 20-year-old rider brings a wealth of talent to the table along with a strong desire to win and might just be Harley’s best bet on winning a race in the 2020 SuperTwins class.

Young, fearless, and hungry for wins, Dalton Gauthier is the X-factor on the 2020 Harley factory flat track team. Gauthier's the first person to win a race on the XG750R, albeit in the Production Twins class. 

Another factor that might work in Harley’s favor this year is the fact that it’s dumping big money into the Production Twins class and is making race-ready XG750R’s available for privateer teams for the first time. Harley-Davidson is putting up $250,000 in contingency money in the Production Twins class for 2020. It’s also selling competition-ready XG750R motorcycles for $35,999, with priority given to Harley dealership teams. Having more teams racing, tuning, and tweaking the performance of its factory racer has the potential to boost its development exponentially.

So will we see Harley-Davidson get its first win in AFT’s premier class in 2020? March 14 and the opening race at the Daytona TT can’t get here fast enough. See ya at the beach.