The Lost Art of
Twisting tubes through the ages
in 1967, Triumph Motorcycles approached expert race tuner Ray Hensley with an off-the-wall request. The company was soliciting a line of custom frames to be stamped with official Triumph part numbers, creating “official” factory replacements. Whether this was to subvert the AMA “Class C” dirt-track rules is left to speculation, but what developed was essentially an improved copy of a 1965 Triumph Bonneville chassis.
“Well, if it was an official Triumph part, it was legal to be raced,” says Gary Davis, who inherited what became known as the Trackmaster brand. “That was the start of it all, right there.” Davis went on to explain that Hensley’s first frames for Triumph were chrome-moly steel and featured revised geometry that would allow racebikes to handle more aggressively on dirt tracks.
This was the objective of the “framer” as it continued to evolve: a purpose-built frame made specifically for racing. The new chassis placed an engine of your choice lower in the cradle, the rear suspension at a more upright position, and pulled the fork angle closer to the frame.
Competitors soon began to emerge. “Champion and Redline jumped on the bandwagon shortly afterwards and began building frames too,” Davis explains. “Their frames pushed in the corners though.” AMA dirt-track racing swelled into the 1990s, and Davis transitioned the manufacturing side of the Trackmaster business to Rick Cresse. With AMA Pro Flat Track eventually mandating the use of OEM frames in the single-cylinder class, many of the archetypal framers disappeared.
Still, the impression that early framers left on the sport is still recognizable today. Motorcycles running in the current American Flat Track Twins class all feature custom-made frames based around production engines. “That’s really the next-gen stuff though, a world apart from what we were doing,” Davis says. And true to its roots, Trackmaster continues to build frames, just the same as they always have.
To Davis, that permanence is vital: “I inherited the company with the promise that I would keep it alive, and I intend to do that. I’ll preserve it, just as it was meant to be.”
Well, if it was an official Triumph part, it was legal to be raced.