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Mike Smith and the Harley-Davidson VR 1000 At Atlanta

Mike Smith walks away from a flaming Harley-Davidson Superbike.
Mike Smith walks away from a flaming Harley-Davidson Superbike. Joe 'the W' Wierzbicki

The Harley-Davidson Superbike was an under-powered motorcycle, which came to the game of US Superbike racing later than the design should have. The factory Harley-Davidson Superbike team was under-funded and absolutely fraught with behind the scenes political strife.

These issues–and many others–acknowledged, the Harley Davidson VR 1000 Superbike did actually have some pretty decent days at the track. Chris Carr and or his teammate Pascal Picotte both had a legitimate shot at winning a late 1990s Sears Point AMA Superbike race, DuHamel put the bike on the front row at Mid-Ohio–and led the race

Harley’s last big push in Superbike racing came when they hired Scott Russell to race the VR 1000. That chapter didn’t begin very well and ended about the same way, but with Russell set for retirement.

Ironically, some of the most inspired riding the VR 1000 effort enjoyed before the factory pulled out of Supebike racing–without a win–wasn’t by ex-WSBK champ Russell, but by his then brother in law, Mike Smith.

Smith was drafted into the team after Tom Wilson was injured at Loudon. Smith had ridden an NSR500 in Japan, almost beaten Doug Polen with an RC45 and equaled Freddie Spencer’s performance on the Ferracci Ducati. When Harley called late in Smith’s career, he truly gave the VR 1000 team some of his best riding. Smith’s qualifying lap on the VR 1000 at Brainerd was as jaw-dropping fast as it was seemingly on the edge of disaster.

Smith had grown up racing in the Georgia mountains and club-racing at Road Atlanta so when he had a chance to ride the VR 1000 at Road A.T.L. he didn’t look back.

Unfortunately he and the Harley parted company at Atlanta and while on its side the VR 1000’s damaged fuel system bathed the Milwaukee motor in fuel, causing a huge inferno.

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