Sitting next to the sprawling Red Bull KTM Factory Flat Track team complex, it would be easy to miss Dalton Gauthier and his teammates.
KTM has pop-up tents and trailers lined up in a neat row on the infield at the Black Hills Speedway. There are bikes under each one of the tents, with teams of mechanics working on them between qualifying sessions and heat races.
By contrast, Gauthier and his team — the rider, D&D Racing owner-manager Robert Mclendon and mechanic-riding coach Garrett Willis — have a single pop-up with two bikes under it and a Ford pickup backed up to the tent. Its tailgate is down, and in the box sit tools and bike part. Tires are stacked up beside the truck next to a fuel can.
Don’t be fooled, though. Small budget D&D Racing, with Gauthier on the bike, sit atop the American Flat Track Singles points standings a little over halfway through the season.
Gauthier had finished no worse than sixth in 10 races this summer. He’s one twice and grabbed the runner-up spot four times, including a second-place finish at the Buffalo Chip TT on Sunday. He sits atop the AFT Singles division with 189 points. Dan Bromley was 21 points back in second place with 168 points heading into the night’s Black Hills Half-Mile, but changed to just 10 points after Gauthier did not finish Tuesday night.
“It’s not as fancy and glamorous as the other teams. But we're doing the best we can with what we have,” Mclendon said, sitting in the tent’s shade on a hot August day. “We have a whole lot of determination, a whole lot of grit and a whole lot of heart.”
Teams like Pensacola, Fla.-based D&D Racing, unlike the big factory teams like Indian, Harley-Davidson and KTM, find themselves racing week to week. A win might mean a paycheck of $5,000 on top of some sponsorship dollars, but the cost of getting to the next race can eat up that money in a hurry. Plus, bikes need good fuel and quality parts to run in tip-top condition, fresh tires are a necessity, let alone the daily expenses like hotel rooms, gas to to travel to the next race and food.
“Unfortunately we are on such a small budget that we don't even have a budget,” Mclendon said, with a grin. “We get $100 then we say, ‘All right, this hundred dollars … Do we need more race gas or tires; are we getting two hotel rooms this week or are we only getting one? It’s literally that small.”
Despite having nearly no margin for error – both in terms of bikes and money — Gauthier and D&D Racing go hard every time they’re on the track.
Gauthier, who has raced motorcycles since he was four years old, echoed Mclendon’s sentiments. For Gauthier, who took two years off from racing, the formula has been simple.
“We go racing every weekend, try and do as best as we can,” the 20-year-old Gauthier said, as he sat in the air-conditioned cab of the pickup. “We're doing really good right now against these factory teams. We couldn't have asked for a better season so far. And we're having a lot of fun with it.”
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“The factory guys know, if they break a bike, they just go hop on a backup or a backup to the backup,” Mclendon said. “If we break one, we only have one left. So we don't have the luxuries the other teams do. In a way, we should change our approach, but, but we don’t. Our philosophy is, we're going to give 110% whenever we're on the track.”
With the Black Hills Half-Mile now in their rear-view mirror, Gauthier, Mclendon and Willis pack up in the cool of a South Dakota evening and get ready for their next destination — the Sacramento Half-Mile on Saturday.
Bauman, Cose, Varnes win Black Hills Half-Mile mains
Briar Bauman of Salinas, Calif., Chase Cose of Fremont, Calif., and Ryan Varnes of Mohnton, Penn., were the main events winners during the Black Hills Half-Mile motorcycle races Tuesday night.
Cose edged out Shayna Texter of Willow Street, Penn., by 0.067 of a second to take top honors in the AFT Singles main. Morgan Mischler of Beaver Dam, Wisc., was third.
Gauthier, the AFT Singles points leader, had some bad racing luck Tuesday night. He was battling with Texter for second place seven laps into the 15-lap main when the fuel line on his bike broke. He finished with just his second DNF of the season in Singles.
“It sucks, but everything happens for a reason,” a quiet Gauthier said after the race. “I was having a lot of fun out there before my bike broke. But I’m going to come back from this strong at Sacramento.”
Bauman increased his points lead in the AFT Twins division with a win in the 25-lap main. Jeffrey Carver of Godfrey, Ill., finished second, 1.136 seconds back. Bronson Bauman, Briar’s brother, finished third.
Bauman bumped his season points lead over Jared Mees of Sebastian, Fla., to 32 points with eight races to go in the 2019 season.
In the AFT Production Twins main, Ryan Varnes of Mohnton, Penn., took top honors with a 1.471-second win over second place J.R. Addison of Galion, Ohio. James Rispoli of Londonderry, N.H., placed third.
Cory Texter of Willow Street, Pa., remains the points leader in Production Twins, with Varnes second 15 points back.