SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This weekend, baseball playoffs, college and pro football and American Flat Track's season-ending race tonight in New Jersey. Flat track is the oldest form of motorcycle racing in the country on dirt tracks. And NPR's Tom Goldman says it's staging a comeback.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Michael Lock has a challenge for you.
MICHAEL LOCK: Come to a flat track, where you can be within 10 feet of people on dirt, at 130 miles an hour with six abreast. If that doesn't make you stop and hold your breath for a second, I'm not going to be able to reach you at all.
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GOLDMAN: Breath officially held. For the past three years, it's been Michael Lock's job - no, that's too tame - his mission as the CEO of American Flat Track to spread the word. The sport, born on dirt tracks in rural America, is worth your attention and your money. It was on life support at the pro level. But Lock, whose English accent is decidedly not heartland, saw the potential for revival.
LOCK: What I found was this true grit. It's a blue-collar, all-American sport. And I felt that the time was right that flat track racing could be both heritage and contemporary.
GOLDMAN: In 2016, Lock did a deal with NBCSN. The network broadcast, shown now on a one-week delay, helped total viewership from TV, streaming and ticket-buying rise dramatically this year to more than 3 million people. Lock also has embraced the idea of selling his sport through its athletes.
GARY: Hi, Shayna. Can you write, to Gary?
SHAYNA TEXTER: Sure.
GARY: Gary, G-A-R-Y. Thank you very much.
GOLDMAN: Autograph time is almost as important as race time. This meet and greet session lasted about an hour last weekend at Canterbury Park outside Minneapolis. As usual, the biggest line was for one of flat track's biggest stars, and big is a relative term.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Hi. You're just a little thing, but you rock.
GOLDMAN: At 5 feet tall, 27-year-old Shayna Texter has been rocking American Flat Track since 2011.
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UNIDENTIFIED BROADCASTER: We're looking at history, ladies and gentlemen. We could see it here tonight. One half-mile to go for Miss Shayna Texter. Come on, Shayna.
GOLDMAN: In that race seven years ago, fans did see history. Texter became the first woman to win a professional race in the sport. Since then, her celebrity, as the girl who beats the boys, and her accomplishments have grown. She won five races last year, two this season, along with three second-place finishes. This wasn't the sporting life she envisioned as a kid growing up in Pennsylvania.
TEXTER: My thing was playing soccer. I wanted to be the next Mia Hamm and go to college and play soccer my entire life.
GOLDMAN: But racing, she says now, was inevitable, considering her dad was a pro flat tracker and her family owned a Harley-Davidson shop.
TEXTER: No matter what, going left on dirt was - it's in our blood. We didn't have a choice.
GOLDMAN: Going left on dirt, a reference to the left turns flat trackers make after rocketing down straightaways - Texter does it as well as anyone. Ironically, she has become a Mia Hamm-like figure, paving the way for a next generation of female racers, like these two in that autograph line.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I race a Honda.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: She races a Yamaha.
TEXTER: One day I'll be getting your girls' autographs.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Yep.
GOLDMAN: Lest we forget, this is a dangerous sport. A flat tracker died in August. Texter crashed hard this season, flew over her bike's handlebars. Her manager says you could tell it hurt, but she wasn't going to show it - part of being a woman in a male-dominated sport. Texter went to a backup motorcycle and kept riding. American Flat Track hopes she does that for a long time. Tom Goldman, NPR News.
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