Super Hooligan Racing On A 2019 Suzuki VanVan 200

Suzuki’s retro-themed 200 fights its way through a field of giants.

With a few laps under my belt in the heat race, I began to find my flow on the 2019 Suzuki VanVan 200.
With a few laps under my belt in the heat race, I began to find my flow on the 2019 Suzuki VanVan 200.Jeff Allen


Racing—it’s what drives manufacturers to improve and develop better equipment, better technology, and better products to be exhibited, in action for all to see. This then translates into production which, in theory, will hold the same integrity as the race machines that are displayed each weekend. That’s why manufacturers spend money on racing—marketing. The reason we fans race lies a lot deeper than that. We race for the feeling you get when you push yourself and your machine to the limit next to another racer doing the exact same thing with one goal in mind—to be the first one to take the checkered flag.

For a few years now, bike builder Roland Sands along with his growing company Roland Sands Design has put on a one-of-a-kind flat-track motorcycle race series that involves riders on 1,200cc motorcycles pitching it sideways, steel shoe and all. This growing operation is known as the Super Hooligan National Championship Series. At each round of this professional race series, a handful of amateur classes race on the same track and on the same night right before the pros. One of the classes is called run-what-ya-brung. As you might have guessed, this means you can race any bike you bring, as long as it does not have knobby tires. It can get really interesting when a group of bikes varying in shape and size and, more importantly, with racers of different skill levels battle it out on a slick track.

Although Cycle World senior editor Justin Dawes and I are buddies off the racetrack, at this moment we were strictly business.
Although Cycle World senior editor Justin Dawes and I are buddies off the racetrack, at this moment we were strictly business.Jeff Allen

June 20th was the day when I showed up to the office where a surprise awaited me. As I walked in, my colleagues turned to me with a smirk on their faces and asked, “Evan, what are you doing tomorrow?” With no plans at the time, they signed me up for the run-what-ya-brung class at Perris Raceway for the sixth round of the Super Hooligan National Championship Series. Excited, I asked, “Where is my racebike?”

Sitting quietly in stock form was a 2019 Suzuki VanVan 200. This 199cc, air-cooled, four-stroke motorcycle may be down on power compared to some of its competitors in the class, which includes 450cc flat-track bikes and many others, but the little VanVan has a lot going for it on a short track like Perris. Its oversize balloon tires have a flat-track-inspired tread, which offers a lot of grip, and its low seat height can be very confidence inspiring. The little Suzuki dual sport just might be a fairly reasonable choice for a guy who has never set foot on a flat-track circle and was now set to race on one in 24 hours’ time.

With race day preparations in full swing, I quickly realized I was missing an extremely crucial and iconic part of flat-track racing—a steel shoe. Fortunately, Cycle World road test editor Michael Gilbert and I wear the same size boot and he was happy to lend me his steel shoe for the event.

Race day approached quickly with a sleepless night and the nerves coming back stronger than ever. It was time to do one last check and hit the road for Perris Raceway. As we arrived, the competition looked strong with the pits filled with custom bikes, race machines, and the Roland Sands Design’s Super Hooligan team. I felt completely out of my element. With little time to spare, I quickly suited up, slapped a few numbers on the otherwise-stock VanVan 200, and headed out for practice. Unfortunately, the open practice only created more stress for me as I was given a firsthand look at just how much faster every rider in it was over me.

Dawes is not afraid to lean the Husqvarna Svartpilen 701 over as he rounds the corner.
Dawes is not afraid to lean the Husqvarna Svartpilen 701 over as he rounds the corner.Jeff Allen

After fighting the bike all of practice, on my last lap something clicked. It’s a feeling most motorcyclists have had and it’s the reason we keep going back. To feel completely out of control, unconfident, tense, and tight while on the bike and within a matter of one good corner or obstacle, you find chemistry with the bike and it all just clicks. No longer having to think about what’s happening below you, confidence flying high, and feeling like you can do no wrong—that’s what keeps me coming back.

Motorcyclist senior editor Adam Waheed displays his effortless style racing his personal Suzuki RM-Z450 dirt tracker at Perris Raceway.
Motorcyclist senior editor Adam Waheed displays his effortless style racing his personal Suzuki RM-Z450 dirt tracker at Perris Raceway.Jeff Allen

The first and only practice had concluded and it was time for my first heat in the run-what-ya-brung class. Lined up next to bikes ranging in size from an 85cc two-stroke ridden by a young racing prodigy known simply as “Corner Speed” to two of my colleagues—Motorcyclist senior editor Adam Waheed, who was racing his personal Suzuki RM-Z450 flat-track bike, and Cycle World senior editor Justin Dawes, who was piloting a bone-stock Husqvarna Svartpilen 701. My little VanVan 200 had its work cut out for it.

Super Hooligan racer Jordan Graham puts on a clinic aboard his Indian FTR 1200.
Super Hooligan racer Jordan Graham puts on a clinic aboard his Indian FTR 1200.Jeff Allen

The revs went up, the lights went out, and we were racing. Extremely slow to get off the line, I started dead last, but was able to make a quick pass for fifth in the first corner, a position I would hold for the remainder of the heat. Finding my flow but just slightly handicapped on the straights due to the relatively low power of the VanVan 200, I knew that if I could secure a good start in the main, I might be able to better my fifth place finish.

Heading back to the pits, my confidence began to rise. With a bit of downtime until my main event while they ran the heat races for the pro class, I studied the track and riders to see if I could pick up on any racing knowledge. Eating a charcoal-grilled burger courtesy of Waheed, I sat in silence while watching the best in the business pitch it sideways. I quickly realized how much I have to learn. However, in a strange twist of fate, flat-track legend Johnny Murphy wandered into our pit in hopes of scoring one of Waheed’s burgers. Murphy quickly became aware that this was my first time ever rolling onto a dirt oval and was eager to help. Filling my head full of flat-track knowledge and technique, I found my confidence continuing to grow.

During the main event, Dawes and I battled for position under the lights.
During the main event, Dawes and I battled for position under the lights.Jeff Allen

As the sun set and the lights came on, it was time to start the night’s main events. The racers were called to the line for the run-what-ya-brung race. As I lined up in my assigned gate, which is determined by your finishing position in the qualifying race, my chances of a good start were slim. To my left sat Dawes on the Svartpilen 701 with Waheed a few gates further down on his RM-Z450. If I had any chance of running up front, I knew I had to cut underneath the pack in turn 1. As expected, I was the last one out of the gate, but making quick work of a slower rider in turn 1 put me where I needed to be. With Dawes in sight and the leaders just a bit further ahead, I put my head down knowing I would lose time on the straights aboard the VanVan 200, but could make it up in the corners if I hit my marks.

With former pro flat-track racer Johnny Murphy’s technique in mind, I do my best to lean the bike over and look ahead.
With former pro flat-track racer Johnny Murphy’s technique in mind, I do my best to lean the bike over and look ahead.Jeff Allen

By the halfway point, I found myself on Dawes’ rear wheel, but the lead group was now out of sight. The remainder of the race was filled with exciting moments between Dawes and me, which included our banging bars and running it in on each other. There would be no shortage of last lap excitement as I finally secured my fourth place position over Dawes with a near highside while Waheed crashed a few feet before the finish line battling for the win. As the dust settled and the checkered flag flew, I put the VanVan 200 on the final step of the podium in third place. After the race was over, Dawes, Waheed, and I headed back to the pits with smiles from ear to ear, where we told each other tales of our exciting moments racing the run-what-ya-brung class on three very different motorcycles.

“Racers ready?” Moments before the lights go out and the Hooligan Am class main event got underway.
“Racers ready?” Moments before the lights go out and the Hooligan Am class main event got underway.Jeff Allen

Gearbox

The VanVan 200’s balloon tires offered great grip and consistency on the dirt oval.
The VanVan 200’s balloon tires offered great grip and consistency on the dirt oval.Jeff Allen

Helmet: Arai VX-Pro4