All that’s left is California.
It may sound like a song title, but for the four riders still alive in the AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Championship chase, those words mean so much more than any lyric.
After 14 rounds, Bryan Smith, Jared Mees, Jake Johnson and Kenny Coolbeth have emerged as the final four riders with a shot at the Expert title with two rounds, Calistoga and Pomona, left on the schedule.
The championship hunt heats up this weekend with the Calistoga Half-Mile at Calistoga Speedway in California’s Napa Valley. The season finale will take place 450 miles south down the Golden Coast with the Flat Track Finals at the LA County Fairplex Oct. 11.
Right now, however, the riders are focused on Calistoga.
On-track action begins at 3 p.m. local time (6 p.m. ET) with Opening Ceremonies scheduled for 6:30 p.m. (9:30 p.m. ET). The Pro Singles main is set for 9 p.m. (midnight ET) and the Expert main is scheduled to go green at 9:30 p.m. (12:30 a.m. ET). Every moment can be watched live in high definition at FansChoice.tv.
The Dash For Cash is scheduled for 8:10 p.m. 11:10 p.m. ET) and has an additional $5,000 up for grabs thanks to Specialty Fabrications.
Smith, pilot of the No. 42 Villa Esparza/Crosley Radio Kawasaki, holds a nine-point lead over Mees and his No. 9 Rogers Racing Harley-Davidson. Ramspur Winery rider Johnson and his No. 5 machine are 14 points back of Mees. Coolbeth, on the No. 2 Zanotti Racing Harley-Davidson, is 53 points back, and would need some help in the form of bad luck from the top three to rise to the top of the standings.
The beauty of this year’s title chase is that no one rider has the hot hand as the season winds down. The last four races have seen four different winners, although Smith has taken command by virtue of a victory at Colonial Downs in Virginia followed by a runner-up showing at the Springfield Mile in Illinois. The Michigan rider is tied with Coolbeth for the most wins with four.
Mees has been impressive for his consistency. Outside a 12th place showing in the second Daytona race to open the season, Mees, who, like his rival hails from Michigan, hasn’t finished worse than fifth. One thing Mees does have in his corner over Smith is championship-winning experience. While Smith is searching for his first ever overall GNC title, Mees got the job done and claimed the No. 1 plate in 2012.
Johnson, too, knows how it’s done, having won back-to-back titles in 2010 and 2011. His consistency has also been impressive as the Pennsylvanian is the only Expert to finish inside the top 10 in every race. He is, however, still searching for his first victory of 2014 despite six podiums.
Coolbeth’s shot at a title might be slim, but the Connecticut rider is certainly a favorite to take a couple of checkered flags to round out his up-and-down season. Coolbeth has proven he’s still one of the best riders in the AMA Pro Flat Track paddock by winning four races this year, including one half-mile. He was dominating the Hagerstown Half-Mile in July, but a mechanical issue ended his race prematurely. Had his bike held on and Coolbeth taken the win in Maryland instead of Smith, the title chase would have a dramatically different look.
Just because only four riders are still mathematically alive to claim the No. 1 plate, that doesn’t mean the rest of the Expert field won’t be contesting with the same fervor it has all season.
Henry Wiles on the No. 17 Don’s Kawasaki entry is trying to keep his spot in the top 5. Anchored by wins in both TT (Tourist Trophy) events this year, Wiles is riding a five-race top 10 streak. The Michigan rider holds an 11-point advantage for fifth over defending GNC champion Brad Baker on the No. 1 Factory Harley-Davidson.
Baker, a Washington native, has been quietly consistent during the last two thirds of the season, finishing inside the top 10 in every race since the Lima Half-Mile in June.
Sammy Halbert, riding the No. 7 South East Harley-Davidson, and Brandon Robinson on the No. 44 USC Kawasaki sit seventh and eighth, respectively in points and five points from each other.
Stevie Bonsey sits ninth, another five points back of Robinson. The Californian has put his No. 80 Zanotti Racing Harley-Davidson in every main event this season, making him one of just four riders who can make that claim.
Jake Shoemaker rounds out the top 10 heading into California. Thanks to two-straight top five finishes, including a runner-up showing in Virginia, the Glenmore, Pa., native has put himself and his No. 55 Hot Shot Motors Kawasaki in a spot to finish the season on a high note.
For more information on the event, visit www.flattrackcalistoga.com. For information on the season finale in Pomona, visit www.flattrackfinals.com.
How to Watch:
FansChoice.tv will be the official home for live streaming coverage of AMA Pro Flat Track and AMA Pro Road Racing events in 2014. The site will also provide coverage of IMSA’s development and single-make series, and NASCAR’s touring and weekly series.