Sunday, February 10, 2013
AMA Pro Flat Track: Zanotti Racing & Jake Johnson Are Making Changes and Working Towards Regaining the #1 Plate in the AMA Grand National Championship
Jake Johnson gets ready to roll out on the #1 Zanotti Racing/Schaeffer's H-D/Boughner Racing/Arai-sponsored XR750 for the first practice session of the day at round 4 of the 2012 AMA Pro Flat Track Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Championship presented by Motorcycle-Superstore.com season at the Springfield Mile I on May 27. Crew chief Ted McDermitt steps back after lending a hand while team owner Dave Zanotti rolls the starter out of the way after getting Jersey Jake's mount ready to go.
After winning the team's second and third AMA Grand National Championship with rider Johnson during the 2010-2011 seasons (Dave's father, Mario, won the team's first AMA GNC back in '79 with the late Steve Eklund), the 2012 season was very different for the California-based front runners in The Rolling Thunder Show. Although still finishing in the 3rd-place spot in the overall championship and with Johnson going on a late-spring to mid-summer run of consistent podium finishes, Jake and the team failed to win a race for the first time in their three seasons together. To some, a third-place effort would be a great mark in any sport or avenue, but to the long-tenured efforts of this team, it was a major set-back and a time to take a look at the coming season ahead in a very different way.
Different in terms of what machinery they will be campaigning in the near future. As was reported in early January, the team that has been extremely loyal to the Harley-Davidson brand over the course of it's lifetime of racing is now working on putting together a Kawasaki Ninja 650R-based parallel twin for their 2013 Twins Series efforts. And as was confirmed by Tyler Porter of Fight For Dirt Track.com fame a little over a week ago, those plans are coming together quite nicely.
Surrounded by a former 3-Time 500cc World Championship-winning rider and team owner (and 2-Time AMA Grand National Championship-winning rider) and a former World Championship-winning tuner (Kenny Roberts and Warren Willing), the Zanotti Racing squad is looking to even the odds in the oldest and truest form of racing in the United States.
Rider Johnson looks over the pit area at the Illinois State Fairgrounds after his first practice session, while team members Wayne Karcich, Ted McDermitt and owner Zanotti go about their regular routines before hitting the track again at round 4 of the 2012 AMA Pro Flat Track Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Championship presented by Motorcycle-Superstore.com season.
Karcich, a long-time friend of team owner Dave Zanotti, and who handles the Zanotti Racing team's pr, took the time to talk with me a few weeks ago to further confirm the team's big leap to the 'other side' after having exclusively campaigned the long-standing XR750 twins mount since their inception in the early-mid '70s. He also mentioned a former 250 and 500cc World Championship-winning Japanese/American tuner that could very well end up being responsible for the building and tuning prowess on the 650R-based twins. And due to the fact that 'Harley was cutting back completely on their outside sponsorships,' the team found it necessary to look further into being able to regain that #1 plate and the now-very popular Kawasaki twin was their weapon of choice.
Karcich, a current and long-time fan and competitor in flat track racing, also stated that while attending the A1 round of the AMA Supercross Series that he had some talks with other sponsors including Kawasaki and Red Bull and that they were hopeful that someone would come on board to better help fund the Zanotti team's efforts.
Starting with a baseline built around a C&J-framed unit, former tuner to the American and European stars Warren Willing has been put in charge of building the team's frames for their new mounts and Roberts has been on-board to help with his technical prowess as well, for what will be a full-on assault on the 2013 Twins Series events. In other words, they are parking their XRs and going with the Kawis for both the mile and half-mile rounds this year.
Jon Vedas, who runs the 2 Wheels Only radio show out of Jacksonville, FL., talked with team owner Zanotti and Johnson a couple of weeks ago, but no mention was made at that time about the Kawasaki effort.
The team has also been putting in some early-season testing to better prepare for the 2013 AMA Pro Flat Track Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Championship presented by Motorcycle-Superstore.com season. In early January for the first time in memory Jake and the team hit Perris Raceway in California to better get their Singles Series mount ready for the season ahead.
Jake and the team also ran the season-opening rounds of Gene Romero's West Coast Flat Track Series in Las Vegas and hope to be able to get some testing in before heading to Daytona for the season-opening AMA Pro Flat Track rounds on March 14-15. Their plans are to roll out in Savannah the weekend before the short track doubleheader at the Steve Nace All-Star round with the new Kawasakis to get some on-track testing done on the half-mile and then head to Volusia for the second SNR event being held in DeLeon Springs, FL.
In the shot above, Jake puts a good lap down while qualifying the #1 Zanotti Racing/Schaeffer's H-D/Boughner Racing/Arai-backed Honda CRF450R at the running of the final National main event at the Illinois State Fairgrounds Multipurpose Arena-held short track on September 15, 2012.
RacerXonline.com was on-hand at Perris Raceway when Jake and the Zanotti Racing team were there in early January testing and took this video of the action.
And Steve Warne, who runs the Poppa Wheelie site & also covers almost all of the west coast flat track action, was there to take some shots of Jake and the team at Perris.
This new mix for the upcoming Rolling Thunder Show season should make for some very interesting changes for the year. With teams such as the Werner-Springsteen effort, Crosley Radio/Howerton Motorsports entry, USC Racing, Baer Racing and several others now campaigning the Kawasaki twin, the landscape of the 'all XR' show in AMA Grand National Championship racing is changing, and changing fast.
Along with the Lloyd Brothers Ducati-based team, the Bonneville Performance Triumph team, the Waters Auto Body KTM team, Ron Woods' BMW/Rotax mount (which made the Pomona season-finale with Scott Baker #11), and a handful of other possible campaigners, that landscape is evolving into a great mash-up of machinery in the greatest racing series on wheels in the world, whereas what seems like just a few years ago the series was looking like a H-D XR750 spec series. In just the last couple of seasons we have seen as many as eight different manufacturers show up at several of the Twins Series events to try and run the big show, making the parity in the AMA Grand National Championship all but unparalleled in memory.
The 2013 season is just around the corner and we're definitely looking forward to seeing what comes about, and we wish the Zanotti Racing team and the rest the very best of luck as always. One thing is for sure, we can't wait to see them and everyone else hit the track as the first wheel is turned in anger in what will surely be an epic season all around as the quest will begin again for the AMA Grand National Championship and that elusive #1 number plate. And it's shaping up to be a good one!