AMA Pro Flat Track Series
Round 13: Los Angeles County Fairplex
Story by Tim Kennedy
Photos by David N. Haughs/www.haughsphotography.com
POMONA, CA, OCT. 12, 2013
Brad Baker won the battle (the 25-lap feature) and the war (the 2013 championship) on Saturday, October 12, when the AMA Grand National Championship Flat Track Series returned to the Los Angeles County Fairplex in Pomona. Baker (on the number-12 Harley-Davidson) had an 11-point lead, 190-179, over Bryan Smith (on the number-42 Kawasaki EX650) entering the Pomona finale. He finished the season 17 points in front of Smith, 219-202. They both won their heat races and finished one-two in the feature. Baker won the Dash For Cash’s $1,000 and five points, plus a point for leading the most laps in the feature (15 laps, to 10 by Smith). Baker earned the maximum possible 29 points, to Smith’s 23.
The Pomona finale was another thriller, with the championship duel between Baker and Smith going toe to toe on the track and in their points battle. Baker, a 20-year-old from Eatonville, Washington, and Smith, a 30-year-old from Flint, Michigan, started from the six-rider front row in a field of 18 plus one provisional starter.
Baker and Smith traded the lead five times just at the starting line alone, but more than that around the track. By this reporter’s count, Baker led the first five laps, plus laps 14 through 15 and 17 through 25. Smith was the leader from laps six through 13 and on lap 16. A championship point duel cannot get much more exciting than that. Baker edged Smith by 0.706 of a second officially, with third-place finisher Briar Bauman 1.148 seconds off the lead.
Third place in the final points standings was Brandon Robinson, who tallied 185 points. Jared Mees, the 2012 AMA GNC champion, finished fourth with 177. Past AMA GNC Champions Kenny Coolbeth Jr. (who finished sixth) and Jake Johnson (seventh) also made the top 10 in 2013 points.
This season had 14 dates in eight states (California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and Washington) from March to October. The Lima, Ohio, race was not run. The circuit included the Daytona Beach short track during Bike Week, six Miles, four Half Miles and two TT races. California had four events: at the Sacramento and Santa Rosa miles, plus the new Stockton short Half Mile and long Pomona half that thoroughbred horsemen call a five-eighths.
The GN Expert 750cc class had nine winners in 13 features, with Robinson a three-time winner. Baker and Smith each won twice. In the manufacturers contest, Harley-Davidson and Kawasaki tied for the most GNC victories, with five apiece; Honda won three times.
The support AMA Pro Singles 450cc class, run in conjunction with the GNC, ran 11 features and had 10 different winners. Shayna Texter, a 22-year-old, 5-foot-even, 95-pound blonde from Pennsylvania, won twice on her number-25A Honda CRF450R at the miles in Sacramento and Indianapolis. She also won a pair of Basic Pair Twins mains on her Kawasaki EV650 at the Springfield Mile. Honda won eight of 11 450cc mains to one each by Kawasaki, Yamaha and Suzuki.
Pomona had 27 Experts and 35 Pro Singles support riders present in the class for riders who are newer to AMA Pro Racing. The Pro Singles class also had a tight points battle for the season championship between Washington’s Wyatt Maguire and New Yorker Ryan Wells. Maguire won by one point, 137-136, over Wells.
Both championship contenders started from the first of three rows, with six riders per row. Wells led the first lap; fastest qualifier J.R. Addison, from outside row one, was the leader from lap two to the lap-16 checkers.
“This is great!” Addison told the crowd “I came here to win. I wanted this one real bad. I got out front early.”
Wells finished second, 7.236 seconds back, and Maguire placed fourth, 8.467 seconds off the lead. All 18 riders finished within 23.815 seconds of the leader. Maguire did just enough to edge Wells for the title.
The Activation Group of Beverly Hills co-promoters were Chris Morgan and Charlie Frank. The total purse was $44,000, with the Expert main paying the top three finishers $6,000, $4,100 and $2,850, respectively; last position paid $1,000. The Expert Dash paid $1,000 to the winner, with a drop-off of $500 and $350 to positions two and three and $100 to position six. The Pro Singles paid the top three main-event riders $1,000, $500 and $350, respectively; last spot paid $100.
AMA flat-track and TT racing great Skip Van Leeuwen served as grand marshal. He raced from the early 1960s to 1972 and won numerous features at Ascot Park in Gardena, California.
The presenting sponsors at Pomona were Law Tigers (motorcycle lawyers), Glendale Harley, Pomona Valley Harley, and Budweiser. With more than 6,500 spectators present, an AMA representative from the Ohio headquarters presented the number-one plates for use in 2014 to 2013 Champions Baker and Maguire.
The 2014 AMA season will begin as usual, at Daytona Beach during Bike Week. A glossy, 30-page, $7 printed program at Pomona contained action and color photos, rosters, biographies, points standings, and a list of past AMA champions from 1954 to 2012. Two accomplished female AMA Pro riders (one in each division) competed at Pomona.
With the San Gabriel Mountains looming in the background on a shirt-sleeve, 65-degree evening, the setting was perfect under the large, covered main grandstand of the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds. Young people these days gravitate toward extreme sports such as the X Games or D-1 Drifting by skilled automobile drivers. Video games and fantasy football also attract young people. They should give AMA two-wheel motorcycle racing on dirt a try, because it offers extreme 100-plus-mph racing down the straights, elbow to elbow. Riders drag their left-foot steel boots on the track through the corners while continuously swapping positions. They do all this without a car body or open-wheel car roll-cage for protection. That is courage, skill and bravery in action.
Twenty-six “Legends of Ascot” retired AMA riders sat at tables in front of the main grandstand and signed autographs for fans from 5 to 6 p.m. Then came the opening ceremonies. The riders were (listed alphabetically, with their AMA numbers in parenthesis) Jim Berry (39), Don Emde (25), Bryson Farnsworth, Broc Glover, Dave Hansen (23), 1969-’84 rider John Hateley (“the first to use 98 after Joe Leonard went to the Indy 500”), Tom Horton (55), Ronnie Jones (16), Dennis Kanegae (51X), Shawn McConnell, Rick Miller, 1969-’74 rider Ron Moore (37), Bob Morrison (25), Jody Nicholas (58), Sonny Nutter (19), Danny Perkins, Preston Petty (68), Jim Rice (24), Bobby Schwartz, Buddy Stubbs, Sammy Tanner (7), Nick Thoreau (64), C.H. Wheat (6), Tom White (80), Eddie Wirth (77) and Mike Yarn (46z). Nutter, Wirth and Tanner also raced midgets and CRA sprint cars at Ascot.
For the second consecutive year, Speedway bikes raced invitational heat races and a main on the same track used by the GNC riders. Six veteran riders competed and others watched from the pits. A pair of three-lap heats preceded the three-lap main event, called the AMA Super Long Track Championship. Gino Manzares (number 24) won heat one, over Billy Hamill (number 104). Hamill beat Manzares in heat two. Eddie Castro (number 14) was third in both heats. Hamill led all three laps of the main and edged Manzares by 15 yards. Castro was third, 60 yards back. Jason Ramirez (number 66) and Tyson Talkington (number 48) followed. Justin Boyle (number 18) did not start the main after his engine failed in heat one. “Crazy Chris” Ackerman (of Steve Evans promotions) announced the speedway bike races and plugged speedway bike racing at Costa Mesa, San Bernardino and Industry.
Ackerman conducted post-main interviews of the top three on the infield stage.
“It feels awesome,” winner Hamill told the crowd. “I’ve never experienced a track this big. Gino is one of my students, and tonight I was learning from him. Thanks to flat track for having us here.”
Hamill also plugged his speedway bike racing academy for youths aged 8 through 15, in cooperation with Hagon Shocks.
Manzares won the speedway bike long-track championship on July 27 at the Perris Auto Speedway’s 480-yard inner oval. Unlike the GNC bikes that used transponders for timing and scoring, lightweight and brakeless speedway bikes were timed by handheld stopwatches. Evans timed Hamill’s fastest lap at 28.96 seconds. The fastest GNC qualifying time was 30.281 seconds, and the fastest Pro Singles qualifying time was 31.022 seconds.
The Pro Singles heat winners were J. R. Addison (who is only16) and Kyle Johnson. James Monaco won the last-chance qualifier with a last-lap pass. Ohioan Addison won the16-lap main.
The GNC Expert heat winners were Brad Baker, Bryan Smith and Kenny Coolbeth Jr. Baker won the Dash For Cash for the first two riders from the three heats. Stevie Bonsey won the one semi (instead of the usual two), so the first six finishers advanced to the feature. Johnny Lewis started from row two, fell early, remounted, and still raced to a top-six position in a 15-rider field, advancing to the feature. Baker topped the exciting main.
Total race laps were 48 for the Pro Singles, 69 for GNC Experts, and nine for speedway bikes, for a total of 126 laps. Four past GN Expert Champions – Coolbeth, Johnson, Mees and Halbert – competed. Seven manufacturers – Harley-Davidson, Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Ducati, KTM and Triumph – raced. The 19-rider Expert feature field represented nine states: four from California; three each from Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania; two from Washington; and one each from Connecticut, Kentucky, Minnesota and New York. The 19 feature bikes were comprised 11 Harley-Davidson, four Kawasakis, two Triumphs, one Ducati and one Suzuki.
Three manufacturers comprised the field for the Pro Singles main: 15 Honda CRF450Rs, two Kawasaki KX450Fs and one Yamaha YZ450F. The 18-rider field came from six states: eight from California, four each from Washington and Michigan, two each from Ohio and New York, and one from Pennsylvania. Shayna Texter finished seventh at Pomona, 14 seconds off the lead and ranked fourth in the final 2013 points, 27 points behind the champion. Stephen Vanderkuur, the 2012 Pro Singles Champion, finished ninth at Pomona and earned third in the final 2013 points, 25 points behind the champion.
Clio, Michigan Harley-Davidson riders Jared Mees, 27, and Nicole Cheza, 26, were married this year on Sunday, September 1, at the starting line prior to the Springfield Mile. She climbed aboard his number-one Harley and they took a slow ride around the track in their formal wedding attire. Then they donned their racing leathers and both raced into the 25-lap feature. Jared finished sixth and Nicole 13th, 21.983 seconds in back of Jared, with 14 riders on the lead lap. The six-rider lead pack – winner Robinson, runner-up Smith, J.D. Beach, Coolbeth, Baker and Mees – finished within 0.419 of a second of one another and changed positions frequently. It was a thriller.
At Pomona, Nicole mentioned that she is using Mees as her surname and that the newlyweds have not yet taken a honeymoon. Nicole was in third place in the 10-lap semi that advanced the first six finishers to the feature. On lap seven, she slowed and pulled into the pits.
“My brake rotor broke and wedged against the back wheel,” she explained after watching hubby Jared place fourth in the feature.
The Pomona GN Expert feature had 19 starters, one more than normal. Henry Wiles used a provisional and started alone in row four, behind three rows of six riders each. Thirteen riders finished and all ran 25 laps. Wiles was one of the nonfinishers. Semi winner Bonsey had “a broken rod” and lasted four laps.
Personable GNC Expert winner Baker basked in the postrace ceremonies, interviews and photo ops with family and fans for about 45 minutes. Baker won the 2008 Horizon Award and the 2009 Pro Singles National Championship. He won the 2011 GNC Rookie of the Year trophy when he finished sixth overall in points. He finished fifth in the 2012 GNC points, and now, at age 20, he is the 2013 Champion. Clearly, he is a rapidly rising, talented star of two-wheel racing on dirt. He could win many more championships in the next decade. He had one GN Expert victory before his title-clinching, winning ride at Pomona.
Pomona’s first race started at 6:49 pm. The Expert Dash For Cash for the top two riders in the three heats was four laps. The six-wide lineup had Mees, Briar Bauman, Sammy Halbert, Smith, Coolbeth and Baker lined up, from inside to outside.
Smith led lap one, as Mees in second and Coolbeth in third made it three-wide leaving turn four. However, the red-hot Baker led laps two through four and won by 15 yards over Smith. Mees, Coolbeth, Bauman and Halbert followed closely. Baker ran the fastest lap on lap four.
“This bike goes wherever I want it to go – high, low or wherever,” he told the crowd. “My mom, dad and brother are here to support me tonight.”
The Expert 25-lap main started at 9:30, and Mees led from the rail into turn one. Fastest qualifier Baker elected to start three spots off the rail and led at the end of lap one, over Smith. On lap two, Mikey Martin (number 91) fell, easy, in turn two, near the hay bales, causing a red flag and a complete restart (of the full 25 laps). He remounted and rode to the starting line, where he and his bike were cleared to restart. Riders added additional tear-offs to their helmets.
At 9:36, the full field restarted, and this time Bauman led the pack into turn one. At the end of the first circuit, Baker (high) and Smith (low) ran one-two until lap six, when Smith suddenly led Baker by 20 yards. A photographer in the second turn caught the reason: Baker’s body was airborne and horizontal over his seat as he held on to his handlebar; he’d almost high-sided off his Harley. He recovered from a 25-yard deficit at lap eight and closed to the back of Smith’s bike.
From laps 11 through 13, the first four riders – Smith, Baker, Mees and Bauman – were a breakaway group and racing in a tight pack, 40 yards in front of fifth place.
Baker took the lead from Smith on lap 14. A lap later, Bauman passed Mees. Two laps later, Sammy Halbert fell – hard – near the second-turn hay bales, causing another red flag at 9:44 pm. Luckily, he escaped injury. Riders put on new tear-offs and lined up single file at the starting line for a standing start at 9:56.
Baker led lap 16, and Bauman took second from Smith on lap 17. Smith retook second two laps later with an inside pass on the back stretch. Smith led lap 23, over Baker, but he got too high entering the first turn at speed, and Baker reclaimed the lead for the final two laps. He won by 10 yards over Smith, who had 10 yards on Bauman, in third. Harley-Davidson, Kawasaki and Suzuki finished one, two, three.
“That’s the way to race for a championship!” the announcer exclaimed.
Following the top three, the order of the rest of the top 10 was Jared Mees, J.D. Beach, Kenny Coolbeth Jr., Jake Johnson, Robert Pearson, Brandon Robinson and Johnny Lewis.
The checkered flag flew at 10:01 p.m., and it was still 65 degrees according to the AMA stat sheet. The race took 31 minutes, including 18 minutes of red-flag delays.
“That was one of the best races of the entire series,” Baker stated. “There weren’t as many changes at the Springfield Mile. I almost got off once and figured I’d better back off and be smooth. In the last three laps, my brake duct fell off, but you don’t need brakes here much anyhow.
“Bryan Smith is an awesome competitor,” he added, and he then thanked Tony Dodge and Dodge Brothers Racing.
Baker received his AMA number-one plate from 2012 Champion Mees (following an AMA tradition of passing the torch, so to speak).
“This year has had its ups and downs,” Baker said. “At Daytona, I had some points taken away from me. I’m upbeat now. This is a great series all season long. I really love it and make my living at it.”
“I feel good,” runner-up Smith said over the PA.” It was a good race and fun day. I’d much rather win, but I was good all day. I was on the edge. The restart after the red [on lap 17] got me a little out of rhythm. I came up a little short for the championship this year, but I’ll be back stronger next year.”
Smith congratulated Baker and then said, “We could have taken each other out many times, but we race cleanly.”
“I told you I’d get here,” the 18-year-old Bauman, making his first-ever podium appearance, told the AMA announcer. “Today started out good. I felt it in my heat and the Dash. I even led for half a second. Brad got close once and scared me half to death.”
At the postrace tech inspection, Bauman noted that his career-best finishes were fourth in Virginia and fifth at the Peoria TT this year. He finished 2013 in position 11, with 88 points, as did Stevie Bonsey, who coincidentally also lives in Salinas, California. Bauman’s younger brother Bronson (on the number-30Z Honda) also raced at Pomona and finished fifth in the Pro Singles feature, only 8.519 seconds off the lead.
[For more from this event, including full race coverage, results and more photos, please see “Baker, Maguire Crowned Flat Track Champions in Pomona” by Dan Jacobson Sr… Editor]