Flat Track: Johnson Gains Lead at Calistoga

2011 AMA Flat Track

Defending Grand National Champion Jake Johnson captured the AMA Pro Flat Track Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Championship presented by Motorcycle-Superstore.com points lead with a win Saturday night at Calistoga Speedway, located in the picturesque wine country of Calistoga, Calif.

Johnson deftly piloted his Zanotti’s Racing Harley-Davidson, leading 22 laps of the 25 lap main event and crossing the stripe 1.855 seconds before Kings Kustoms / White’s Harley-Davidson’s Sammy Halbert.

Event promoter Bob Bellino brought the series back to Calistoga following a successful event in 2010, and the stars of the AMA Pro Grand National Championship put on another breathtaking show for the near-capacity crowd. Halbert got the hole shot and led the 19-rider field into the first turn, where White’s Harley-Davidson / SNIP backed Matt Weidman slipped by and proceeded to lead the first lap, followed by Halbert in second and the Harley-Davidson Motor Company’s Kenny Coolbeth a close third.

Johnson took the point on lap four with Halbert, Coolbeth, Jared Mees and Weidman hot on his heels. Just as Johnson started to open up a gap, the red lights brought the racing action to a halt, as Mees had crashed his Rogers Lake / Blue Springs Harley-Davidson backed XR-750 in turn three. At the time of the red flag, the leader and several other riders had completed their sixth lap, meaning that, per the rule book, scoring would revert to the running order of lap five, the last officially completed lap, in order to accurately regrid the riders.

The on-track incident was quickly resolved and following the restart, Johnson, Halbert and Coolbeth picked up where they left off, with Digger 57 / Dick Ford’s Luke Gough, fasthog.com / American Harley-Davidson’s Bryan Smith, and Matt Weidman battling for fourth. Coolbeth then briefly lost control of the back end giving up his position in third as Smith and Gough worked their way to the front.

The large crowd watched in amazement as Mees, who started from the back of the field on the restart using his backup bike, sliced through the field and gained position after position on a methodical march. When the checkered flag came out, Johnson soared across the line nearly two seconds ahead of Halbert and over five seconds ahead of third-place finisher Smith. Fourth place went to Gough and Lloyd Brothers Motorsports / Team Hurt by Accident’s Brad Baker rounded out the top five.

Although Mees led a brilliant charge through the field, the rule relating to backup bike usage in the event of red flag restarts states that riders can only utilize backup bikes until five laps have been completed by the leader.

Dan Johnsen (Director of Flat Track) says: "Following the on-track incident, there was no way that Jared could get his ‘A’ bike ready in time for the restart. We allowed him to restart on his backup bike to safeguard him as we considered the interpretation of the rule.

"As he was circulating, we reexamined the rulebook and conferred with scoring to determine that the leader had officially completed six laps and was working on his seventh lap at the time of the red flag, and therefore backup machines were not an option for competition. He was credited with the five laps he completed prior to the red flag on his "A" bike and the subsequent points."

Earlier in the night, Coolbeth pulled off a narrow.371 second win over Mees in the all-important Dash for Cash. The points that Mees gained from that second place finish could prove vital as the series winds down.

The points swing now has Johnson in the lead by a narrow four points over Mees, 357-353, and Halbert just another four points back with 349. Baker backed up his fast qualifying effort with a fifth place finish on the potent Ducati, putting him sixth in points going into the last round.

In the ever-competitive Motorcycle-Superstore.com Pro Singles class, Rod Lake Racing / Brown’s Cycles’ Brian Bauman earned his second win of the season, finishing 2.181 seconds ahead of Knoxville winner Shayna Texter’s RLT Racing Honda.

The 16-lap Pro Singles main featured much of the same excitement as the GNC Twins main. Texter had her RLT Racing Honda out in front on the initial start and led the first lap when points leader Mikey Martin had his Weirbach Racing Honda blow up on lap two, landing him on the ground in turn two. With less than two laps in the books, Martin was allowed to use his back up Honda for the complete restart. Bowman nailed the restart and ran away, leading every lap on his way to the top spot on the podium.

Brian Bauman says: "When Shayna got the hole shot I thought ‘Oh no there she goes again, just like Knoxville,’ but I was able to get the restart and hold on for the win."

With Bauman holding over a two second advantage, the crowd turned its attention to fan-favorite Shayna Texter and points-contender Gerit Callies. The two battled for 16 straight laps, repeatedly exchanging positions. When all was said and done, it was Texter who grabbed second place, earning her second podium in the last three races.

Martin worked his backup bike up to an eighth place finish, allowing him to maintain a 14 point advantage over Mikey Avila, 303-289. Calistoga third-place finisher Callies is now just one point back from Avila with 288 points.

Next up for the AMA Pro Flat Track Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Championship presented by Motorcycle-Superstore.com is the AMA Pro Flat Track Season Finale, scheduled for Saturday, October 15, 2011 at the LA County Fairplex in Pomona, Calif.