We spoke to Max Flinders who races for one of the smallest teams in the class about his season so far and how COVID-19 has affected this.
Coming into his third full season in the MotoAmerica Superbike class, Max Flinders knew the challenge that lay ahead of him. Being part of one of the smallest teams in the superbike paddock was only part of that challenge. COVID-19 caused MotoAmerica and every team in the series to change plans before the season even had a chance to get started.
“I had an accident on the motocross bike in July which made things even more difficult,” states Flinders. “So, actually starting a little late this year and having a jumbled schedule helped me. The added time between rounds gave me more time to heal and recover.”
Flinders hunting down the BMW of Josh Herrin at Road Atlanta – Photo – Epic Beard Photography
But racing is in his blood and he knew, even with the injury, he didn’t want to miss any part of the season. Having that extra time between rounds 2 and 3 worked out well for him and the team. Flinders has been racing every year since the age of 6. Born in Burton-On-Trent, England, he started racing in England on the grass track circuit and eventually found his way to the United States when his dad accepted a job offer with NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.
“In England, you couldn’t start riding on slicks on a track until a later age. Here, in the US, you can do it at age 12. My dad was like ‘hey, we can start road racing earlier if we moved.’ My dad took the job and we moved to the United States when I was 11.”
It wasn’t long after he moved that he crossed paths with Thrashed Bike Racing’s Tim Ivanoff. That chance encounter would start the wheels in motion for Flinders and Ivanoff.
“Tim and I actually took racing school together to get our racing license. I was 12 at the time and Tim was a bit older. We met there and we both started racing at the same time. Every now and then we would see each other at the track and would always spend a few minutes catching up.”
“By the time I was 16 I was racing in the AMA 600 class and Tim was racing with his team in the Harley XR 1200 class. One year we were at Barber Motorsports Park and one of his good friends had a race team whose rider refused to take a drug test,” explains Flinders. “So, he was unable to ride. Tim asked if I would do it and, of course, I said yes. I ended up getting the best finish the team got all year.”
“From there, Tim convinced them to put a little money into it (racing) and asked me to ride. I was supposed to ride the XR 1200 but they cancelled the series that year. So, we went to Superstock 1000. I’ve been with Thrashed Bike Racing ever since.”
Flinders and Thrashed Bike Racing made the move to the Superbike series in 2018. After an up and down season that year, 2019 saw Flinders and the Thrashed Bike Racing team finish every race in the series except for two; race 2 at Road America and race 2 at Sonoma. Flinders was able to consistently finish in the points and would finish the season in 12th place overall.
Would his 2020 campaign be the breakthrough for Flinders and the team? Unfortunately, like many smaller privateer teams in road racing, consistency and horsepower have been hard to find.
“Our team has struggled at times this year,” notes Flinders. “At the beginning of the year, we started really strong and were looking good for the first 2 rounds. Then we made changes to the bike which took us a while to figure out. We got new triple trees at the front and could not get the right settings. I was riding a bike that just did not want to do anything I wanted it to do. It was really hard. Then, getting beat by guys we were usually beating also made it more difficult.”
Flinders’ very noticeable yellow Yamaha R1 – Photo – Epic Beard Photography
“The next two rounds we really struggled, the bike did not want to turn,” observes Flinders. “We finally were able to bring in a chassis expert and he got things set up the way we wanted. We started getting back into the groove at Barber and then, the weekend at Indy. Even though we were down on horsepower I felt like I raced hard and I was gelling a little more with the bike. In the races at Indy, it became mostly a horsepower thing. We were down like 13 mph to the top guys. I kept losing time on the straightaway. I’d make it up in the corner but if I made even one small mistake, they’re gone, and I can’t make up any more time on the straights to catch them.”
If you look hard enough, every challenge has a silver lining and the team has chosen to look at the season in a positive light.
“It’s been a difficult year but also a good learning year,” states Flinders. “With COVID-19 and the re-arranged schedule because of it, it’s just been sort of a difficult year. But we learned a lot and we will really get after it next year.”
Flinders and Thrashed Bike Racing on the grid at Indianapolis – Photo – Epic Beard Photography
With the 2020 season winding down, Flinders and Thrashed Bike Racing are confident things will get better in year 4. They are confident they know what it will take to get to the next level in 2021.
“Our engine builder is working really hard to get everything sorted out and give me a really good motor for next year. I’m hopeful the bike will be a rocket ship.”
“We’ve gotten to a point where me and the bike are working really well together, I’m getting more comfortable on the bike each time out,” enthuses Flinders. “I definitely know that I can be very consistent on track and if we get that extra horsepower we need, I know we can finish in the top 10 or better on a consistent basis.”
“We’ve learned a lot this year and we know what we have to do for next year. I think we have a good shot at finishing top 10 and even picking up some top 5 finishes. But I really want to get back on the podium. It just comes down to a combination on money and training. Getting more time on the bike, being able to do more testing.”
But even the optimism of a new season doesn’t always wash away the struggles and challenges when you’re a small team. That constant challenge is almost always the same, money.
“Unfortunately, in this series (MotoAmerica Superbikes) you do have to be fairly well-funded. We know that money can create horsepower. We just need to find ways to get more money and sponsors behind the team. We have really great sponsors that have been with us through all of this, we just need to find more.”
“If someone could come with a blank check and say how much, that would be awesome. But I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon. It’s difficult sometimes but we are working really hard and I know that if we keep working hard, we’ll find that magic touch that will get us out front. If anyone is going to do it, it’s us.”