The Legend Continues

| 25 August 2012 4:57 pm

AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Championship Series
Round 10: Lucas Oil Indy Mile at the Indiana State Fairgrounds

Story by Dan Jacobson Sr.
Photos by Brent and Stephanie Pierce

Before a bike had even been fired up at Indy, there have been many interesting changes in the world of flat track. Steve Bonsey, Matt Weidman, Cory Texter, J.D. Beach, Brock Schwarzenbacher, Jake Shoemaker and Evan Baer have made the switch to Kawasaki, joining the regular Kawasaki racers Briar Bauman, Shawn Baer, Byran Smith and Brandon Robinson. Sammy Halbert is also practicing on a Werner/ Springsteen Racing ride today, but it’s still up in the air as to which bike he will race, the Kawasaki or the Harley-Davidson. The pre-entry list showed 10 total Kawasakis, 25 Harley-Davidsons, one Ducati, two KTMs and two Suzukis (for a total of 35 Expert Twins riders).

AMA announcer Barry Boone with Valentino Rossi during the opening ceremonies of the Lucas Oil Indy Mile, a.k.a. round 10 of the AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Championship Series, held on the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

Dave Waters, leader of Waters Racing, said they have made headway with the KTM bikes and he’s pleased with having both of the twins the same brand this season. Fighting the corner-exit wheelspin has been a constant battle for the restricted KTM. Jeremy Higgins and Steve Murray are the pilots.

Ducati racer Henry Wiles and Lloyd Brothers Racing have done their homework to get the power to the ground. David Lloyd feels a level of confidence with the performance and control of the powerful V-twin. Since they do have one National win (when Joe Kopp was the rider), it is time for Wiles to make his way to the podium in this series.

Doing double duty on this day were Michael LaBelle, Jake Shoemaker and Cody Johncox. These Pro Singles racers have enough points to start making the big step to the Harley-Davidson Insurance Expert Twins during the season at a select number of races.

Brad Baker (12) finds the edge in practice.

Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Championship Expert Twins qualifying went according to script, with the Dave Zanotti Racing/ Schaffer’s Harley-Davidson/ Motion Pro’s “Jersey Jake” Johnson just atop the leaderboard, with “Flyin’ Bryan” Smith, on the Crosley Radio/ Howerton Motorsports/ Eaken Racing/ K&N/ Midwest Performance Hardware/ Jeff Gordon-backed Kawasaki, off by seventeen-thousandths of a second. Close behind was local comeback man Dan Ingram, sixty-two-thousandths of a second off the top qualifying time on the Southside Harley-Davidson/ Harley-Davidson of Bloomington/ Tucker Rocky/ Zanna Racing XR750.

Bryan Smith (42, on the 650cc unrestricted Kawasaki) vs. Jake Johnson (1, on the restricted XR750).

The paddock was open for the fans to visit with the heroes of today, the stars of the past and the MotoGP riders who were on site – Scotty Parker, Chris Carr, Jay Springsteen, Rich King, Valentino Rossi, Colin Edwards, Josh Herrin, Tommy and Roger Hayden, to name a few. The hour passed quickly, and AMA Pro Racing, trying to keep the show on schedule, cleared the paddock and opened the show with the Pro Singles Support class of the up-and-coming stars on 450cc production DTX bikes.

In the first Pro Singles heat, Zakk Palmer, showing his power on the Double Dick Bandits/ Western Hills Honda/ Durelle Racing Honda, made a draft pass to move from fifth into the lead on lap two. Jake Cunningham, Wyatt Maguire, Michael Bickerton, Eric Stump, Brandon Wilhelm and Curtis Lee made the direct transfer to the main after a constant shuffling of the pack, leaving the other nine riders heading to the last-chance qualifier.

The winner of the second Pro Singles heat turned out to be Ryan Wells, on top by fourteen-thousandths of a second over Stephen Vanderkuur at the line. All seven transferring racers were all within .894 of a second, making for another top-notch AMA Pro Singles race. Dominic Colindres, Jake Shoemaker, Michael LaBelle and the two Minnesota riders, Cole Anderson and Nick Mataya, were moving forward to the main, leaving many of the top racers looking at the LCQ for a way into the big show, including Shayna Texter, Cory Johncox, Hayden Gillim and Jason Isennock.

The first Expert Twins heat was loaded with the fastest Mile races in the world. Defending 2010 champ “Flyin’ Bryan” Smith was running the high, wide and handsome line from the flash of the green, to the fans’ delight. Stalker J.D. Beach just missed Smith at the finish by sixty-five-thousandths of a second. Making it a Kawasaki sweep of the top three spots was Brandon Robinson, on one of the two Werner/ Springsteen/ Spoonseller/ Arai-sponsored Kawasakis. In the last direct transfer spot was Jared Mees, on the Rogers Racing/ Saddlemen/ Blue Springs Harley-Davidson. Among the notables heading to the semi were Willie McCoy, Matt Weidman, Jethro Halbert and Doug Lawrence.

Showing he’s healthy and ready to race, factory Harley-Davidson rider Kenny “The King of Cool” Coolbeth Jr. led the hungry pack into turn one in the second Expert Twins heat, only to have Jake Johnson roll past on the high side and proceed to check out, leaving his fellow H-D riders “Slammin’ Sammy” Halbert and Coolbeth and the lone Ducati rider, Foremost Insurance-backed racer “Hammering Henry” Wiles, behind him but also with direct transfers to the main. Close in tow were Nichole Cheza, Robert Pearson, Michael Avila, Kayl Kolkman, Lucas Scherb, Cory Texter, Aaron King, Chaz Landers, Bryan Hazel, Ben Evans, Chaz Springsteen and Shane Fox, all of whom were heading to the semifinals.

On the other Werner/ Springsteen Kawasaki, Steve Bonsey went wire to wire in the third Expert Twins heat, even after the red-flag restart on lap five, when Dan Ingram wrecked in turn two while battling for the number-two spot. From the restart, the order was Bonsey, Brad Baker, Jeffrey Craver Jr. and Shawn Baer –until the final lap, when Baker was dropped to fourth and Baer slid right up to Bonsey for another close finish: eighty-five thousandths of a second. Ingram didn’t make the restart and joined Michael Martin, Briar Bauman, Jeremy DeRuyter, Evan Baer, Jake Shoemaker, Cody Johncox, Corey Crawford, Chase Sconyers, Wade Camlin, Ben Knight and Merle Scherb in heading to the semis.

Sammy Halbert (7) works the Indy Mile corner.

The new ideas and lines made the heat races very interesting in both the Singles and Twins classes, as the groove was still in the development phase. Some brave riders used the high line sideways near the wall, throwing roostertails yards behind their rear wheels.

In the Pro Singles LCQ, it was full speed ahead for the fast lady from Michigan, Tiffany Sloan, who led the first three laps but then found the ground, bringing out the red flag.

On the restart, it was William Cato on the point, with Jason Isennock, Dustin Cassidy, Cody Johncox and Shayna Texter comprising the top five, knowing that only four of them would make row three of the main. When the green flashed, there were only three laps to get the business done. On the last lap, it was all Johncox and Texter; Cato had dropped to fifth and was out of the show. At the checkers, the finish was too close to call by eye, as the top five had a gap of only sixty-nine-thousandths of a second, but the transponders showed it was Cody Johncox, Dustin Cassidy, Jason Isennock and Shayna Texter all making the main.

Next up was the excitement of the Dash For Cash, featuring the top two riders from each of the three heat races. Steve Bonsey got the holeshot, but Bryan Smith rolled past and then led all six laps. Jake Johnson was on a charge, trying to see what the H-D had for the rocket-fast Smith. Johnson made it to within eighty-two-thousandths of a second of leader Smith at the line, and now the crowd had some sense of what was to come in the main.

The Expert Twins semifinals would decide the last row of six in the main and send 30 racers to their haulers. From the flash of the green for the first semi, it was Jeremy DeRuyter leading the way – until lap two, when second-place racer Nichole Cheza spanked the wall off turn two, sending her Harley bouncing back across the track and collecting Chase Sconyers in the biggest wreck of the night. Chase’s Suzuki was broken in half when the two machines and Chase collided.

On the restart, with six laps to go, DeRuyter took control, but coming all the way from the third row, Dan Ingram was on the march, and to the fans’ delight he took the point position away from DeRuyter. Getting comfortable on the Scott’s Powersport Kawasaki, Matt Weidman (replacing Johnny Lewis, who is taking a break from the AMA Pro GNC Series) was mixing it up in a never-say-die style, going from fourth to seventh, then back up to fourth, then to third and ending up in second.

Meanwhile, the strong-running Bumpus Harley-Davidson/ Memphis Shades/ K&N/ Saddlemen ride with Robert “Bugs” Pearson aboard, starting from the front row, managed to hang on for third – and the last transfer to the main. Ingram won by what seemed like a large margin (but what was actually only .751 of a second), with Weidman and Pearson tied together at the checkers by just a five-thousandths-of-a-second gap!

Among the notables now headed to those aforementioned haulers were DeRuyter, Cory Texter, Evan Baer and Jethro Halbert, as well as Jeremy Higgins and Brock Schwarzenbacher, whose machines didn’t make the call for the semifinals due to mechanical issues.

Leaving the line first in the second Expert Twins semifinal was Briar Bauman, but he lost ground to Mikey Martin, on the lone Triumph in the field. Martin was having his best night of the season. Martin set sail on the Arai/ Bonneville Performance/ D&D/ Factory Triumph, leading all but lap seven (the white-flag lap). Back-to-back two-time Springfield winner Willie McCoy, on the Harley-Davidson of Wausau/ Independence H-D, inserted himself into the lead on that seventh lap, only to have Martin draft past for the win. SDI/ Bisha Racing/ Alpinestars XR750 rider Michael Avila was also in the tight mix, bouncing from second to third to finish only .179 of a second behind the leader, McCoy in the middle of that sandwich. The margin of victory was forty-nine-thousandths of a second.

Among the notables now done for the night were Briar Bauman, Steve Murray, Kayl Kolkman, Aaron King, Chaz Springsteen, Chaz Landers, Aaron Lindfors, Wade Camlin, Duke Erickson, Ben Knight, Shane Fox and Jake Mataya, whose new Shoe Racing XR750 had issues (forcing him to tally a DNS).

As the riders rolled out for the AMA Pro Singles main event, the atmosphere was electric in the nearly full grandstands at the Indiana State Fair. After so many close races, and with this one bringing together the best of the night, everyone knew this one would be legendary! The carnival-and-sunset backdrop behind turns three and four and the track lighting all added to the ambience as the fans awaited the race that was to be settled by the 16 fastest AMA Pro Singles racers.

Sixteen Honda riders and two Yamaha riders (Wyatt Maguire and Cody Johncox) lined up, with Ryan Wells on the pole and Zakk Palmer, Stephen Vanderkuur, Jake Cunningham, Dominic Colindres and Wyatt Maguire filling out the front row. Jake Shoemaker, Michael Bickerton, Michael LaBelle, Eric Stump, Cole Anderson and Brandon Wilhelm comprised row two. Direct transferees Nick Mataya and Kurtis Lee and LCQ transferees Cody Johncox, Dustin Cassidy, Jason Isennock and Shayna Texter (all with big hopes of a great start and the seas’ parting in turn one) made up row three. The engines fired, as 18 racers got ready for 12 laps.

With the flash of the green, they thundered off – only to be red-flagged for a wreck that dropped Eric Stump from the field.

On the full restart, after lap one, it was Colindres in a two- to three-rider-wide draft of 10, with Wells and Vanderkuur. Then, coming from eighth place, Zakk Palmer showed up to play, dropping Wells back to sixth at the one-third mark.

On lap five, it was Palmer, Vanderkuur and Colindres nearly even at the line.

Zakk Palmer (81C), Stephen Vanderkuur (middle), Dominic Colindres (outside) in one of the many three-way battles of the night.

Jake Shoemaker joined the leaders at the front, bumping Colindres back to fourth. Now Vanderkuur, Palmer, Shoemaker, Colindres and Wells were riding nearly four-wide and even at the start/finish line, with two more rounds to settle this.

At the white flag, the order was Palmer, Vanderkuur, Colindres, Wells and Shoemaker. As the group swapped spots down into turn one and on the back straight, it was unbelievable how they all stayed on two wheels coming to Kevin Clark’s double-checkered flags. At the line, it was Vanderkuur by fifty-eight-thousandths of a second over Colindres and Palmer. The top four were all within .226 of a second, making this one crowd thriller at Indy!

Stephen Vanderkuur (center) stood atop the Pro Singles podium, flanked by runner-up Dominic Colindres (right) and third-place finisher Zakk Palmer (left).

Stephen Vanderkuur (10J) enjoys a victory lap.

Picking a possible winner out of the Harley-Davidson Insurance Twins field might at this point seem simple… but it never is with AMA Pro GNC Racing. Maybe the smart money would have been on Bryan Smith, the defending champ, the second-fastest rider and the Dash winner. Next might be Jake Johnson, current number-one from 2011 and who had the fast time of the race. Then there’s back-to-back Springfield winner and Mile specialist Willie McCoy. Or current points leader Jared Mees… All good picks.

Barry Boone and Scotty Dubler introduced the starting lineup. Starting on the pole was “Jersey Jake” Johnson, with “Flyin’ Bryan” Smith, Steven Bonsey, “Slammin’ Sammy” Halbert, J.D. Beach and Shawn Baer loading up the front row. Kenny “The King of Cool” Coolbeth Jr. was on the inside of row two, and next to him were Brandon Robinson, Jeffrey Carver, “Hammering Henry” Wiles, Jared “The Jammer” Mees and Brad “The Bullet” Baker. Starting out on row three were Mikey Martin, Dan Ingram, Willie McCoy, Matt Weidman, Michael Avila and the 18th qualifier, Robert “Bugs” Pearson. As their engines fired, one could only think about the massive amount of riding talent going into a 25-lap high-speed battle on the dirt Mile at Indy.

As 18 of the world’s best hit the go button, Johnson got a slight holeshot, with Bonsey going into turn one right beside him. Johnson shared the lead with Bryan Smith as Bonsey started to fade. Sammy Halbert moved into the third slot, pushing back Bonsey, who seemed to be having issues.

Meanwhile, Robinson and Mees were hooked up, working their way toward the leaders from midpack.

On lap seven, Smith caught Johnson and took the lead with a side-by-side draft, and they swapped back and forth on each straightaway.

Bryan Smith (42) takes the lead from Jake Johnson (1).

By lap 10, the order was Smith, Johnson, Sammy Halbert, Robinson, Mees, Wiles, Baker, Coolbeth, Bonsey, Baer and McCoy.

On lap 12, apparently figuring it was go time, Johnson ran it in super deep into turn three on the bottom of the groove and lost the front wheel, slamming his Zanotti Racing mount to the ground and doing the 120-mph slide, hitting the air fence. (This is the first time this reporter has seen Jake wreck; I noticed the steering head shake mostly on the back straight and getting worse right before the crash.) Red flags flew, and the field was reset for the 14-lap finish.

All in all, Sammy Halbert (7) had a pretty good evening at Indy…

Fourteen of the 18 riders all lined up like a snake for the restart, with Smith out front. Just past the start/finish line on lap 13, Smith slowed and moved from the racing line with a dead engine, giving the lead to the charging Mees. Then, coming from fourth, Robinson showed up as the two- and three-wide 10-bike draft ran past the standing crowd, with Sammy Halbert and Baker moving around Mees on lap 16.

Mees repaid Baker on the next lap, with Robinson, Sammy Halbert, Mees, Baker, Wiles, Coolbeth, Bonsey, Weidman, Pearson and Baer comprising the top 10 at the 20-lap mark. Pearson made a move up to seventh, while Bonsey and Avila dropped out with mechanical gremlins.

On the last lap, only positions four through 12 were shuffled, as the front three planned the last lap to the finish. Sammy Halbert, Brandon Robinson and Jared Mees battled all the way off turn four and heading to the checkers… and at the flag, it was Sammy Halbert over Robinson by twenty-seven-thousandths of a second, with Mees, Wiles, Coolbeth, Baker, Pearson, Weidman, Carver and Baer filling out the top 10.

Sammy Halbert (7) and Brandon Robinson (44) head to the checkers in the Expert main.

The top three headed for the victory stage for interviews with AMA’s Barry Boone and a sea of media. Robinson looked like he was in shock at being on the podium for his first time. A very excited Sammy Halbert and his family cheered as Champaign flooded the area. Mees was pleased to hold on to the series points lead, although Sammy Halbert, Johnson, Smith and Wiles are all still within striking distance for the 2012 number-one plate and bonus money.

Sammy Halbert (center), Brandon Robinson (right) and Jared Mees (left) celebrate on the Grand National Twins podium.

Dropping out first from this race was Dan Ingram (due to engine issues), who put in just one lap. He was followed by Mikey Martin, who completed four laps before his chain derailed his plans; J.D. Beach, who went eight laps before dealing with engine issues; Jake Johnson, who wrecked after 11 laps; Bryan Smith, who completed 13 laps before being besieged with electrical gremlins; and Willie McCoy, who finished 18 laps before getting sidelined with mechanical issues.

Lucas Oil Indy Mile at the Indiana State Fairgrounds
Indianapolis, Indiana
Results: August 18, 2012 (Round 10)

PRO SINGLES MAIN: 1. Stephen Vanderkuur (Hon); 2. Dominic Colindres (Hon); 3. Zakk Palmer (Hon); 4. Jake Shoemaker (Hon); 5. Jason Isennock (Hon); 6. Ryan Wells (Hon); 7. Jake Cunningham (Hon); 8. Michael LaBelle (Hon); 9. Brandon Wilhelm (Hon); 10. Cole Anderson (Hon); 11. Michael Bickerton (Hon); 12. Dustin Cassidy (Hon); 13. Wyatt Maguire (Yam); 14. Kurtis Lee (Hon); 15. Shayna Texter (Hon); 16. Nick Mataya (Hon); 17. Cody Johncox (Yam); 18. Eric Stump (Hon).

GRAND NATIONAL TWINS: 1. Sammy Halbert (H-D); 2. Brandon Robinson (Kaw); 3. Jared Mees (H-D); 4. Henry Wiles (Duc); 5. Kenny Coolbeth Jr. (H-D); 6. Brad Baker (H-D); 7. Robert Pearson (Kaw); 8. Matt Weidman (Kaw); 9. Jeffery Carver (H-D); 10. Shawn Baer (Kaw); 11. Steve Bonsey (Kaw); 12. Michael Avila (H-D); 13. Willie McCoy (H-D); 14. Bryan Smith (Kaw); 15. Jake Johnson (H-D); 16. J.D. Beach (Kaw); 17. Michael Martin (Tri); 18. Daniel Ingram (H-D).

AMA Pro Singles Points Standings (After 10 rounds): 1. Stephen Vanderkuur (121); 2. Ryan Wells (119); 3. Jake Shoemaker (111); 4. Jason Isennock (109); 5. Gerit Callies (107).

AMA Pro Grand National Points Standings (After 10 rounds): 1. Jared Mees (201); 2. Sammy Halbert (180); 3. Jake Johnson (173); 4. Bryan Smith (122); 5. Henry Wiles (115).

[For a racer’s-eye view of this event, and more photos, please see “Race Report from the Indy Mile” by rider Mikey Martin… Editor]

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Category: Flat Track, National

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