AMA Pro Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Championship Race Recap: Springfield Short Track
NEWS September 24, 2012
Photo by Dave Hoenig
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (September 25, 2012) - Hurricane Isaac delayed Springfield Short Track, Round 12 of the AMA Pro Racing Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Championship presented by Motorcycle-Superstore.com and Lucas Oil, for two weeks, but the delay proved to be worth the wait. The Illinois Motorcycle Dealers Association had the little "bull ring" at the Illinois State Fairgrounds race ready and in typical short track fashion there was pushing, shoving, bar banging and passes galore. The 48 Expert qualifiers were separated by eight tenths of a second from first to forty eighth.
For 20 laps it appeared that Brad Baker (Brothers Powersports) would hold on and win his first Grand National main event, but Grand Nationals are 25 lap affairs and when the dust settled it was Don's Kawasaki's Henry Wiles once again on top of the box.
"I didn't think I was going to be able to pull it off. It took me a long time to get going. I think it all worked out just right for me," said Wiles. "I've said that I was always in the right spot at the right time and tonight it seemed like I was in the wrong spot at the wrong time and it was keeping me for making some passes. It had to be a great race to watch from the stands. I'm just glad that I could come out on top."
Wiles' win, his ninth Short Track National victory proved to have some historical significance also. "It ties me for the all-time short track wins record with Chris Carr. I think he had nine short track wins and that's pretty neat," added Wiles. "It's a little feather in the cap. Probably doesn't really matter much, but I look up to Chris Carr a lot. I knew when he was racing with us I felt fortunate just to be able to race with him. I have a lot of respect for a guy like that who has won so many races."
Young mister Baker is still looking for that elusive first win, but looked well positioned early on as he withstood the challenges of Jake Johnson (Zanotti Racing) then Briar Bauman (Rod Lake Racing / Brown's Cycles) before Johnson again. Wiles bided his time in fourth until mid-race, when he started to come to the front.
"I was doing some shuffling around there. I was back into fourth for about half the race," said Wiles. It was such tight racing. It was almost hard to make a move on somebody, if you did, somebody was going to be making a move on you. I got up into third behind Jake and I passed him down in three and four. When I got to Brad I knew my pace was going to be faster. I kind of rode behind him waiting for him to make a mistake. I just started trying to go around him on the outside. I was making it work, I don't know how. It didn't seem like that was a good move to make all night. If you made it then you were going to get passed on the low side. The low side was so hooked up. He saw that I was going high and thought the high line was faster. That was all it took for me because my bike was working real good down low. That was, for sure, my favorite Springfield Short Track. I really earned it, but I missed out on a few laps there for lap money."
"I led about 20 laps of it. In the beginning I could hear them a little bit, but I could feel when I knocked off a good lap," said Baker. "I kind of gained my distance, but there on lap 20, I definitely felt the heat. I knew the bottom was starting to go away and I wasn't getting as good of lap times. Henry gave me a wheel on the outside. I thought I better swap up my lines and chase the moisture a little bit. The first time I did that going into one, I hooked a hole. It sent me almost straight off the race track.
That's when Henry and Jake got by me. Luckily I got right back by Jake, but Henry already had his rhythm going. It's a shame that I had twenty and didn't do the last five. I've had two second place finishes and four thirds, a couple fourths and fifths. I've been doing good, I just need to get that number 1 spot, it's the last one left."
Almost unnoticed, current AMA Pro Harley-Davidson Insurance Flat Track Championship points leader Jared Mees (Montgomeryville Cycle / Rogers Racing) clawed his way into the final podium position on lap 22. The strong finish was plenty for Mees to win the 2012 AMA Pro Grand National Singles Championship over Sammy Halbert (Fredericktown Yamaha), 121 to 103.
"I didn't get the greatest start. As the track slickened off, my motorcycle was just better and better. We just kept picking them off. I think if I got just a little more aggressive at the end, I probably could have peeled out a second. I played it a little on the safe side," said Mees. "The singles title was really rewarding to me. I do a lot of my own preparation work. I prepare the bikes during the week. In the off season I build the motors, degree the cams and everything. My buddy Craig Pickett here taught me how to build them. It's pretty rewarding to both of us to win a number 1 plate, right out of my own two car garage. My friend Brent (Armbruster) works endless hours on the twins and helps me on the day of the race with the singles. We have to keep pushing towards the overall now."
While Mees' night got better and better his main challenger, Sammy Halbert's went from bad to worse. In Halbert's heat race he went from competing for a spot in the dash to a trip to the semis with one little mistake. His night went even further sour when he jumped the start in his semi and could not work his way from row four into the main. Halbert did use his provisional to start the National, but could only salvage a 14th place finish.
Defending Grand National Champion Jake Johnson appeared to be the rider to beat all night after posting fast qualifying time and winning heat one. A close third in the Dash for Cash behind the young lions, Bauman and Baker and a quick start in the National looked to have Johnson positioned for his first win of 2012.
"The race was exciting, that's for sure. There was a lot going on. I thought we had a pretty good shot, but so did six other guys," said Johnson. "I was up front early, in second and third, then Henry made a move on Brad. He took the lead and I got up into second. Going into three on the next lap Brad came back underneath me and I kind of ran wide. That was kind of the beginning of the end for me, it opened the door up. I think Jared ended up getting back by too. He was stuck to the bottom pretty good. I got a little impatient and was trying to make it work on the outside and that let Briar through. It was just kind of chaos on the last few laps for me. I guess it could have been worse. On a short track, I guess I could have ended up on the ground or something. It wasn't what we wanted, but we will take it. For the most part it was a pretty clean race. There were some mistakes and some forced mistakes. There was definitely some bumping and banging, but you had to."
Saddlemen Rookie of the Year leader Briar Bauman was all over Baker early on, but a few trips off the fast line pushed him back to fifth before passing Johnson on lap 24 to regain fourth. "I think I had something for Henry, but I just made some mistakes that I shouldn't have. In that class (Expert) you can't make mistakes," said Bauman. "Being up there and getting a chance to run with those guys and getting to actually race with them was getting to me a little bit. I made mistakes, I got a little too western."
"It was my best GNC finish and winning the dash was cool," added Bauman. "We tried something new on the bike for the dash. We did that and came out of turn two in the lead. I didn't even know what to do, I was excited. Brad beat me in the heat race and in the dash he came in second to me. I was basically racing with Brad the whole night. It's kind of cool. We kind of grew up together riding. Now here we are racing at this level."
JD Beach (USC Kawasaki), Jeffrey Carver (Carver's BBQ / Twigg Cycles), Rob Pearson (RPR / Peoria Motorcycle Club), Brandon Robinson (Action Motorsports) and Matt Weidman (DFW Honda) rounded out the top ten.
Bonneville Performance's Mikey Martin claimed the night's MotoBatt "Hard Charger" Award by advancing five positions to finish in 13th place.