Can the Harley-Davidson XR750 Nonetheless Win?

A half-century of growth saved the XR750 on the entrance of the pack for many of that point. Now with the Indian FTR750 profitable in dominating trend and Harley-Davidson campaigning the XG750, may the XR ever win once more? (Harley-Davidson /)

The earlier two installments of this 50th anniversary sequence centered on the genesis and growth of Harley-Davidson’s XR750, in addition to the outsized contributions to its wonderful historical past made by three titanic skills in Jay Springsteen, Scott Parker, and Chris Carr.

Nevertheless, whereas these tales of the XR span from the ’60s into the brand new millennium and successfully outlined the careers of maybe the three biggest riders American Flat Monitor has ever identified, it could be an incredible disservice to the bike to recommend its historical past ends there. In fact, the legacy of the XR750 transcends far past even these eras, heroes, and the game of filth observe racing solely.

Addressing that final level first, we may argue that no two-wheeled icon and their gear have achieved the identical kind of movie star or has been etched so completely into the general public consciousness as daredevil Evel Knievel and his fleet of red-white-and-blue XR750s. What little one of the ’70s didn’t have at the very least one Evel Knievel XR750 toy?

Evel Knievel brought the XR750 into nearly every American home.

Evel Knievel introduced the XR750 into almost each American residence. (Motorcyclist Archives/)

And the XR didn’t solely succeed on filth or within the air. Cal Rayborn was the hero of the ’72 Transatlantic Match Races on a roadrace-spec Iron XR750 TT, after which gave the Aluminum XR its solely two GNC roadrace victories later that yr at Indianapolis Raceway Park and Laguna Seca.

Mark Brelsford truly earned the primary (and solely different) GNC roadrace win for the platform in ’71 at Loudon on an Iron XR. A few years later, Brelsford’s No 1 Aluminum XR750 TT went up in flames (alongside along with his hopes of defending the Grand Nationwide Championship) in a dramatic crash at Daytona Worldwide Speedway.

A decade later, that very same destroyed bike was pulled from purgatory and re-forged right into a pumped-up 1,000cc XR-based racer that promptly received the Battle of the Twins race at Daytona with Springsteen on the controls. The resurrected machine was then dubbed “Lucifer’s Hammer,” wrenched by famed H-D tuner Don Tilley, and wielded by Gene Church. The pairing went on to assert the AMA BOTT crown for 3 years working from ’84–’86.

However even when taking solely the XR’s flat observe accomplishments into consideration, there’s a lot extra to the story. Whereas Springsteen, Parker, and Carr did mix for an astonishing 183 predominant occasion victories and 19 Grand Nationwide Championship wins, easy arithmetic tells you that also leaves a further 319 wins and 18 GNCs on the docket. Digging deeper, 55 riders apart from the Huge Three received races on the XR750, and 11 of these 55 earned at the very least one Grand Nationwide Championship aboard it.

Over 50 years, the Harley-Davidson XR750 has captured 502 wins and 37 Grand National Championships. Is a 503rd win possible?

Over 50 years, the Harley-Davidson XR750 has captured 502 wins and 37 Grand Nationwide Championships. Is a 503rd win attainable? (Harley-Davidson /)

The total story of XR750’s reign additionally occurs to be very a lot a contemporary one. Of these 18 non-Springsteen/Parker/Carr titles, the majority of them got here following Carr’s closing Grand Nationwide Championship in 2005. It’s solely on account of recency bias that it feels just like the latest historical past of American Flat observe will be summed up because the rise of the Kawasakis—culminating in Bryan Smith’s 2016 crown—adopted one yr later by each Harley-Davidson’s pivot to the XR750’s successor, the production-based XG750R, and the return of Indian Motorbike with its purpose-built XR killer, the FTR750. The fact is the XR750 performed because the backdrop for all of these monumental developments, main ubiquity to immediately seeming like antiquity.

The all-guns-blazing reemergence of Indian Motorbike, particularly, had an enormous impression on the game. Indian adopted the blueprint utilized so successfully by Honda within the mid-’80s with its once-dominant RS750 and perfected it with the added fringe of three a long time of technological developments to name upon. 2000 Grand Nationwide Champion Joe Kopp was introduced onboard in a testing and developmental position in 2016 and located the FTR to be immediately acquainted following a protracted and profitable profession campaigning XRs.

Indian’s FTR750 has dominated since its arrival.

Indian’s FTR750 has dominated since its arrival. (Indian Motorbike /)

“It has a purpose-built engine like in the XR750… I wouldn’t say they copied it, but there are a lot of the same things, like a four-speed transmission and big heavy flywheels on the crank…a lot of similarities,” Kopp stated. “The only thing that’s really different, I’d say, is the modern technology with fuel injection and ignition timing and stuff like that.”

Kopp gave the all-new FTR750 its AFT debut in a shakedown journey on the 2016 season finale forward of its impending full-scale 2017 marketing campaign. The 47-year-old turned heads along with his seventh-place run within the Indian’s maiden efficiency on the Santa Rosa Mile, however that effort was largely overshadowed by Brad Baker, who gave the XR750 a correct send-off by profitable the machine’s closing outing as a full-factory racebike in blowout trend.

There was no denying Indian Motorbike the highlight the very subsequent day nevertheless, when it enacted the following stage of its plan for filth observe domination. Yamaha had overwhelmed H-D and its superior XR750 within the ’70s thanks primarily to the singular brilliance of Kenny Roberts. Honda had then achieved the identical with its excellent RS750 and a pair of superstars in Ricky Graham and Bubba Shobert within the ’80s. Indian took it one step additional. It employed the sequence’ three most up-to-date Grand Nationwide Champions, Smith, Baker, and maybe the largest catch of all, Jared Mees, assembling its personal model of the “Wrecking Crew.”

By that time, Mees had been properly on his strategy to increasing the unique “Titans of the XR750” membership to 4. Earlier than signing with Indian, he’d already claimed 4 Grand Nationwide Championships on the XR and ranked seventh within the machine’s historical past with 20 victories to his credit score.

Jared Mees took four GNC titles on the XR750.

Jared Mees took 4 GNC titles on the XR750. (Dave Hoenig/)

Since becoming a member of Indian, Mees has solely accelerated his assault on the report books, storming previous Springsteen in all-time wins (now with 48 to Springer’s 43, trailing solely Parker’s 94 and Carr’s 78). And consequently, the notion of his place has doubtless been perpetually altered; the identical approach Ricky Graham, who took the 1982 Grand Nationwide Championship on an XR750, is finest remembered because the grasp of the RS750, Mees appears destined to be most carefully aligned with the FTR750 after his racing days are achieved.

Mees clinched the FTR’s first title in its opening try with two races nonetheless remaining within the 2017 season. With the championship already locked up, he entered the penultimate race of the yr in Fort Value, Texas, using a run of 5 consecutive oval wins—a streak that doubtless would have been eight if not for some uncharacteristic begin line mishaps at Lima Half-Mile.

Just like the scenario that helped pave the way in which for Honda’s overwhelming success within the ’80s, Indian’s ascent transpired whereas H-D’s manufacturing facility race program was most susceptible, deep within the growth part of the brand new XG platform.

But, regardless of being “officially” left behind, the XR750 nonetheless had some struggle left in it but. Privateer Jeffrey Carver Jr., confirmed up for the Lone Star Half-Mile in a van with simply crew chief Ben Evans in tow and a single XR750.

Jeffrey Carver Jr. earned the XR750 its 502nd win.

Jeffrey Carver Jr. earned the XR750 its 502nd win. (Scott Hunter, AFT/)

“We actually broke our Kawi the week before,” Carver defined. “We thought we had been going to need to journey the backup, however its motor wasn’t pretty much as good. We had been sitting there on the store, and Gary Goodwin was there. He had given us an XR, and he was like, ‘What about that bike?’

“ ‘I do not know… We’d want two of them.’

“ ‘Welp, you’ve bought one good one and that is all you want. Think about being the final one to ever win a race on an XR750.’

“Man, I used to be so fired up. I am not one to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to go to this race and win.’ I simply let the vitality play itself out.”

Even with a subject stacked with Indian FTR750s, H-D XG750s, Kawasaki Ninja 650s, and Yamaha FZ-07s, nothing stood an opportunity towards Carver and that XR750 on a slick Texas Motor Speedway floor.

“When you’re on a track, the XR delivers the horsepower down to the track. When it gets slippery, the XR just has the characteristics to really hook up to the ground,” nine-time GNC winner Parker stated. “The Yamahas struggled at that in their era and the Hondas struggled at that for a period of time too. That’s the big thing. It will hook up to the racetrack where the other bikes would struggle trying to get tires to hook up onto the dirt.”

Mees just couldn’t catch Carver in Texas as the privateer took the last win for the XR750.

Mees simply couldn’t catch Carver in Texas because the privateer took the final win for the XR750. (Scott Hunter, AFT /)

“I had been close—podiums and running up front,” Carver stated. “At the beginning of that year, I was going to quit and maybe try to find something else to do, at least part time. I didn’t even know if I was going to the West Coast for the races. To come out and have that drive and that grit, I didn’t care, you had the factory Harleys, the factory Indians. To be able to go there and win—it was just amazing. I just had this determination in my eyes that day.”

Just one rider may a lot as maintain Carver in sight that night: Mees, who completed greater than a second and a half again in second.

“I tried so hard to gain on him; I couldn’t bridge the gap,” Mees admitted.

Carver's mechanic Ben Evans proudly celebrates the victory.

Carver’s mechanic Ben Evans proudly celebrates the victory. (Scott Hunter, AFT /)

Because the weekends and seasons proceed so as to add up, Carver’s underdog victory in Texas appears increasingly more more likely to go down because the XR750’s final hurrah. He did wheel it again out on the Atlanta Quick Monitor early in 2018 to attain one other podium end, however the sequence has solely additional fallen into Indian’s clutches. Since Carver’s upset, the FTR750 has taken 34 out of a attainable 37 predominant occasion triumphs. In the meantime, whereas enhancing, Harley’s manufacturing facility XG750R racebike remains to be on the lookout for its first.

Whereas inconceivable to foretell on the time, Carver did give the XR750 one closing bragging proper. The FTR750 closed out the last decade with 47 wins. And due to Carver, the XR750 ended the 2010s with 48. Granted, the FTR amassed these wins in a lot much less time.

The XR750 is now largely absent from AFT competitors. Danny Eslick did handle to attain factors on it final season at Lima, serving as a fleeting reminder of the potential of its continued relevance.

“Sure, one hasn’t won since 2017,” Kopp stated. “But we really haven’t seen them much on the track since then with a real capable rider. Honestly, there are some tracks—if I was 20 or 30 years younger—I would still choose the XR750 at times over an Indian, honestly.”

Kopp in the midst of his 2000 championship hunt.

Kopp within the midst of his 2000 championship hunt. (Dave Hoenig/)

Requested if he believed it may nonetheless win, Parker stated, “I do. I really do. Why would you not expect it? My career ended in 2000. Twenty years later they kept tweaking it here, tweaking it there. You can have a 1,000-horsepower motorcycle, but you’ve still got to hook it up to the ground, and that’s the key issue. Just because you’ve got a faster, more powerful bike, doesn’t mean you can go faster around a circle.”

“I know you could still win on that thing,” Kopp added. “There are certain tracks where it’s favorable in my mind. A slick clay car track—the slicker the better for that thing—and with a more rounded straightaway, it would be hard to beat still. I’m confident in that.”

The XR750 has develop into extensively thought-about to be probably the most profitable racebike in bike racing historical past, maybe the best automobile in motorsports historical past. Is there even any competitors? What different machine boasts a half-century reign spent remodeling skills into heroes and heroes into legends? And better of all, this legacy won’t but be totally written.

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