Despite all of the problems that Mother Nature threw at the AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Championship this weekend, the Illinois Motorcycle Dealers Association, the Illinois State Fairgrounds crew and AMA Pro Racing staff were able to salvage Sunday’s Springfield Mile race. Saturday’s steady rain, which forced the Short Track to be postponed, had turned the large mile oval into a muddy mess.
The gumbo soil that makes the Springfield Mile so great does not take well to rain, and such conditions normally make for a sketchy race surface. It was well into the afternoon before the track was declared ready and the shortened program was implemented. Two Practice / Qualifying sessions would trim the 61 rider field down to 48 and then six riders would advance from the three heats into the National.
All day, the fabled fairgrounds was under the threat of rain and as the Rolling Thunder Show rolled to the line, real thunder and lighting flashed just off of Turn 1.
Latus Harley-Davidson / Screamin’ Eagles’ No. 3 Joe Kopp led the 19 rider field into the first turn with Halbert Family / King Kustoms’ No. 43 Sammy Halbert, Blue Springs Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson / Rogers Lake Racing’s Jared Mees and SuperTrapp / F&S Harley-Davidson’s No. 14 Jake Johnson.
Eager to regain his points lead from the injured defending Champion Harley-Davidson Motor Company’s No. 1 Kenny Coolbeth, Mees had the lead at the end of Lap 1 and would hold it until Lap 11. Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson / Moroney’s No. 42 Bryan Smith took over the lead for a lap, taking full advantage of his provisional start. Smith dropped out of his heat race earlier in the day after leading several laps.
It would be the only lap Smith would lead, however, as Jake Johnson took over on his Harley-Davidson. Officially, Johnson would lead the rest of the race, but that was only at the all important finish line. Johnson was under constant pressure from Halbert, and the Harley-Davidson Wrecking Crew of Smith, Mees and Kopp.
Slowly it turned into a two rider race as Johnson and Mees put a short distance on Smith and Halbert. On the last lap Mees led off Turn 4 but Johnson drafted by for the win by just over a bike length. Halbert also made a last lap pass of Smith for the last podium spot.
Kopp was a lonely fifth with Rogers Lake Racing’s No. 28 Shaun Russell cruising home 10 seconds back. Part-time racer Harley-Davidson of Wausau’s No. 59 Willie McCoy edged out National Cycle / Reiman’s Harley-Davidson’s Brandan Bergen, while Team Movin’ Mike / TNT Harley-Davidson’s No. 22P Kevin Vance posted his best Grand National finish with a ninth, almost four seconds ahead of Chris Carr Racing / Lancaster Harley-Davidson’s Chris Carr.
Johnson’s win gives him the "Dirt Track Slam" of a Short Track, TT, Half Mile and now Mile victory.
After the National, as darkness flooded the race track, the all important Dash came to the line. Jared Mees was poised to use the six rider race to a great advantage, but he failed to finish the first lap of the four lap race and earned no points. Mechanical problems also sidelined Memphis Shades No. 33 JR Schnabel after one lap. Halbert, Kopp and KK Motorcycle Supply / Mike Adkins’ No. 17 Henry Wiles battled to the end, with Halbert pulling off the win by inches over Kopp.
It was certainly a disappointing day for three-time defending Grand National Champion No. 1 Kenny Coolbeth. After suffering a shoulder injury during a mid-week practice, Coolbeth could not get up to speed on the demanding oval and could only muster the 52nd best time during the two qualifying sessions.
The plan was to run the Pro Singles Class after the Grand National, but darkness put an end to the day and the Pro Singles Series event was forced to be canceled.
The Grand National Championship will be back in action on Monday as the rescheduled Short Track National will be run on Labor Day.
Race Results – AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Twins Championship
(19 riders / 25 laps)
1. Jake Johnson (H-D); 2. Jared Mees (H-D); 3. Sammy Halbert (H-D); 4. Bryan Smith (H-D); 5. Joe Kopp (H-D); 6. Shaun Russell (H-D); 7. Willie McCoy (H-D); 8. Brandan Bergen (H-D); 9. Kevin Vance (H-D); 10. Chris Carr (H-D); 11. Bryan Bigelow (H-D); 12. Matt Weidman (H-D); 13. Nichole Cheza (H-D); 14. Steve Murray (H-D); 15. Don Taylor (H-D); 16. Cory Texter (H-D); 17. Henry Wiles (H-D); 18. JR Schnabel (H-D); 19. Ronnie Jones (H-D).