The People Behind POLARIS: Employee Spotlight Series - Gary G. and Ben L.
The Indian Motorcycle Racing Team has kicked of the 2022 season in spectacular fashion. Most recently, the team secured its second consecutive win at the Texas Half-Mile, with a dominant performance by reigning SuperTwins Champion and IMC Wrecking Crew member Jared Mees. In the midst of the opening racing season excitement, Indian Motorcycle also launched the FTR Championship Edition to celebrate its flat track racing legacy. With only 400 bikes available globally, the limited-edition FTR is inspired by the sport’s preeminent flat track race machine, the FTR750.
The exciting season and FTR Champion Edition launch inspired us to connect with two employees from the Indian Motorcycle team, who are helping to support Indian Motorcycle riders on and off the track.
Meet Gary G. and Ben L.
Tells us a little bit about your roles with Polaris.
Gary: I oversee the racing program, product technology, service and our owner’s connection teams for Indian Motorcycle. Part of my job is running the Indian Motorcycle race teams that compete in the American Flat Track and the King of the Baggers race series. We also dabble in land speed and Hooligan class racing. As part of my job, I get to go to amazing racetracks around the world – Daytona, Le Mans, Pike’s Peak, Bonneville. We’ve been lucky to bring home wins in many of those places. It’s hard to top that when it comes to cool.
Ben: I’ve worked in several different roles at Polaris, from design engineer to production supervisor, and then I got into product management, where I’m currently responsible for new product planning and development. I've been doing this so long because I love motorcycles. It’s fun to see bikes come out the door, exciting to get them launched and into our customers’ hands. I love seeing customers fall in love with their bikes, as they become a huge piece of their lives.
Indian Motorcycle has a long heritage of racing and that legacy has continued since Polaris acquired the brand. For those less familiar, can you share a little more about the brand’s racing program?
Gary: Indian Motorcycle is America’s first motorcycle, with a proud history of more than 100 years, and racing has been a strong part of the brand’s history throughout. In fact, the founders actually met at a racetrack. In the early 1950s, the original “Wrecking Crew” won the Grand National Championship in flat track three consecutive years. However, shortly after that production was halted on all models of Indian Motorcycle, which kicked off a five-decade break in the company’s rich history.
Polaris brought the brand into our family in 2011 and we produced our first Indian Motorcycle bikes in 2014. With Indian Motorcycle’s history steeped in racing, we felt it was important to get the bike back on the track. One of our Polaris leaders boldly proclaimed that we would race in one to two years, so the challenge was on! We developed our first race bike in 2015-2016 and had our first test race in fall 2016. After a 50-year absence from the race scene, we felt we had a lot to live up to in order to honor the Indian Motorcycle racing legacy and the accomplishments of the original Wrecking Crew.
In the spring of 2017, we introduced the new Wrecking Crew – Jared Mees, Brad Baker and Bryan Smith. Since our return, Indian Motorcycle has won the championship for five consecutive years, just dominating everyone else on the track.
Trophies and podiums are great, but how does all this work transition into wins for the customer? Can you talk a little about how the racing and product development teams work together?
Ben: We are a relatively small group of engineers and race personnel and we work together on everything. There aren’t a lot of silos, so we all learn together. In the racing world, it’s fun to take a blank slate and see what we can do. Then we work to incorporate our learnings into production.
Gary: It’s a really collaborative partnership between racing and product teams. For instance, starting in the 2020 race season, we worked together to develop the FTR style and paint scheme testing it with the racing bikes to gauge initial consumer response.
Ben: Yes, early in the development process of the FTR production bike, we had a sketch competition for the style and design, but we knew that we wanted it to look like the race bike, because it had received positive reviews and so much attention on the track. Indian Motorcycle has a proud lineage and heritage of racing, so the first FTR was heavily inspired by what the race team was doing.
Gary: Another great example is bagger racing. While we modify the Challenger for racing, we’re able to sweep the podium with them because they are such a great bike right out of the box – great brakes, suspension, motor. In my very unbiased opinion, it's the best bagger in the world and handles amazingly well. Makes it pretty easy for us to take that to the track and win.
Ben: The race team is absolutely showcasing our bikes’ performance. And, in turn, we are continually incorporating learnings from the track into our product development plans and build even better bikes for our customers.
What does THINK OUTSIDE mean to you?
Gary: More often than not, I find myself thinking outside – both figuratively and literally, on my motorcycle. I’ve solved some of the biggest work problems and had some of my greatest epiphanies on a bike, in the mountains, or cruising the open road.
Ben: I second that! The best way to think outside is to be outside. We make a lot of presentations and put together business cases and all those things in the office, but you just have the moments of clarity on a bike with no stereo, going down Interstate 90 for hours on the way to Sturgis.