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Browse Current IssueMotorcycles Flat Track Racer Chad Cose Patiently Grinds To The Top

Chad Cose sat on the bench seat of his white panel van, a bottle of champagne between his feet. He’d earned it, climbing the American Flat Track podium for the first time after placing third in the Twins main event at the Texas Half-Mile in Dallas. His girlfriend told him to go out and celebrate, but Cose would first help his mechanic and mentor, Tom Englehart, prep their pair of Indian FTR750s for next week’s race, then dissemble his paddock tent, pack everything up, and prepare for two long days of driving home to northern California. By the time he’d finished, it was 3:30 a.m. Cose shut the van’s doors, curled up on the bench seat, and drifted off like he had countless times before. For Cose, only the bottle of champagne was new.


A week later, Cose is in Calistoga, California, two hours north of his hometown, Fremont. Everyone is squawking about him, expecting a momentous performance from the 27-year-old privateer nipping at the heels of the big-budget, factory-backed riders in American Flat Track’s highly competitive Twins class. Cose wants to be more like those guys, friends he’s raced alongside for years: To have factory support and less skin in the game. To never again see only $12 in his bank account. To worry less about what’s ahead, and appreciate the moment he’s in. “I’m still in it,” says Cose. “Guys coming up are going to go through the same thing, and I want to be a blueprint or an inspiration, you know? There’s more like me, man.”


Cose — The “Cali Kid” — started flat track racing at eight years old. He went on to win six amateur national championships and an entry-level pro championship on a single-cylinder bike in his freshman season. People knew his name. The following year he had a ride on a team with a twin-cylinder, and he didn’t produce. Cose had underestimated what it took to compete on a professional level, and soon the spotlight slipped away. In 2012, a broken wrist and a torn MCL caused even more uncertainty around Cose and his career. That’s when he made the decision to become a full-time privateer, funding his own flat track campaign. “I had a bit of the wrong mindset,” he admits. “Like, I’ll go out and prove everybody wrong. That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself because you’re at a point where you’re just doing it to try to prove them wrong rather than trying to make it work for yourself.”

We won every race by a ton, to the point we got torn down because they thought we were cheating.

It worked, but barely. He learned to juggle jobs, but he saw a lot of lean years, selling personal belongings to finance his place on the grid. “I didn’t give up, because I didn’t listen,” says Cose. “There were times when I questioned myself, but deep down I knew to keep pushing. This has been five, six years, you know?”

During a particularly low point in Cose’s racing career and life, Tom Englehart entered the frame. Englehart is an Ohio-based engine builder and tuner whose work is well known — and even better respected — throughout the paddock. Englehart’s father worked as a machinist, and his father before him raced flat-track Indians in the ‘40s. “Tom showed me what I could do. But beyond that he was willing to take a risk on me, and he put me in a position to succeed when nobody else was there for me. He was there when no one else was,” says Cose, a small tear in the corner of his eye.

When a newly married Englehart thought to buy an out-of-the-box Indian FTR750 with the cash he got from selling his bachelor pad, he wanted Cose to ride it. The two did a stint in the short-lived Steel Shoe Nationals. “We won every race by a ton, to the point we got torn down because they thought we were cheating,” laughs Englehart. “Chad was more upset about it than I was. We knew we had lightning in a bottle.”

Cose felt it, too. “Tom knows what he’s capable of. He works within his capabilities. I took that and applied it to how I needed to be as a racer.” Cose sold three of his personal Kawasaki twin-cylinder flat track bikes to afford an Indian FTR750 of his own, then started hunting for sponsors. He called 27 Indian dealerships before Scott Conway, owner of Indian Motorcycle of Oklahoma City, answered the phone and said he’d sponsor Cose and contribute another FTR750 to the cause. Cose and Englehart suddenly had this semi-serious race team, with Cose ending up on the podium only three races into the 2018 season.

“The halfway flags came out, and I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me? That took forever!’ I had to tell myself, ‘Man, regroup.’ That’s the most I ever talked to myself in a main event… literally talking to myself like, ‘Just hit your marks, do everything right… We can be tired after the race but right now, just finish this thing.’”

Standing on the podium above Cose was Indian factory rider and fan favorite, Jared Mees. He’s wickedly fast, and he and the rest of Indian’s Wrecking Crew absolutely dominated last season on their FTR750s. “It felt like we were just chasing a ghost, you know?” says Cose. “Everyone was scratching their heads, ‘Why are they so good?’” Now a dozen teams have adopted the $45,000, race-proven machines. “People won’t believe this, but that bike is so good that the factory team, with all of its budget, couldn’t make it any better,” says Englehart. “We soon realized the factory team had no advantage on us.” Cose compares the FTR750 to a “big tractor,” applauding it for its ability to put power down and maximize corner speed. “Everybody’s starting on them, and I’m like, ‘Oh man, back to square one.’ But, that’s all I ever wanted — to be on the same playing field as everybody else. That’s what gives me confidence. It proves what we are capable of.”

Cose takes off onto the track like a dog out the front door; his qualifying laps around Calistoga Speedway were scary fast and form-perfect. He had more swagger after qualifying than he does now, because he’ll be in the second row at the starting line for the main event, not the first, and something is off with his rear tire. The worry creeps in, but Cose fights it back, puts in earbuds, and listens to Meek Mill or another of his favorite hip-hop artists. Englehart rarely takes his eyes or hands away from the FTR750, and that seems to calm Cose down. “I tend to sometimes look too far ahead,” says Cose after qualifying, “but Tom just brings everything into perspective. He makes me look at the next task at hand. We’re gonna do this methodically. One thing at a time. It’s just eased me… eased my mindset of looking at anything other than here and now. Because that’s all we have.”

The main event at Calistoga is not momentous for Cose, who finishes 13th out of 18. He’s clearly devastated, but soon enough he’ll smile again. (“In the right light, he almost looks like Matthew McConaughey,” says photographer Rob Williamson.) “No one ever gave him it, and he never quit, no matter how bad it got,” says Englehart. “And he won’t. We’re going to win a race. It might not be this year, but we know that.” Between the two is a symbiosis that thrives on mutual respect. “We’re climbing this ladder together,” says Cose. “If I ever get a call from one of these factory teams, he’s coming with me.” Until then, Cose will still be responsible for packing up his white panel van, named Olaf by his girlfriend. Cose is texting with her as he packs up, part of his post-race routine.

He says he’s remembering the joy of riding, that the fun is back. He owes it to the challenges he’s faced, and the people he’s surrounded by. He is generous with praise and humble about his determination, confidently exceeding expectations. Cose says that to be a privateer, you’ve got to believe in yourself. “And you just have to want to out-work everybody. Will is everything.” And crave a bottle of champagne.

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