Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:10 pm
JJ Flairty is a busy man this week racing Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
On Wednesday, he raced in Elkhorn at the Walworth County Fair. Tonight, he’ll race at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena on a Dr. Pepper syrup covered track as part of Flat Out Friday. On Saturday, he’ll be part of the hill climb at Little Switzerland before driving down to the Milwaukee lakefront to race at Bradford Beach.
Outside of the Walworth County race, the events are all tied to Harley-Davidson’s 115th anniversary, part of a push by the company during its celebration to do things a little bit differently.
“We wanted to bring it back to the roots of what we call authentic, grassroots motorcycle culture,” said Matt King, Harley-Davidson communications manager.
The Bradford Beach Brawl will feature races in a number of different categories. It is being produced by The Race of Gentleman, which puts on a major beach race in New Jersey and similar events around the country. It will run from noon to 7 p.m. Saturday and Harley is also streaming it live on its Facebook page, which King pointed out will give the event an even bigger reach.
King said the idea was to produce something that is interesting to not only Harley’s core fans, but also for people who may not be riders.
“For a lot of people, these kinds of events are their first exposure to motorcycle racing and maybe event motorcycles at all,” he said.
Flairty, a 30-year-old toolmaker from Waukesha, has been riding motorcycles since he was seven years old and racing for the last 12 years.
A self-described Harley enthusiast, Flairty’s passion for the company and motorcycles drew him to flat track racing about two years ago. He couldn’t afford one of the production Harley race motorcycles, so he did the next best thing and built a hooligan bike to compete.
The hooligan class of racing started in California as a variation of “run what you brung” racing, Flairty said. The rules are fairly open and only require a 1986 or new motorcycle that came with at least a 750cc engine from the factory.
“It has taken off and I think it has realistically started a whole new fan base for flat track,” Flairty said.
King agreed that new racing classes and categories are opening up motorcycling to new fans.
“It brings people in, it engages them in an exciting spectacle,” he said.
As part of a younger generation, Flairty is in the demographic Harley is trying to attract to motorcycling, although he acknowledge he carries a bit of a homegrown bias having grown up in Wisconsin.
“I always wanted a Harley, there was no thought in my mind that I would not own a Harley-Davidson at some point,” he said.
Flairty is racing this weekend with sponsorship from Milwaukee Harley-Davidson, which has a dealership off Silver Spring Drive and will be opening another in downtown Milwaukee.
Brooke Pape, Milwaukee Harley-Davidson marketing and events manager, said last week that embracing racing is part of a push to attract new and younger riders to the sport.
Flairty says he knows a lot of people his age who either own or want to own a Harley, although he wondered what the level excitement is like further away from Wisconsin.
“I just don’t think there’s a lot of younger people that want to go buy a brand new Harley-Davidson motorcycles,” he said, adding the interest could turn into purchasing new Harleys later in life.
As Harley-Davidson has dealt with decreasing sales over the last few years, one of the major challenges has been the availability of used motorcycles in the marketplace. Aging baby boomers, long a core demographic for Harley, are leaving the sport, making more bikes available for purchase and driving down prices. Lower used motorcycle prices make it harder to convince a buyer to pay the premium price Harley charges for its new bikes.
Within the last year, the company has made a point of embracing the used motorcycle market as an entry point for new riders.
Flairty pointed out the hooligan racing class allows participants to use Harley sportster models that can be bought for $1,500 or $2,000.
“I was able to take my skills of building bikes over the years and turn it into building a Harley race bike,” he said.
The company is also pushing into new motorcycle segments including street fighters. Asked during a media event if those decisions would lead to Harley rejoining top flight motorcycle racing in the future, Bill Davidson, Harley-Davidson Museum vice president, was coy.
“It’s definitely part of our fabric. We love racing, it’s in our blood,” he said, before adding that racing would continue to be part of the company but the details were confidential.