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.
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.
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.