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WTF: Turning a tank-shift Harley WLA into a flat tracker

Bill Bryant's Harley WLA flat track racer
The great thing about flat track racing is that anyone can have a crack. You don’t need a rocket scientist crew chief, or clever throttle body setups to have fun: there’s a series for every man and every budget.

The bug has even bitten Bill Bryant, the man behind the Biltwell Inc aftermarket empire. And since Bill knows a thing or two about building V-twins, he’s selected a very unusual steed for his dirt track excursions: a venerable Harley-Davidson WLA.

Bill Bryant's Harley WLA flat track racer
Like most of Bill’s older bikes, the WLA has a low-key, off-kilter vibe that we’re finding irresistible. So we pinged him for a little information.

The engine is from a 1941 Harley WLA—the ‘A’ meaning ‘Army’. It’s a flathead that was produced in small numbers from 1940 onwards, and this one is a little rare—since it’s technically a pre-war bike.

Bill Bryant's Harley WLA flat track racer
It’s also most unusual for a flat track racer to have a tank shift and a foot-operated rocker clutch, so we give Bill ten out of ten for dedication to the Milwaukee cause.

“I found the engine as a ‘mostly there’ Craigslist basket case, about five miles from my house,” Bill says. “I have no way to date the frame, though. It was in pretty good shape but the neck casting had been pie-cut and raked at some point.”

Bill Bryant's Harley WLA flat track racer
Mike at 47Industries put it back to stock geometry, and added the ‘WR-style’ lightening holes and the upright braces between the seat and chainstays. “I have to say he did a fantastic job, and the bike tracks straight as an arrow.”

Bill has been modifying old V-twin engines for years, so you can bet this one is solid. “I’m not gonna give away any engine-build secrets,” he says, “but it’s built more for durability and reliability than outright performance. After a year or so of riding and racing it, I’ll consider hotter cams—but for now it’s good to go, as-is.”

Bill Bryant's Harley WLA flat track racer
In the end, it was Rico Fodrey of Hi-Bond Modified in Pomona who spun the spanners on the engine rebuild: Biltwell’s bonkers ‘Frijole’ Sportster race bike consumed most of Bill’s spare time over the winter.

“The WLA sat lonely in the shop, mocking my poor time management skills. I dropped it off at Rico’s shop and asked him if he could get it wrapped up in time for Born Free.”

Bill Bryant's Harley WLA flat track racer
W&W in Germany are one of the best-kept secrets in the classic Harley game, and they delivered big time for the WLA—supplying the wheels, the gas and oil tanks, and the rear fender.

“Wow,” Bill enthuses. “These parts are of the highest quality. They work perfectly and look great. There’s no way I was gonna pay a fortune for real WR tanks and then go beat them up racing!”

Bill Bryant's Harley WLA flat track racer
The foot controls came from Jeff Leighton of SLC in Utah. “They tuck up nice and tidy, and are way less vulnerable than stock controls. The bars were custom bent to my specs by Jason Ball at S&M in Santa Ana, CA.”

Bill’s flat tracker is no show pony, but the paint still looks sublime. The main color is VW’s iconic 1966 ‘Sea Blue,’ normally seen on Beetles.

Bill Bryant's Harley WLA flat track racer
It was shot by Pete at Hot Dog Kustoms in Temecula, and it’s offset by a big, bright white stripe and gold pinstriping and lettering “It looks even better than I imagined, and I’ll probably cry when I lay it down for the first time,” says Bill.

So far, Bill’s managed to keep his WLA upright. Rico finished the bike in time for the Born Free ‘Stampede’ race, and Bill survived the experience—tank shift and all.

Bill Bryant's Harley WLA flat track racer
“I sucked, but didn’t crash and wasn’t last place, so I was satisfied,” says Bill. “I’ve got plenty of miles on foot clutch bikes, but this was my first tank shift and I found it fairly easy.”

“I’ll get better with practice, and I’ve got a few mods to make now that I’ve ridden it a little.” Those include adding some sweep to the next set of handlebars, and replacing the K&N filter on the Mikuni carb with a more authentic old J-slot air cleaner.

Bill Bryant's Harley WLA flat track racer
“And maybe even a leather flap or something to keep the rear head from roasting my junk,” Bill adds wryly.

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Bill Bryant's Harley WLA flat track racer

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