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Local Racers Hoping to Shine at Indy

Indianapolis has long been a capital of auto racing, but leading motorcycle racers from Central Indiana are few and far between. There was only one Indianapolis-area rider ever to be ranked inside the top 10 of the AMA Superbike standings -- Greenwood’s Terry Hampton back in 1984. This year, Indianapolis fans will have a couple of local riders to root for, Gene Burcham of Plainfield and Matt Carr of Fishers, who are both competing in the MotoAmerica Superstock 1000 class during the Red Bull Indianapolis GP weekend.

Burcham is a veteran racer who transitioned from motocross and instantly became one of the fastest club racers in the Midwest during the 1980s. Burcham, who works for an Indianapolis electrical contracting company, has been racing ever since. He has primarily been a successful club racer, but over the years made occasional forays into the pro ranks, including decent rides in the Daytona 200. Being an Indianapolis native and knowing the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Burcham is proud to be able to put his name in the record books as a racer who’s competed at the legendary track.

This won’t be Burcham’s first time racing on the IMS MotoGP circuit. He raced a Harley-Davidson in the XR1200 Series in 2011, but chased issues with his bike’s engine control unit all weekend and didn’t quite get the results he’d hoped. He wants to remedy that when he races his Yamaha R1 in the combined MotoAmerica Superbike/Superstock 1000 race.

Burcham entered to race his Yamaha in the MotoAmerica event at Road Atlanta in April, but rain and engine setup issues kept him from racing, so he hopes Indy will bring him better luck.

“I’ve been struggling adapting to the R1,” Burcham said. “It doesn’t fit my riding style very well. It’s getting better. Every weekend when we go somewhere I’m making headway, but it’s definitely been a big learning curve.”

Carr is also a club racer, but unlike the more experienced Burcham, he will be making his professional racing debut at Indianapolis. Carr, who is co-owner of Ducati Indianapolis, was inspired to take a shot at racing MotoAmerica after working over the last few years to lower his lap times at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on his Ducati in order to enter a pro event there.

“I’d been going over to Mid-Ohio for the last four or five years practicing with the newer Ducatis,” Carr explained. “I basically got my lap times down to the point that I could qualify for the AMA Superbike race there and then they bumped it off the schedule. I was a bit discouraged about that and then they added the MotoAmerica events to the schedule at Indy and I said, ‘OK I’m not racing at Mid-Ohio, so what better place to try it than 20 minutes from the shop?’”

Burcham is racing Yamaha R1 at Indy. That motorcycle is considered the state-of-the-art 1000cc sport bike and has dominated AMA Superbike in recent years. Carr is racing a Ducati 1199 R, an exotic Italian-made Superbike that is rarely raced here in AMA Superbike.

As mentioned, Burcham has some experience on the IMS road course, but for Carr he’ll be turning his first laps on the 2.591-mile, 16-turn circuit. He said he’s been doing all he can to learn the course.

“I went around the track on one of the track rides way back in 2008,” Carr said. “It’s funny, I was out at qualifying for the Indy 500 and was walking around the infield checking it out, looking at the surface and checking out the lines and my friends, who are not motorcycle guys, were like, ‘Dude, we’re going!’ I was impressed with the surface. I’ve watched the race on TV, played the MotoGP game on PlayStation and studied the track on Google Earth, just trying to wrap my head around it.”

Having ridden the XR1200 event in 2011 gives Burcham a slight advantage in terms of track knowledge.

“I at least know which direction it goes,” he joked.

Both Burcham and Carr are hoping running the MotoAmerica race will serve as an inspiration for a younger generation of local motorcycle racers. Last year Burcham helped young road racer Nolan Lamkin from Indianapolis.

“Nolan is running the KTM Cup in MotoAmerica now and is doing well,” Burcham said. “He’s definitely an up-and-coming rider to keep your eyes on. I would love to see someone from Indy to come up and have the ability to get to the top level of the sport.”

Carr’s daily work at his dealership gives him a lot of opportunities to talk with area racers.  

“I’ve been trying to get some of the younger guys who club race around here to give it a shot without much luck,” Carr said. “And Gene has been very instrumental in working with some of the young up-and-coming area riders to try to make their paths a little easier.”

When it comes to racing against each other, the MotoAmerica races will be one of the rare times Burcham and Carr have actually gone head-to-head. They’re looking at it as a friendly rivalry and will also be rooting for one another to do well.

“He races a lot more than I do, but I see Gene at the track all the time,” Carr explained. “In fact Gene and I together built a bike that he raced in the Daytona 200 and he did OK. He started in the back and was able to work his way up to a decent finish.

“We run different classes sometimes, but at the end of the weekend our lap times are really close. We haven’t had a chance to push one another on the track. I went over to his house about a month ago and checked out his Yamahas and we talked about doing this race. He’s a real helpful guy. His dad and him are at the track always helping everybody, so it will be nice to have him around at Indy to help me get through the weekend.”

Burcham said he expects his friend Carr to do well. 

“He’s very serious about his work at the dealership, so he doesn’t get out to race as much as he would like to,” Burcham explained. “But Matt is an aggressive racer. He’ll get up there and mix it up with some of those guys. I expect him to do well.”

For Burcham it’s not about competing against any particular rider, it’s about being part of history and racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 

“Growing up in Indianapolis, anything race that takes place at the Speedway becomes an iconic event,” Burcham said. “This is probably my last year of racing. I’m old enough to be the dad of most of the riders on the grid. I just want to get out there and ride one more time and see what I can do.” 

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