LAGUNA SECA — There was a brief moment when Tyler O’Hara wondered what he had gotten himself into.
A new series of motorcycles on the AmericaMoto circuit was unlike any other, with bikes weighing twice as much as standard race bikes, while reaching speeds of 175 mph on an oval track.
You had Indian Motorcycles, founded in 1901, racing against Harley-Davidson (1903). Two of America’s oldest companies – creating instant rivalry in the Mission King of Baggers series.
“It’s unique,” O’Hara said. “You have American motorcycles and a rivalry. Nobody knew what to expect. But it turned into one hell of a series.
After winning the inaugural race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in 2020, O’Hara will be in the spotlight on Sunday as the overall leader of the Bagger Racing Series.
Two years after that inaugural Laguna Seca invitational race as an exhibition, the Baggers Racing series has become MotoAmerica’s fastest growing form of racing.
It eclipsed Superbikes in terms of public engagement and views. With its growing popularity, the series has expanded each year with its stops across the country.
“It was supposed to be boring,” O’Hara recalled. “People can identify with these bikes. Obviously, we have some modifications. But it’s the same bike you can buy from dealerships.
O’Hara, who has three podium finishes this year, has 74 points, with Irish teammate Jeremy McWilliams second and defending champion Kyle Wyman fourth.
“I’m exactly where I want to be,” said O’Hara, who has been leading since the first lap. “I have the best bike and the best team. With Jeremy as a teammate, we have more data to try different things.
With the series expanded to six rounds and seven races, O’Hara will draw on his experiences riding his 695-pound Indian bike at Laguna Seca for the past two years.
“There’s no other track like this in the world,” said O’Hara, who lives in Petaluma. “It’s demanding. It’s difficult. You have to anticipate. Sometimes the hardest part is getting out of the pit.
O’Hara expects to hit speeds of 135 mph on the straights of the 2,238-mile, 11-turn Laguna Seca track, with his knee inches from touching the pavement in the turns.
“For the weight and size of these bikes, it doesn’t make sense,” O’Hara said. “We’re running superstock times on these big badgers.”
O’Hara, who is also in the running for the Roland Sands Super Hooligans Race, won’t have many laps to settle, as the race is only eight laps or around 35 miles.
His first race at Laguna in the Baggers exhibition of 2020 was memorable as he charged up front in the closing stages to win the event.
“I had the fastest lap,” O’Hara recalled. “I was going a little too fast and almost fell. I ran forward and made a pass to take the lead. It made it a lot of fun.
What has also drawn attention to the series is the budding rivalry between America’s oldest motorcycles, both of which are pouring more money into the series.
“It’s fair to say it’s a rivalry,” O’Hara said. “The Indian was the first winner. Harley-Davidson came out strong last year and doubled down on its investment.
O’Hara finished second last year in the series and at Laguna Seca. The addition of a teammate this season allowed him and McWilliams to brainstorm ideas with the bike.
“We feed off each other to see what we can do differently,” O’Hara said. “He made me a better driver. We are the underdogs. You can see the print when Harley-Davidson shows up in the paddocks. But no one works harder than our team.
Having raced professionally since 2005, O’Hara has a diverse background, having competed in the 600 Series, Superbikes and MotoGP.
His first professional win came at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Earlier this year he won the Daytona 200.
“I’ve dabbled in a bit of everything over the years,” O’Hara said. “This series has become a niche for me with these big heavy twin bikes.”
The weight of the bike creates unique challenges, especially with so much torque, according to O’Hara, whose career includes victories on the AMA and AFM road racing circuits.
“The bike moves a lot,” said O’Hara, 35. “We are constantly making adjustments. I felt we left some on the table in our last race.
As O’Hara competes in the Hooligans series – where he is four points behind third place in the series – the two finals take place on the same afternoon, back-to-back, about 20 minutes apart.
“I’ll have about five minutes between races,” O’Hara said. “I trained for this. I have a wide range of experiences. The main thing is to be focused on each run and lock yourself in.
The adrenaline rush of running so close to home, with friends and family there, creates a feeling like no other for O’Hara.
“Having that support gives you a little something extra,” O’Hara said. “We’re going to put on a show and make it entertaining. It will be a dogfight. But this is my home track.