Sacramento Mile Flat Track: Recap & Video

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2012 AMA Pro Flat Track Video

The much anticipated Sacramento Mile marked the first appearance of the AMA Pro Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Championship presented by and Lucas Oil on the West Coast and it didn’t disappoint the large crowd gathered at the California State Fair on the Cal Expo mile oval.

The 25-lap Miller Lite Sacramento Mile presented locally by Big O Tires and Padilla Bail Bonds Grand National had all the typical mile-track action as a 100 MPH chess match unfolded. Draft passing and late race strategy was the name of the game.

Just as he had done in 2011, Bryan Smith came out on top. Last year, it was Chris Carr who came up just short but this year, defending Grand National Champion Jake Johnson was the victim. In 2011, back-to-back race winner Smith rode a Harley-Davidson XR750, but this year he was aboard the Crosley Radio / Howerton Motorsports / Eaken Racing-backed Kawasaki.

After dominating May’s Springfield Mile early only to come up short on the last lap, Smith was the pre-race favorite of many and he was looking for redemption after losing a race he felt should have been his.

“I’ve been pretty much mad about Springfield since then, but now I can sleep at night,” said Smith. “It is definitely a weight off my shoulders to get a win for Rick (Howerton) and Jeff (Gordon) here on the Crosley bike.”

Zanotti Racing / Schaeffer’s Harley-Davidson’s Jake Johnson had started off the day posting fast qualifying times in the afternoon and followed that up with a dominating performance in the first heat. Johnson led Luke Gough (Dick Ford / Skip Eaken Racing) by nearly four seconds when the eight lap heat ended.

The two remaining heats were much more typical of mile flat track racing. Brandon Robinson (Werner-Springsteen Racing) edged Rogers Racing / Blue Springs Harley-Davidson’s Jared Mees by 1 thousandths of a second in heat two.

Bryan Smith’s time qualified him ninth, which he considered poor even though he was less than half a second off Jake Johnson’s fast time of 38.742 seconds. Smith worked his way up from the back to win the third heat, garnering a front-row start in the national and a spot in the Dash for Cash.

“In the free practice session we were fastest, but the track just really kept changing so much. I just kept chasing the track,” said Smith. “I felt decent. I knew we would be all right once we got to racing everybody. I always race better than I qualify. It was just a matter of mixing it up. In the heat race I got a horrible start, my fault. It was kind of good because it made me push it a little bit. At the same time it made me pretty nervous, to barely win the thing.”

With the heat races in the books, the all-important Dash for Cash was up next, worth $1,000 to the winner and five points toward the Grand National Championship. Johnson jumped to a quick lead in the four-lap race and held off Mees, Smith and Robinson. The top four finished within half a second, foretelling how the national would play out, but not in that order.

The 25-lap main event saw the big number one of Jake Johnson blast into the lead, but it didn’t take Smith long to make his presence felt on his high powered Kawasaki.

“Damn that Kawasaki is fast,” said Johnson of his futile race long battle. “There were a few times he (Smith) would see that I had a little bit of a wheel on him and he would kind of roll out of it and I could slip by going into the turn. Then he would suck three tear offs off of my helmet when he would go by me on the next straight away.”

The lead pack contained at least three and sometimes as many as six riders going for the lead. Despite the heated battle for the lead, Smith’s Kawasaki horsepower allowed him to lead 23 of the 25 laps, most with draft passes at the line.

“Obviously, the race was good, we won, but it was tough. Those guys were right there. It took everything I had,” said Smith. “It was pretty slick in the corners for me. The power band the Kawasaki has really wants to spin the tires, but when it hooks up it goes. It goes obviously… ask Jake and Jared.

“I just tried to give them a good gap off the corner,” Smith continued. “That way I got the best draft possible and could just sweep by them into turn one or turn three, rather than draft them real early and almost drag race them into the corner. That would allow Jared to go up there. They would get to the corner a little faster than me when they were in the lead so it worked out pretty good. I would utilize the draft on the front straight away and blow on by them.”

“There was nothing I could do. I was able to get by him a few times going into three and it really wasn’t a draft pass,” said Johnson. “I would get a run on him, draft up alongside him and basically it was just a shutoff contest through the corner. Bryan would give a little bit, but he had nothing to lose, he would just draft right back around.”

Current AMA Pro Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Championship Expert Class points leader Jared Mees was able to hang with the leaders, but was never able to “officially” lead a lap at the finish line.

“As soon as I saw Bryan get off the line, I thought, ‘Man, I’ve got to deal with one of these Kawis again,'” said Mees. “It is hard to say that Bryan held us up, but he had so much power down the straight away that we really couldn’t run down the straight away with him and get away from him. We would get through the corner good and everything would be fine and he would just suck right by us on the straight away. About halfway through, I hate to say it, but the race was for second.” That battle would go to Johnson.

The battle for fourth heated up as Robinson and Sammy Halbert (South East Harley-Davidson / Mo Vaughn Transportation) battled it out until Halbert’s tire went away.

“Finally I had a good run that shows what I really have. It was a good night,” said Robinson. “I rode for the first 20 laps, just watching them and studying them. Sammy got around me, but he kept slipping the groove going into three. He drifted up and lost the draft with five to go and I was able to get around him. I chased the leaders back down a little bit by myself and I got right there in the hunt. I just messed up a little bit in three. I just gave them enough of a gap coming off of three. I got within inches of Jared for third and that was all I had. It’s frustrating to come up inches short from a podium, but I have to be happy with fourth.”

Halbert kept himself in the points hunt with his fifth-place finish. “I was able to catch the lead draft. I pushed really hard to catch the leaders and I think that burned off my tire a little bit,” said Halbert. “It was good to catch them, but as soon as I would catch them, I would try to do something and make a mistake and blow the groove. I would have to do it all over again.”

After the top five broke away, another tight bunch fought over sixth. Kiesow Racing’s Jeffrey Carver came out on top there finishing a solid sixth after a slow start. “I actually decided to start on the fourth row in the main, on the groove. I started working my way through, then I got stuck behind a few of the Japanese brands. Once I got by them, I started picking off people, then I got stuck behind Mikey Martin for about 8 laps. He just had so much straight away speed that I couldn’t draft by him. I kept seeing him slip up coming off of two. I got a run on him and got by him. I just burned it off in there as hard as I could so he couldn’t draft back by me. Once I did that I just caught up to Brad (Baker) and Luke (Gough). I got by Brad and worked on Luke for a couple laps. I got by Luke and by then it was two to go. I could see the lead pack, I was right there.”

The last few laps saw the group settle in with Brad Baker bringing the Factory Harley-Davidson home in seventh safely ahead of Rob Pearson on his Memphis Shades / Bumpus Harley-Davidson backed Harley. “I was pretty satisfied with the start, I was on the third row and think I came out sixth. I got past Sammy about four laps in or so and I was up into fifth,” said Baker. “We just didn’t quite have the ponies to be able to draft the front runners. I could stay with them in the corners, but they would just inch me down the straight away and I couldn’t draft them. Little by little they started to pull away. I just kind of hung in there for what I could. Luke and Jeffrey got up to me. We mixed it around with them. When Luke got by me, there wasn’t any reason to pass him in the corner because he would sling shot past me on the straight. I just made what I could out of it.”

Rob Pearson landed the MotoBatt “Hard Charger” Award again at Sacramento. The cash award goes to the rider who advances the most positions during each expert main event.

Last year’s Pro Singles Champion Mikey Martin qualified for his first-ever Grand National and brought the Bonneville Performance Triumph home in ninth. This marks the first time all three former Pro Singles Champions would be in the same Grand National main.

As the season reaches its midpoint next week, the points race in the Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Championship is shaping up to be a two-rider race as Jared Mees and defending AMA Pro GNC Champion Jake Johnson inch away. Mees was able to overcome his early problems and minimized any damage with his third in the national and second in the Dash for Cash to Johnson.

“It is what it is. It’s tough,” said Mees. “Congratulations to Bryan and the whole team, they work really hard. We came from a long way today from qualifying and to finish third I feel really confident. I lost a little bit in the points. We were 11 ahead going into Hagerstown, went to 15, now we are at 11 again. It’s just cat and mouse really.”

Sammy Halbert is 33 points down to Mees with Bryan Smith leapfrogging into fourth just eight behind Halbert. The absent Johnny Lewis remains in fifth, 44 points down to the leader.