Shayna Texter seeking history with American Flat Track championship

Simon Cudby, American Flat Track
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American Flat Track racing is unique among American sports. So it is fitting that one of their superstars, Shayna Texter, does not fit many preconceptions associated with racing.

Barely 5 feet tall and weighing less than 100 pounds, her silhouette is unimposing.

But that is the problem with preconceptions. As soon as Texter climbs onto her Red Bull Factory KTM, she is one of the fiercest riders on the track who will put her bike where angels dare not.

Texter made history at Knoxville Raceway in 2011 as the first female to win an American Flat Track main event. That came in the GNC2 division, one of the first steps on the ladder system for this form of racing.

It was the culmination of a long journey.

“For me, like a lot of racers, it’s in my blood,” Texter told NBCSports.com. “My grandfather (Glenn Fitzcharles) ran sprint cars on ovals and my father and grandfather on my dad’s side were involved in motorcycles.”

Fitzcharles not only raced, he is in the Sprint Car Hall of Fame.

Shayna Texter and Kolby Carlile finished handlebar to handlebar at Meadowland in 2018. American Flat Track.

Contact is common in oval car racing. That carries over into the realm of motorcycle racing.

“A lot of people are really familiar with the sprint car world and we are racing the same tracks as the sprint cars the majority of the time,” Texter said. “The only difference is we’re on motorcycles with no roll cage going over a hundred miles an hour on some of these tracks. Bumping into each other. Running handlebar to handlebar. It’s just as much of an adrenalin rush.”

In her 2018 win over Kolby Carlile in the final race of the season at the Meadowlands Mile, Texter momentarily lost the lead coming off the final corner of the last lap. The two riders made hard enough contact that it knocked Carlile’s clutch out of gear for a fraction of a second, allowing Texter to surge across the line in a photo finish.

Action like this is commonplace in the series. And it has been for 100 years.

Oval motorcycle racing is one of the oldest forms of racing in America with roots that stretch back into the 1920s. American Flat Track was formally established in 1954.

“Our family has owned a Harley Davidson dealership since the ‘50s and my dad was heavily involved in flat track,” Texter said. “He was a flat track racer himself. … So for me it was always kind of in the background. I rode on ovals in the field for fun. My brother decided to start racing in 2003 and I watched for about half the season and decided, ‘Hey, I want to go try this myself.’ And being that we owned a dealership, (my dad) was able to mount some street tires onto my TTR 125. I raced my next race the next day and haven’t looked back since.

“I credit a lot of it to it just being in my blood.”

Texter’s 2011 win was just the beginning. Since then, she has amassed 19 total.

She quickly became the face of AFT Singles when that division launched in 2017. Texter stood on the podium in her first oval start on Atlanta’s Dixie Speedway, a 3/8ths-mile, clay short track with a third-place finish. Her next outing produced a runner-up finish at the half-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway dirt track.

Texter won the following week on a one-mile horse track in Phoenix, Arizona. And the next week on the Sacramento (Calif.) Mile.

By the end of the season, she had five wins. Texter’s closest challenger for most wins had three.

Currently Texter has 11 wins in the AFT Singles division. That is more than twice the closest competitor.

Shayna Texter’s Sacramento Mile victory was the third of 2019. American Flat Track.

Despite the impressive stats, Texter has not yet won a championship. And 2019 was a difficult season. Texter scored three wins, but finished seventh in the standings.

“Last year was another new learning year for myself,” Texter said. “I joined forces with the new Red Bull Factory KTM team. They were brand new to the sport of flat track racing. It was a learning year for myself and the team. Myself and last year’s teammate Dan Bromley were really the only two with a lot of dirt track knowledge. So to get three wins was awesome; to get KTM factory their first win was a huge accomplishment that I was really proud of.”

Bromley was winless, but he finished third in the standings.

One reason for the low points output was Texter’s lack of success on TTs, temporary tracks that are a hybridization of ovals, road courses and motocross. With her background in oval racing, Texter has less experience on this course type than her competitors.

“There is a lot of difference between the ovals and TTs,” Texter said. “The TTs are kind of road courses on dirt and they also have a jump. … Never really rode a lot of trail riding or motocross growing up. So I lack that a little bit in my background. … It’s a little more physically demanding and a lot more muscling the bike around side to side. Pushing and shoving.

“And also the jump. I don’t have a lot of jumping experience. For me it’s been a huge learning curve. When my father passed away in 2010, I took a couple of years off on the TTs to focus on the ovals so I would have a chance to make money to show up the following weekend. I’ve been playing catchup on the TTs for the past couple of years.”

To improve, Texter has been training with Aldon Baker, the legendary mentor to numerous supercross and motocross champions.

Baker’s training regimen focuses on peaking at the right time – a plan that was interrupted by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But racing on TTs require specific skills that do not affect oval racing. Skills like using the front brake to help handle through the corners. Baker also trains KTM factory riders Cooper Webb and Marvin Musquin.

KTM technicians are shared and mechanics from both teams collaborate. Texter expects that will improve her performance enough in 2020 to elevate her in the standings.

“I know my strong points, which ovals I’m strong on, and I expect to go out and win them,” Texter said. “If I can win on the ovals and make the mains on the TTs, there is no reason at the end of the day I can’t have a shot at the championship.

“I am the sole KTM factory racer this year, so I’m carrying all the weight on my shoulders. We created a great platform last year so that I’m super excited to get back to the racetrack when the season resumes to see where we are. We spent a lot of time testing, amping up for the season at the Baker Factory. I’m ready to go when we can resume.”

A strong finish on the TTs is one of the few items missing from Texter’s resume. So is a championship, but if she can achieve the first, the other will follow.

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Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws
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More than two decades in the making, the pairing of Heather Lyne and Dennis Erb Jr. produced a historical milestone in Dirt Late Model.

Last month, Erb and his long-time crew chief Lyne won their first World of Outlaws Late Model Championship and with this achievement, Lyne became the first female crew chief to win in a national late model series. Their journey together goes back 21 years and tells the story of hard work, persistence and belief in oneself.

After a career-best season with the World of Outlaws, Erb and Lyne secured the points championship at US 36 Raceway in Osborn, Mo. with three races remaining in the season. The consistency and success of their season came down to pinpoint focus. Lyne and Erb are a team of two living out a David vs. Goliath tale. In order to be as successful as possible this year the duo knew they had to do as much as possible with the resources they had.

“It’s always a challenge when you only have two people, both at the racetrack and at the shop,” Lyne told NBC Sports. “I also work full time, so during the day, Dennis has to do a significant amount of work so that when I get down there I can start working and maintaining. It’s planning ahead. It’s having that system in place and making sure that you’re prepared ahead of time.

“When you have a problem at the track, making sure you have all that stuff ready so it’s a quick change and not a lengthy process to make a repair. We had zero DNFs in the World of Outlaws, we had only one DNF out of 96 races [combined among all series].”

Dennis Erb clinched his 2022 championship before the World of Outlaws World Finals. Jacy Norgaard – World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Taming Time

This was not an easy feat. Between a full travel schedule and Lyne’s full-time job as an engineer, time comes at a premium. What they lack in time and resources they made up for in patience and planning.

“We buckled down, and we got all the equipment that we needed back, motors freshened, and things of that nature,” Lyne said about the mid-point of last season. “We were able to keep up with that. We just had a higher focus. I tried to reduce my hours at my day job as much as I possibly could while still maintaining what I need to get done at work. I got rid of a lot of the other distractions and got a more refined system in place at the shop.

“We did certain tasks on certain days so we had time to recover. We were on the road a little bit more, as opposed to coming home to the shop. So we had to be more prepared to stay out on those longer runs. It was just really staying on top of things a little more. It was a heightened sense.”

This was Lyne and Erb’s fourth full season with the Outlaws, but they’ve been on the road together for the last 21 seasons starting in 2001. Their partnership began with Lyne’s bravery. When one door closed, she was quick to open another. In 2001, Lyne’s dad was ready to stop racing. Her mother wanted to regain her weekends, but Lyne knew this was her life path and wasn’t prepared to lose it.

“I’ve always been a tomboy at heart,” Lyne said. “I watched racing with my dad. Growing up he watched NASCAR. In high school, I got tired of playing at the lake house, so I went to the local dirt track and fell in love with it. I just couldn’t get enough. It took a year for me to convince my dad to come to the track with me. He finally did and we sponsored a car that year, the following year he started to race limited cars. He ran hobby stocks and limited late models.”

At some point, Lyne and her father’s level of commitment drifted apart.

“He did it for about five years,” Lyne said. “And then my mom said: ‘I’m done racing. I want my weekends back. It’s just not fun anymore.’ I wasn’t ready to hang up my wenches and Dennis raced out of the same hometown so I, on a dare, went down and introduced myself; told him if you ever need any help, I’ll drill out rivets, I’ll help wash, whatever you need. Twenty-one years later here I am.”

Heather Lyne became the first female crew chief to secure a national touring late model championship in 2022. Paul Arch / World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Breaking Through

Lyne entered a male-dominated job in a field that is also male-dominated – and where there were few examples of women creating these places for themselves. In this way, Lyne became a blueprint for other women as they strive to find a place for themselves in racing and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) overall. She has her mother to thank for providing a strong role model, her father for sharing her passion, Erb for taking a chance on an unknow entity and most importantly herself.

“I was raised to believe that I can do anything, I want to do, as long as I put my heart and soul into it.” Lyne replied when asked about role models in the sport growing up. “My parents did not raise me to have that limitation. But from a racing role model perspective, I went in there completely green and just introduced myself to Dennis, the fact that he was brave enough to take that risk and bring a girl to the racetrack. Someone he didn’t know at all speaks volumes for him.”

Lyne and Erb have learned how to survive and succeed with each other on the road. They do this by leveraging decades of combined experience and an ability to adapt to the everchanging landscape of dirt late models. Next year the World of Outlaws visits nearly a dozen new tracks and Lyne sees it as an opportunity for continued success.

“I just want to do it again,” Lyne says going into next season, “I’m looking forward to the competition, I always do. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t competitively driven.

“There are some new tracks on the schedule that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time that I haven’t been to myself,” Lyne said of the 2023 season, “Dennis seems to do well on those first timers. We won out at Marion center, we finished second at Bloomsburg. We have a good solid notebook of information to tackle them over the last three years with these rocket race cars that we’re running. It’s good to have that information and leverage it to try some new things.”