In 2021, I attended California Superbike School, looking to hone my on-road riding skills. As my class hit the track for the first time, I was surprised to hear the unmistakable growl of a big V-twin above the groan of so many sportbikes. Moments later, I got my first glimpse of the unlikely source: a giant Crimson Harley-Davidson Slip on the road. Then, as we waited for our assigned trainer to share his post-track debrief, I ventured to ask the Harley’s equally tall and hulking owner, Doug Ramey, why anyone would bring a Road Glide to school. race? He fixed me with an unnerving eye and replied flatly, “Because I want to go bagger shopping.”
We’ve been following Doug Ramey’s efforts to achieve his unlikely quest to compete in the equally unlikely sport of professional bagger racing.
A centuries-old rivalry over absurdly inappropriate machines
Designed as a one-off event for slightly modified American V-Twin motorcycles equipped with fairings and saddlebags, the King of the Baggers (KOTB) began life as a showcase prelude to a MotoAmerica Superbike race held in October 2020 Like two ancient armies going to war, the House of Harley-Davidson and the House of Indian fielded their bravest knights, an eclectic group of road racing veterans, to do battle on 700-pound motorcycles around of the historic Laguna Seca circuit.
It turned out to be an irresistible sight. MotoAmerica chairman and three-time Grand Prix world champion Wayne Rainey said the race “blew up” social media, garnering 9.6 million video views across Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. The King of the Baggers racing series was born and the Harley Factory team would claim the inaugural title. the wonder KOTB success led MotoAmerica to expand series to six races in 2022, which debuts at Daytona Bike Week. He also spawned a rival, The bagger racing league (BRL), which hosted the first race in its Battle of the Baggers series at Utah’s Motorsports Campus in 2021, and has even influenced Harley’s design choices, including the 2022 Harley-Davidson Road Glide ST.
Ramey set his sights on racing against pro riders in Game 2 of BRL, to be held six months later at Sonoma Raceway, and his visit to the California Superbike School was the first step in realizing that dream.
Born to race baggers
Ramey was still a boy when his parents and grandparents moved from the Bay Area to Carson City, Nevada, where he remembers helping his grandfather, “a big Harley guy,” adjust the valves on his v-twin. Motorcycles were in the blood, and Ramey and his buddies spent their formative years modifying and racing everything they could get their hands on, hitting the back roads of rural Nevada and racing in flat track events.
After serving 37 years in the US Army Corps of Engineers, Ramey returned to Carson City as a qualified engineer and founded a commercial janitorial equipment overhaul company. He devoted his free time to his burgeoning collection of motorcycles and modifying muscle cars for friends. As Ramey’s reputation as a skilled automotive engineer spread, he soon discovered that he could convert his childhood obsession into his new livelihood.
“We only go around once in this world,” Ramey said, “and I love spending my time meeting and talking with people who have a passion for this stuff.”
Ramey currently owns five motorcycles. His first and most prized is a lightly-wound 1940 Harley-Davidson Flathead 45ci, which he bought while he was home from deployment. When spirited driving is required, he swings a leg on his “hot rod”, a heavily modified 2004 Road King 127ci, and for easy cruising with Mrs. Ramey, he uses his 2019 Indian Chieftain, the “put-put”. Ramey also owns a 128ci Harley Freewheeler which he showed off at the 2021 Street Vibrations Rally in Reno. And, finally, the crimson 2020 Road Glide he brought to superbike school.
The Sonoma Road
An old motorsport mantra is that racing costs the same today as it always has; every penny you have. Competing as a privateer is an expensive hobby, but Ramey is confident his mechanical knowledge and ingenuity will help him manage the costs. He also credits the support of Battle Born Harley-Davidson to Carson City.
“I’m lucky to know a lot of good people who share my passion,” Ramey told me. “They really supported me.”
“We’re trying to ease the pain,” Battle Born general manager Craig Berry said of his efforts to help Ramey. “You can’t help but like the guy. When he starts a project, he always goes to the end.
Riders competing in the BRL must first qualify for a racing license, and Ramey has reserved his spot at a licensing meeting held at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway, leaving just a few weeks to strip the Road Glide of its parts. heavier and install a host of new racing components before testing.
The upgraded suspension features 49mm alloy lower fork legs with 25mm GP cartridges and Legend springs with a Revo Arc remote reservoir for the rear. A stronger crankshaft and modified swingarm help deliver increased power, and a Beringer braking system helps harness it. The bike also received new handlebars and controls, and new 17-inch forged wheels were ordered and delayed. The team also installed rearsets, only to find that their positioning required frame modification to mount the new exhaust system, requiring them to reinstall the OEM running boards before heading to Chuckwalla.
But Ramey doesn’t let the inevitable setbacks get him down. “You can’t get discouraged,” he said, “You just have to keep moving forward.”
When Ramey took to the track, grinding his running boards around the tight Chuckwalla turns, sparks flew, much to the delight of young sportbike enthusiasts, and became the inspiration for the team’s new name: Wicked. Grind Racing. He also met other would-be bagger runners, who demonstrated the camaraderie common to running and shared advice, knowledge and encouragement. And contacts, including SMT Machining, the only store Ramey could find willing to promise timely delivery of the vitally important lightweight 17-inch racing wheels.
Wicked Grind Races
Once the racing license was taken care of, Ramey paid his entry fee for the second Bagger Racing League meet in Sonoma and spent the remaining few weeks tweaking and testing the bike, which is not an easy task for a privateer without a budget for renting a circuit.
Motor racing involves more than just financial risk and is generally considered a sport for young people. I asked Ramey what motivated him to start running now, and after a palpable pause he related how it had been his solemn duty to put two of his comrades to rest. “I ride for the soldiers,” he says.
Ramey and his Wicked Grind Racing team arrived in Sonoma on a cool, cloudy December day. The Pro Stock Bagger class would pit them against riders such as multi-time AMA Pro Supermoto Unlimited Champion Benny Carlson and Hooligan Enduro winner Michael ‘Arnie’ Wells.
“When I finally hit the track, I was very nervous. It was cold and we didn’t have much time to warm up before qualifying.
Nonetheless, Ramey qualified eighth out of fourteen riders and would eventually finish a very respectable seventh overall. Buoyed by that result, he plans to race the crimson Road-Glide at the KOTB’s inaugural 2022 race at Daytona, with a professional hired in the spooky seat. But don’t assume our man will be sitting in the paddock while all the action takes place on the track. He has already laid out plans to further modify his 2005 Road King. Ramey’s new mount to fight against the House of Indian in the 2022 BRL series. Wow!
You can follow the adventures of Doug Ramey on his Blog JRS Motorwerks Bagger Racing.
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