CHINO — A podium finish in last year’s inaugural race was a hollow celebration for Frankie Garcia as spectators were not permitted at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
With fans, friends and family on site this year, the juices will be flowing for the Gonzales native this weekend when Garcia returns to his home track to compete for a series points title in the final Mission King of Baggers motorcycle race.
The series is part of the GEICO Motorcycle MotoAmerica Superbike SpeedFest, which heats up Friday, with six final races slated for Sunday on the world-renowned 2.238-mile, 11-turn track.
Garcia, 30, who has been racing since he was four years old, sits in third place in the point standings, 14 points behind the leader — with 25 points gathered for winning the final race.
“It’s my home track,” said Garcia, who got in some practice laps last Sunday. “I’m really confident racing at Laguna Seca. I feel lucky that I’ll be racing for a potential title on a track I grew up on.”
And Garcia will have a large contingent of family and friends this time, with his father, Frank, serving as his chief mechanic for the season-opening Roland Sands Super Hooligans race, which is immediately after the Mission King of Baggers finale.
“Having my dad back on the wrenches will feel like old times,” Garcia said. “I will be able to pick his brain. He sees things that I don’t. He knows what I need to hear.”
The races on Sunday will be back-to-back eight-lap finals, with the Mission King of Baggers finishing up its first season in the MotoAmerica racing series.
The race, which ran one event last year at Laguna Seca as a trial, was an instant hit among riders and fans that saw it on TV — to the point where it became a short series this year.
Garica, who was third in the race last year, sits in third place this year, with his highest placement being a third-place finish in Atlanta.
“The worldwide attention it got last year made it a series this year,” Garcia said. “It’s a three-round series in its first season. As far as the future of it holds, I see it growing.”
What makes the race intriguing is the bikes the riders race. Unlike superbike motorcycles, which weigh in the 300-pound neighborhood, the Indian and Harley-Davidson bikes in this series are twice the weight at 600 pounds.
Yet, despite their size, Garcia has reached speeds of 150 mph on straightaways on his Indian, turning heads with his lap times.
“These bikes weren’t meant to do what we do on them,” Garcia said. “I didn’t expect them to perform as well as they have. These are fully dressed motorcycles hitting incredible speeds on road racing courses.”
With a new series on the MotoAmerica circuit has come a lot of hype surrounding these machines. The paddocks in Atlanta and Wisconsin were floated with fans seeking out the bikes.
“When people come to the races, they ask, ‘Where are the baggers?’ ” Garcia said. “The viewership is out of control. It’s going to be the next big thing for MotoAmerica.”
Prior to the debut of the race last year, Garcia has spent most of his time racing in the Super Hooligan Series under the Indian and Roland Sands Design team.
When the announcement came about the debut of the Mission King of Baggers series, Garcia immediately felt he was the rider for the opening.
“I have a road racing background,” Garcia said. “I have the credentials to do this. I told my sponsors and team I want to do this. My team told me, ‘You’re the guy.’ ”
Motorcycle racing has been such an integral part of Garcia’s life. After attending Fairview Middle School in Gonzales, he was homeschooled for high school, turning pro at the age of 16.
Nearly 15 years later, Garcia is still making his dream a reality, while maintaining a full-time job down in Southern California.
“It’s been my whole life,” Garcia said. “I don’t always get the rest I need working a full-time job. But I’m healthy and still living the dream. This weekend will be big for me.”
Despite having dumped his bike in the last round, Garcia escaped with just minor bruises, returning to his regular job on Monday.
“As much as I’d like racing to be my full-time job, that’s not the case,” Garcia said. “When you’re younger, you don’t think twice about the injuries. This bagger race is helping the industry come back.”
Having what he called a shaking-the-cobwebs-out run last Sunday at Laguna Seca, Garcia calls it one of the more challenging tracks from a physical and mental standpoint.
“It’s a tough track,” Garcia said. “It isn’t very long. There aren’t long straightaways. You don’t really get any break time. You’re constantly working and going. You’re grabbing gears. It’s a technical track.”
Yet, it’s Garcia’s home track. He knows it inside and out, breaking down all 11 turns in his mind, with the knowledge of knowing where to make moves.
“Leaning 130 mph, you’re trying not to drag parts,” Garcia said. “You’re trying not to lift the front wheel. Each turn has its quirks. The Corkscrew is a pretty well-known corner in the world.”
For one afternoon, Garcia will do double-duty, racing in two different races, 10 minutes apart in Sunday’s finale — on two bikes separated by 300 pounds.”
If the adrenaline rush of two races this weekend wasn’t enough, having a hometown crowd to root Garcia along — whose parents and sister still live in Gonzales — has him pumped.
“When I’m by myself, I’m in my head,” Garcia said. “This will be the first time I’ve raced in front of my hometown crowd. To have my friends and family will be a dream come true. This is always home.”