Saddlemen

Battle of Survival at Ohio National

| 6 July 2014 1:38 pm

AMA Pro Grand National Championship Flat Track Series
Round 5: Lima Half Mile

Story by Dan Jacobson Sr.
Photos by Tim Handrich/Pro Plates and Kurt Bauer and Jeffrey Parrish
LIMA, OH, JUNE 28, 2014

After a wet rain-out in 2013, the racers and fans filled the Allen County Fairgrounds for round five of the AMA Pro Grand National Championship Flat Track Series, the Lima Half Mile, with great anticipation.

Dean and Barbara Gallup have been behind the promotion of this very exciting event since 1984. It’s great to see the stands full and people lined up thickly around the outside fence. This track is pea gravel, unlike the surface of any other track at which this series runs during the season. On a surface like this, it takes huge amounts of courage, talent and skill just to stay on a motorcycle traveling at over 100 miles per hour.

Shayna Texter (left) and Nichole Mees (right) exchange ideas prior to the start of racing at round five of the AMA Pro Grand National Championship Flat Track Series. Photo by Tim Handrich

Shayna Texter (left) and Nichole Mees (right) exchange ideas prior to the start of racing at round five of the AMA Pro Grand National Championship Flat Track Series. Photo by Tim Handrich

Taking nothing for granted, the AMA Pro Racing Blue Crew was challenged right from the start with track issues – or, as Scott “Hollywood” Deubler called them, “speed bumps.” The crew quickly shuffled the program to open the paddock during the track-work hold-up. By the time the hundreds of fans had made a pass through the paddock to see their favorite racers the track, was ready to complete qualifying.

Nicole Mees (15) at speed on the Lima Half Mile. Photo by Kurt Bauer

Nicole Mees (15) at speed on the Lima Half Mile. Photo by Kurt Bauer

Lima is one of the hardest tracks on the circuit for both the riders and bikes; both need to be at 110 percent. Sammy Halbert had come to win; “I’ve been riding a lot and training for this hard,” he said

After making some fine adjustments, Sammy set fast time in the second Expert Twins qualifying session. Sammy had a new feel for racing on this day, as he used the whole track, including up near the walls, to top the rest of the field. Brad Baker, on the factory Harley-Davidson, was second. Stevie Bonsey, who was third, rounded out the only riders with laps in the 25-second range.

Shayna Texter (25) and Dan Ingram (31) – “The Young and the Old” – in qualifying. Ingram finished fourth in his heat race to make main, but then suffered mechanical problems in the main. Photo by Kurt Bauer

Shayna Texter (25) and Dan Ingram (31) – “The Young and the Old” – in qualifying. Ingram finished fourth in his heat race to make main, but then suffered mechanical problems in the main. Photo by Kurt Bauer

In AMA Pro Singles qualifying, Kyle Johnson was completely on fire after his dismal start at Daytona’s rounds one and two but then winning the Knoxville round by more than six seconds, instead of the normal six-wide photo finishes we often see in Pro Singles. Robert Descenna was second, only one-tenth of a second back. Third was Springfield runaway winner Jarod Vanderkooi, just under three-tenths of a second behind Descenna. All three were in 26-second Land.

Kyle Johnson, on the Parkinson Brothers Racing Honda, stole the show in the first AMA Pro Singles heat. Jarod Vanderkooi, on the Johnny’s Vintage Motorcycles Kawasaki, held off Brandon Wilhelm, on the Sylvester Farms/ Mike Phillips Racing Honda, for second. KTM-mounted Dan Bromley, Ben Lowe and Knoxville podium finisher Kolby Carlile also took direct transfers to the main event.

Kyle Johnson (77J), looking for his nearest competitor while on his way to winning his heat race running away. Photo by Kurt Bauer

Kyle Johnson (77J), looking for his nearest competitor while on his way to winning his heat race running away. Photo by Kurt Bauer

Even with the constant track repairs, the Ohio National would be a challenge of survival. Local Ohioan Robert Descenna outdistanced early leader Nick Wenzler in the second AMA Pro Singles heat. Davis Fisher, Bronson Bauman and Jamison Minor filled out the rest of the top five with Honda red. Current points leader Ryan Wells, on the GE Capitol KTM, settled for sixth, after withstanding pressure from Honda rider Tyler Butts.

Austin Luczak (10B) had a near crash but made a great save in the deep stuff at Lima. Photo by Kurt Bauer

Austin Luczak (10B) had a near crash but made a great save in the deep stuff at Lima. Photo by Kurt Bauer

All the non-transfers would head to the last-chance qualifier to determine the last four who would go to row three in the main, which would consist of three rows of six riders each, a total of 18 riders.

After a ripping start by Sammy Halbert in the first AMA Pro Expert Twins heat, Henry Wiles tracked down the Harley-Davidson rider and took over the lead, dragging Bryan Smith along with him and past Halbert.

Bryan Smith (42) and points leader Kenny Coolbeth Jr. (2) running strong. Photo by Tim Handrich

Bryan Smith (42) and points leader Kenny Coolbeth Jr. (2) running strong. Photo by Tim Handrich

Bryan Smith (42) and Sammy Halbert (7), racing two different lines, passed each other at nearly every corner. Photo by Tim Handrich

Bryan Smith (42) and Sammy Halbert (7), racing two different lines, passed each other at nearly every corner. Photo by Tim Handrich

Just past the halfway point, Halbert found gold next to the air fence and streamed his way back into the lead on lap eight of 10. Halbert and runner-up Smith would head to the special Ohio National Dash For Cash. Wiles and points leader Kenny Coolbeth Jr. would head to the main.

Henry Wiles (17) and Kenny Coolbeth Jr. (2) finding lanes through the pea-gravel roost. Photo by Tim Handrich

Henry Wiles (17) and Kenny Coolbeth Jr. (2) finding lanes through the pea-gravel roost. Photo by Tim Handrich

Jared Mees nailed the holeshot in the second Pro Expert Twins heat, only to “speed bump” himself, letting Brad “The Bullet” Baker past him on lap two. The race-long battle among Jeffrey Carver Jr., Johnny “JL-10” Lewis and Dan Ingram settled out with Ingram and Carver making it forward to the main. Baker held on for the win, and he and runner-up Mees were heading to the Dash.

Jared Mees (9) took the holeshot in the second Expert Twins heat race but bumped himself back to the runner-up spot at the finish. Photo by Kurt Bauer

Jared Mees (9) took the holeshot in the second Expert Twins heat race but bumped himself back to the runner-up spot at the finish. Photo by Kurt Bauer

In the third Pro Expert Twins heat, the duel between Brandon Robison and Stevie Bonsey set up a 10-lap battle for the fans’ delight. The same was going on for the last two transfer spots, among four riders: Jake Constantine, Briar Bauman, Cody Johncox and Danny Koelsch. At the finish line, it was Bonsey and Bauman heading to the Dash and main. Robinson and Constantine were also headed to the main event.

Next, it was “go or go home” time for the Pro Singles. Only the top four of the 18 riders in the LCQ would move forward to the main; the rest would be done for the day. From the green light, next-generation racer Ryan Varnes (son of retired AMA Pro star Kevin Varnes) put on a race of courage, as the lead pack of Andrew Butler, Dylan Morin and Nicholas Myers swapped spots every lap. At the finish, it would be Dylan Morin, Nicholas Myers, Ryan Varnes and Andrew Butler heading to the Pro Singles main.

(From left to right) Briar Bauman (14), Jared Mees (9), Bryan Smith (42), Stevie Bonsey (80), Brad Baker (1) and Sammy Halbert (7) launch off the line at the start of the Expert Dash for Cash. Photo by Kurt Bauer

(From left to right) Briar Bauman (14), Jared Mees (9), Bryan Smith (42), Stevie Bonsey (80), Brad Baker (1) and Sammy Halbert (7) launch off the line at the start of the Expert Dash for Cash. Photo by Kurt Bauer

It would be hard not to pick Sammy Halbert as the one to win the Pro Expert Twins Ohio National Dash For Cash. He blazed the trail into turn one, staying very high and never lifting off the gas. First Jared Mees had a try at catching Halbert. Then Brad Baker made a try. However, Sammy drove off to the four-lap victory. Second though sixth were Baker, Mees, Smith, Bonsey and Briar Bauman.

Sammy Halbert (7) looked strong all night, winning his heat and the Dash For Cash. Photo by Kurt Bauer

Sammy Halbert (7) looked strong all night, winning his heat and the Dash For Cash. Photo by Kurt Bauer

Like she was being chased by a mean monster, Triumph rider Shayna Texter rocketed away and had the fans cheering on their feet for all 10 laps of the first Expert Twins semi. Shayna set a blistering pace over Robert Pearson and Jake Shoemaker. Only the top three from each of the two semifinals would be transferring to the main.

Shayna Texter won the first Expert Twins semi aboard the Triumph to make the main. Photo by Kurt Bauer

Shayna Texter won the first Expert Twins semi aboard the Triumph to make the main. Photo by Kurt Bauer

Even though Dustin Crow went wire to wire to win semi two, the excitement was always in his shadow. First, Johnny Lewis went from second to fourth and then back to second in the first three laps. Jake Johnson (who’s second in the points) and Wyatt Maguire were playing tag with Lewis, getting in the game from lap to lap.

Meanwhile, Cody Johncox made a steady charge forward to second place by just past the halfway point. Jake Johnson, looking like he would need a provisional to make the main, sliced his way past Maguire on the last lap. Crow, Johncox and Johnson would join the last row of the main.

The early laps of the AMA Pro Singles main. Photo by Tim Handrich

The early laps of the AMA Pro Singles main. Photo by Tim Handrich

In the AMA Pro Singles main, Robert Descenna nailed the start and led the early laps, with Kyle Johnson watching his every move. Newcomer Jarod Vanderkooi was banging off third-place laps, and there were three racers jockeying for fourth: Dan Bromley, Brandon Wilhelm and Davis Fisher.

Kyle Johnson (77J) almost threw it away while leading the Pro Singles main, but he managed to save it and continued on… Photo by Kurt Bauer

Kyle Johnson (77J) almost threw it away while leading the Pro Singles main, but he managed to save it and continued on… Photo by Kurt Bauer

Nearing the halfway mark, Descenna said goodbye to the lead, as Kyle Johnson took over the point position and set his next goal as taking the checkers – and the top of the box.

Vanderkooi fell back to an eventual 17th-place finish.

Just behind Descenna, the pressure was inching closer, as Davis Fisher, Brandon Wilhelm and Dylan Morin were closing.

Davis Fisher (67M) puts pressure on Robert Descenna (71F). Fisher would get by Descenna for second place, and Descenna would round out the Pro Singles podium. Photo by Kurt Bauer

Davis Fisher (67M) puts pressure on Robert Descenna (71F). Fisher would get by Descenna for second place, and Descenna would round out the Pro Singles podium. Photo by Kurt Bauer

Up front, Kyle Johnson was leaving the party behind and the rest to settle second and third. Fisher showed a wheel to Descenna and then took over second. When flagman Kevin Clark unfurled the double checkers, it was Kyle Johnson seeing them first. Davis Fisher created a gap to cement second, and Robert Descenna was third.

The Pro Singles podium was comprise of (from left to right) runner-up Davis Fisher, victor Kyle Johnson and third-place finisher Robert Descenna. Photo by Tim Handrich

The Pro Singles podium was comprise of (from left to right) runner-up Davis Fisher, victor Kyle Johnson and third-place finisher Robert Descenna. Photo by Tim Handrich

After starting his day with fast time, heat and Dash For Cash wins, Sammy Halbert was planning to finish his night off with a sweep. He lined up on the pole for the Expert Twins main event. These racers are the best flat trackers in the world; they understand racing and what it takes to win.

Race favorite Sammy Halbert rolls out for the main-event start. Photo by Tim Handrich

Race favorite Sammy Halbert rolls out for the main-event start. Photo by Tim Handrich

Jared Mees stole the holeshot, only to have Sammy Halbert, using the cushion, roll right past him. Bryan Smith, using the same line from the heat race and squaring near the air fence and dropping low on exit, flew past Mees and set his sights on Halbert during the early laps.

Brad Baker’s night went bad: After running fourth, he pulled the factory H-D off onto the back-straightaway infield. At the same time, Dan Ingram pulled off from the front straightaway.

Meanwhile, bikes were breaking, though luckily no one was wrecking on this challenging half mile.

By halfway, smoke was coming from Halbert’s Harley-Davidson XR750, and he slowed and then pulled off.

Sammy Halbert’s dreams of a perfect evening went up in smoke on lap 12 of the Expert Twins main. Photo by Kurt Bauer

Sammy Halbert’s dreams of a perfect evening went up in smoke on lap 12 of the Expert Twins main. Photo by Kurt Bauer

New leader Smith had Mees running in second and at his pace. Smith’s line went away, and he nearly stepped off, while Mees rolled past. Soon Smith was under attack from Brandon Robinson, and the two settled down into survival mode, fighting to the finish after swapping positions.

Bryan Smith (42) had a near-get-off while leading the Expert Twins main…

Bryan Smith (42) had a near-get-off while leading the Expert Twins main…

…but he somehow managed to save it. He went on to finish third. Photos by Jeffrey Parrish

…but he somehow managed to save it. He went on to finish third. Photos by Jeffrey Parrish

Jared Mees (9) and Bryan Smith (42) finding speed in different ZIP codes. Photo by Tim Handrich

Jared Mees (9) and Bryan Smith (42) finding speed in different ZIP codes. Photo by Tim Handrich

By lap 20, there were only 12 machines still running, and only 10 of those were still on the lead lap.

Brandon Robinson (44) handling the rough track en route to second place. Photo by Kurt Bauer

Brandon Robinson (44) handling the rough track en route to second place. Photo by Kurt Bauer

Rolling to the double checkers, the final order was Jared Mees, Brandon Robinson, Bryan Smith, Kenny Coolbeth Jr., Jake Johnson, Stevie Bonsey, Robert Pearson, Jake Shoemaker, Dustin Crow and Jake Constantine, with Shayna Texter and Jeffrey Carver down one lap.

Jared Mees (9) wins the Expert Twins main. Photo by Kurt Bauer

Jared Mees (9) wins the Expert Twins main. Photo by Kurt Bauer

It was a great win for Jared Mees – his 14th GNC victory, and his third win at Lima. His last Lima victory was in 2007. Jared Mees, Sammy Halbert and Henry Wiles are the currently active racers who have scored victory at the Allen County Fairgrounds in Lima, Ohio.

Jared Mees wrapped up his victory with a burn-out for the great fans at Lima. Photo by Tim Handrich

Jared Mees wrapped up his victory with a burn-out for the great fans at Lima. Photo by Tim Handrich

Jared Mees takes the flag – and Nichole Mees and a young fan – out for a celebratory spin. Photo by Kurt Bauer

Jared Mees takes the flag – and Nichole Mees and a young fan – out for a celebratory spin. Photo by Kurt Bauer

Next, the series heads to the Hagerstown Speedway Half Mile in Hagerstown, Maryland, to wrap up the July Fourth weekend. Defending champ Brad Baker, Jared Mees, Kenny Coolbeth Jr. and Jake Johnson have all won at Hagerstown Speedway. Hagerstown has been a regular stop for the AMA Pro Flat Track tour since the early ’60s.

Lima Half Mile at the Allen County Fairgrounds
Lima, Ohio
Results: June 28, 2014 (Round 5)

PRO SINGLES MAIN: 1. Kyle Johnson (Hon); 2. Davis Fisher (Hon); 3. Robert Descenna (Hon); 4. Brandon Wilhelm (Hon); 5. Dylan Morin (KTM); 6. Bronson Bauman (Hon); 7. Dan Bromley (KTM); 8. Nick Wenzler (Hon); 9. Ryan Wells (KTM); 10. Jamison Minor (Hon); 11. Kolby Carlile (KTM); 12. Ryan Varnes (Yam); 13. Cory Strickler (Hon); 14. Ben Lowe (Hon); 15. Andrew Butler (Hon); 16. Tyler Butts (Hon); 17. Jarod Vanderkooi (Kaw); 18. Nicholas Myers (Hon).

EX TWINS MAIN: 1. Jared Mees (H-D); 2. Brandon Robinson (Kaw); 3. Bryan Smith (Kaw); 4. Kenny Coolbeth Jr. (H-D); 5. Jake Johnson (Duc); 6. Stevie Bonsey (H-D); 7. Robert Pearson (Kaw); 8. Jake Shoemaker (Kaw); 9. Dustin Crow (H-D); 10. Jake Constantine (Kaw); 11. Henry Wiles (Kaw); 12. Shayna Texter (Tri); 13. Jeffrey Carver Jr. (Suz); 14. Cody Johncox (H-D); 15. Briar Bauman (Kaw); 16. Sammy Halbert (H-D); 17. Brad Baker (H-D); 18. Daniel Ingram (H-D).

AMA PRO GNC POINTS (After round 5 of 16): 1. Kenny Coolbeth Jr. (95); 2. Jake Johnson (86); 3. Jared Mees (85); 4. Brandon Robinson (73); 5. Sammy Halbert (72); 6. Bryan Smith (70); 7. Stevie Bonsey (59); 8. Henry Wiles (57); 9. Briar Bauman (43); 10. Brad Baker (42).

Sonja’s Sidebar
By Sonja Bloomquist

The first thrill of the event was to see the stands full and the outside fence lined three to five people deep all around the track.

Racing on pea gravel take more than talent and courage; it takes physical fortitude to race through the pain of 100-mph rock roost hitting riders also going 100 mph. Doing the math in my head, it seems that roost would peal the 95-pound Shayna Texter right off her bike… but maybe not; she did just fine.

After the races, Shayna Texter worked late into the night, signing autographs and greeting her fans Shayna is one of the biggest fan draws in the paddock. Photo by Tim Handrich

After the races, Shayna Texter worked late into the night, signing autographs and greeting her fans Shayna is one of the biggest fan draws in the paddock. Photo by Tim Handrich

Racing is never for sure. Just look at Sammy Halbert, who seemed to have the day in control, but he finished 16th, dropping two places in the points standings. Briar Bauman was having a positive night and then boom: he had to deal with a scalding shower of not-so-cool coolant.

After the high of victory, having to deal with the emptiness of loss on the road trip home must be a huge challenge to overcome. Yet they do, as these professionals accept the challenge to climb every obstacle that every AMA Pro Flat Track race places before them.

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