2012 AMA Pro Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Championship
The July heat wave that has gripped the entire country was in full force for the 31st running of the Hagerstown Half-Mile, but the temperatures were outdone by hot action on the banked red-clay half mile of the Hagerstown Speedway.
Round six of the AMA Pro Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Championship presented by Motorcycle-Superstore.com and Lucas Oil was held with triple digit temperatures, high humidity and the threat of thunderstorms. In other words, typical Hagerstown weather.
The wide, slick groove oval was technical, but fast. When all was said and done it was current series points leader Jared Mees dominating the 25-lap Grand National.
“Finally, finally, finally, finally! I won Hagerstown,” said Mees after his first win of 2012 and his first ever win at the venerable facility. “This has been a race that I have been dreaming of winning since I came here when I was a kid on 60’s and 80’s and watched the pros go around here. I won an 883 race here and always wanted to win a Grand National here in front of my family and finally did it.”
Mees led all but the first lap on his Rogers Racing / Blue Springs Harley-Davidson-backed XR750. “I just had a great motorcycle from the word go. I didn’t look back,” said Mees. “I couldn’t tell you what kind of lead I had. When I came across the start finish line it felt amazing. These wins just feel like the first one every time.”
Defending race winner and three time Hagerstown champion, Kenny Coolbeth (Harley-Davidson Motor Company) is on the shelf after breaking his leg last week in Lima. “I don’t know about Coolbeth being out, if that helped with our chances a little bit, because he has always been the man here,” said Mees. “This red clay is just my kind of race track. I grew up on this and I had a lot of confidence coming in here. This is a mark on the calendar that my whole family tries to make. It is very special to do it in front of them. This is the first win of the year. I was just telling somebody, we have the points lead but we are just doing it by consistency. I at least want to win a couple races this year. I finally got that off my back.”
2011 AMA Pro Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Champion Jake Johnson led the 25-lap national into turn one on his Zanotti Racing / Schaeffer’s Harley-Davidson mount, but he could not hold back the charging Mees. “Jared was just a few ticks faster all day, through qualifying and looking at lap times in the heat race,” said Johnson. “I thought that maybe in the main event I had something for him.”
“I got out front and I made a couple mistakes and Mees ended up getting by. For a lap or two I thought I was going to be able to maybe hang and it was going to be a race,” added Johnson. “I made a big mistake down in two and just about spun around backwards and he got a big gap on me. I finally got it gathered up. Even in the middle of the race when I thought I was putting my best laps in, he was still just kind of slowly inching away.”
Lap after lap, Mees’ consistency was paying off as he pulled to a four second lead over perhaps the best race of the night that was going on about two seconds behind Johnson. Sammy Halbert (South East Harley-Davidson), Jeffrey Carver (Kiesow Racing) and Johnny Lewis (Scott Powersports) were using the whole track in their dispute over the last podium spot.
Each took their turn with Lewis’ screaming Kawasaki breaking up the Harley-Davidson parade. “My line was beating the crap out of me,” said Lewis. “I saw Carver and Sammy going at it side by side and not making anything up and I thought that I’ve got to try something. I went back to riding the bottom and tried to make up time.”
That worked until lap 22 when Carver reclaimed third. “I needed to get the run coming off the turns on them. I just kept trying to finesse it in,” said Carver. “Johnny and I kept going at it and he kept going up. He kind of pushed me up into a little bit better line.”
“I tried running it a little higher, but my bike just wasn’t working that way, so I went back to being a bottom feeder and just rode that way,” said Lewis. “It was fun with me and Jeffrey because I could trust him. I haven’t been able to race him much, but Jeffrey and I had a nice smooth race. I was happy for him to get his first twins podium, I got mine here last year too.”
After running in the third spot early, Halbert faded to fifth. “I was shooting for a podium. Maybe I didn’t make the right adjustments to the motorcycle,” said Halbert. “Congrats to Carver on his podium. He was riding really well. I was trying to pace with him and trying to make something happen. Towards the end there it just didn’t work out for me. Everything I tried just didn’t really work on the track.”
Canadian Doug Lawrence nailed down his best GNC finish ever (sixth) with a solid ride on his R&J Racing / CVC Communications-backed Harley-Davidson. “I rode around in sixth the whole race,” said Lawrence. “I was sort of catching fifth and fourth a little past halfway. Those guys were searching for lines and I had committed to my line. I was just watching those guys, but I just couldn’t get to them.”
The temporary replacement of the injured Coolbeth on the Harley-Davidson Motor Company / Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson, Brad Baker, worked his way up to seventh after a slow start. Baker just nipped Moroney’s Harley-Davidson’s Bryan Smith after exchanging the position several times.
“It was a pretty good night considering it was my first time on the motorcycle. I got off to a pretty shaky start in the main event,” said Baker. “I got shuffled back, I was kind of cut off. I think I was 13th or 14th to start with. I just started moving my way forward. The bike was working quite a bit better in the main event. We just kind of made baby steps all night long, trying to get it more to the way I like it. In the main event it was really good. I worked well with the team. I just wish I could have started a little bit closer to the front. This track is hard to make up ground on. I feel that where we started and where we ended, and since it is the first time with the team, we had a pretty solid finish.”
Baer Racing Products’ Shawn Baer continued his recent string of good GNC finishes, besting Memphis Shades / Bumpus Harley-Davidson’s Rob Pearson for ninth by just two tenths of a second. Pearson did end the night with a plus by earning the MotoBatt “Hard Charger” Award. The cash award goes to the rider who advances the most positions during each expert main event.
The brand wars are heating up. For many years the Grand National Half-Miles and Miles have been dominated by the venerable Harley-Davidson XR750, many times being the only brand represented. In the Expert class, the 18 rider main event featured nine Harley-Davidsons, seven Kawasakis, one Suzuki and one KTM. On the other hand, the AMA Pro Motorcycle-Superstore.com Pro Singles main was dominated by Honda in numbers, but it was KTM pulling off the win over 15 Hondas, one Yamaha and one Suzuki.
AMA Pro Racing is allowing Pro Single riders who finished in the top 20 in points last year to ride in the AMA Pro Harley-Davidson Insurance GNC Expert Twins class with a provisional license. Pro Singles rider Jake Shoemaker took full advantage as he put his Montgomeryville Cycle Center-backed Kawasaki into the Harley-Davidson Insurance GNC main and his Honda into the Motorcycle-Superstore.com Pro Singles main event. Shoemaker finished 16th in the GNC Twins and sixth with his single.
Evan Baer (Baer Racing Products / KB5) made his first Grand National main event aboard his Kawasaki and finished a creditable 12th, just ahead of Saddlemen Rookie of the Year leader Briar Bauman (Rod Lake Racing / USC Kawasaki).
The all important four-lap Dash for Cash provided a quick preview to the national as Mees and Johnson dominated the action. Only in the Dash, it was Johnson that prevailed. “In the Dash, I got out in front of him (Mees),” said Johnson. “I was just able to kind of hold him off. He was breathing down my neck the whole time.” The win netted Johnson five points and $1000. Mees gained four points and Halbert three points.
With Mees taking the win, there is yet to be a repeat winner in the first six rounds of the AMA Pro Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Championship presented by Motorcycle-Superstore.com and Lucas Oil.
Mees picked up four points on defending Grand National Champion Johnson as the margin now stands at 15, 121 – 106. Lewis and Halbert sit at 97 and 94 and need to make a major move when the Series moves west at the end of July for the mile in Sacramento, CA and a TT in Castle Rock, WA.
“We will take this. We haven’t been off the podium since Daytona,” said Johnson. “We are still not winning, but consistency is what has won us championships before. I am just going to keep plugging along.”