Wednesday, August 17, 2011

AMA Flat Track: The Peoria TT, Then and Now, As We Preview Round 14 of the 2011 AMA Pro Flat Track Series

As the hills and valley at the Peoria TT fill with throngs of race fans, the 1975 round of the Camel Pro Series/AMA Grand National Championship Series saw the grand old days of riders throwing 310 lb.+ v-twin and parallel-twin motorcycles off the jump at speeds that would make mere mortals cringe-let alone in the wonderment of the thrill.

In this heat race action shot from August 1975, then-Harley-Davidson Factory tuner Bill Werner (and now co-owner of the Werner Springsteen Monster Energy Kawasaki team) can be seen in his usual white overalls and orange H-D hat looking on from the left side of the shot.  Werner later that year won his first of 13 AMA Grand National Championships with his then-rider, '75 AMA Grand National Champion Gary Scott.

Leading those in the frame of this Stu's Shots vintage vault shot, is Rex Beauchamp on his #31 H-D Factory XR-750, with unknown rider #18(?) following.  Just coming off the jump on his #65X Vista Sheen XR is Jay Springsteen, followed by Corky Keener on the #62 Harley Factory XR-750.  Dan Gurney's All American Racers-sponsored Chuck Palmgren on the #38 Yamaha XS650-based machine brings up the rear of this pack.  Sonny Burres out of Portland, OR. went on to win the romp at Peoria that year on his #69 Triumph.

Read on below as AMA Pro Flat Track and Stu's Shots bring you more of a preview of what is to come when round 14 of the 2011 AMA Pro Flat Track Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Championship Series hits the track at the long-standing, and hugely attended Peoria TT.

Peoria TT Trifecta: "Prince" Carr Celebrated and Nixon Remembered, While Championship Battles Rage

DAYTONA BEACH, FL (August 16, 2011) - The AMA Pro Harley-Davidson Insurance Flat Track Championship will again roll out in front of Peoria Race Park's thousands of fans this Sunday for Round 14 of the 21-race series. The massive crowd that traditionally fills the shaded hillsides around "Thunder Valley" will be treated not merely to the biggest and baddest TT race on the AMA Pro schedule, but to race action heightened by close championship battles raging in each class.

The Peoria Motorcycle Club has been hosting fans since 1947, and this weekend's August 21 event will mark the venue's 82nd Grand National, the early years featuring both "Heavyweight" and "Lightweight" nationals on the same day. Current machinery has since changed the way riders approach the half-mile-long track, and the 100-mph front straight and monstrous back-straight jump are not for the faint of heart.

The Chris Carr "Farewell Tour" has been a big attraction all season long, but Peoria will surely be the most emotional stop for the seven-time Grand National Champion, as Carr has proudly worn the "Prince of Peoria" title for many years. He won his first Grand National main in Peoria in 1985 -- his first of thirteen victories there, twelve of them consecutive -- and has contended twenty-four Peoria mains in all, picking up five podium finishes in addition to his thirteen wins.

Henry Wiles leads the pack on his #1 Monster Energy Kawasaki into turn one at the Peoria TT during heat 1 race action in August 2010.  Following closely is Jake Johnson on his #5 Zanotti Racing Honda, who finished the day in the 4th spot of the National main event, and went on to win the 2010 AMA Grand National Championship.  AMA Pro Flat Track photo by Dave Hoenig.

While Carr will certainly be a sentimental favorite, however, it appears the heir to the Peoria throne may have already arrived: Monster Energy Kawasaki's Henry Wiles has reeled off the last six straight wins at the TT. Thus far, the only entity able to stop Wiles at Peoria has been Mother Nature herself, as the 2007 event was rained out.

Thanks to thin margins in the 2011 Grand National Championship battle, Wiles will have some hot-blooded competitors to deal with on Sunday, starting with Woody Kyle Racing/Fredericktown Yamaha's Sammy Halbert, who's led the title hunt since the opening round. Behind Halbert are the ever-relentless Jared Mees (Montgomeryville Cycle Center/Lucas Oil) and defending Grand National Champion Jake Johnson (Zanotti Racing) -- but neither intends to stay behind much longer.

All three contenders have had some success on the brutal TT in years past. Mees and Halbert went second and third, respectively, in the 2010 event, while Johnson -- the most experienced Peoria rider of the three -- has racked up his own second and third. The trio will have company, however, as there will be several young-guns looking to make their mark.

Henry Wiles soars off the jump at the Peoria TT on his #1 Monster Energy/Don's Kawasaki/Shift Racing/Jones Bros.-sponsored KX450F in route to winning his 6th National main event in a row in Peoria, IL. in August 2010.  The defending (and soon to be 2-Time) AMA Pro Flat Track Singles Champion led runner-up Jared Mees home by over 11.3 seconds, with Sammy Halbert rounding out the podium.  AMA Pro Flat Track photo by Dave Hoenig.

JD Beach -- who won four of the eight Pro Singles races he entered last year, even while picking up AMA Pro Road Racing's SuperSport East Division Championship -- will be returning from the road race wars to take his shot at the national. Beach, who earned a podium finish in his first Expert main, is no stranger to Peoria, having won its 2009 and 2010 Pro Singles races. A pair of Rookie of the Year contenders, Brad Baker and Jeff Carver, also helped to fill the Pro Singles podium both years, and the three young riders will give a fresh look to the 2011 field while giving more-veteran riders some likely trouble.

Carr's final Peoria stop won't be the only emotional event on Sunday, as many riders will be paying tribute to flat track and road race legend Gary Nixon, who passed away in early August. Those riders will wear Nixon replica jerseys for the day, paying tribute to the popular, beloved rider who won back-to-back Grand National titles before beginning his road race career. Between celebrations of flat track's proud history and the intensity of its present-day action, this year's Peoria TT promises to be a can't-miss event.

For Peoria TT tickets and information, visit or call (309) 697-4981 or (309) 635-1662. To be a part of the AMA Pro Harley-Davidson Insurance Flat Track Championship, visit and join us on and

AMA Pro Racing is the premier professional motorcycle racing organization in North America, operating a full schedule of events and championships for a variety of motorcycle disciplines. Learn more about AMA Pro Racing at

For additional information contact:

AMA Pro Racing Communications, (386) 492-1014,

Round 14 of the 2011 AMA Pro Flat Track Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Championship Series, the Peoria TT.  Info can be found below.

Event results and schedule:

Complete event info, including rider entry lists, practice & qualifying info, and results can be found here (PDF versions--scroll down for Peoria Round 14 2011):

Official website of the Peoria TT (includes driving directions from I-474 Loop around Peoria's west side, to the track):

Weather for Peoria, IL., thanks to The Weather Underground:

Three men who most likely will have a large bearing on what happens this coming Sunday, August 21 at the Peoria TT, are shown on the podium after the Springfield Short Track round of the 2010 AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Championship Series.

JD Beach #95C (far left), had just done the near impossible (unless you know JD's racing ability) in bringing his RedBull/Top 1 Oil/Rockwall Performance/Craig Rogers-sponsored Honda CRF450R home in the 3rd spot, in what was his first-ever Expert main event at the Illinois State Fairgrounds Rodeo Arena.  Beach made use of the red-flag restart to work his way through the field from a second row, 9th place start and made the box in what was his first big foray into the Expert ranks.  Beach's previous two weekends before Springfield saw him win the Indy Mile and Peoria TT in his final races as an AMA Pro Flat Track Pro Singles rider.

JD is returning to the track at Peoria this weekend, having entered his #95 Universal City Kawasaki Motorsports-backed KX450F for the annual romp at the infamous TT event.  Having been contesting the AMA Pro Road Racing Series in the AMA Superbike Championship for the Cycle World Kawasaki team, Beach has the weekend off for the first time since this spring to come duke it out with the boys in the dirt.  Look for him to be part of the mix all day Sunday!

Henry Wiles had just taken his #1 Monster Energy/Don's Kawasaki/Shift Racing/Jones Bros.-backed KX450F to the win at the Rodeo Arena, and earlier in the evening had clinched his 2nd AMA Pro Flat Track Singles Series Championship by winning the Dash for Cash event.  Wiles has been all but unstoppable on the Singles bikes (especially in the State of Illinois) dating back to his first win at the Peoria TT in August 2004.

Coming off knee/leg surgery from an injury sustained at round 3 at the DuQuoin Indoor Short Track, Wiles went out with a bang in winning the Salinas Short Track round in late April.  Originally, Hammerin' Hank wasn't scheduled to return until this Sunday at Peoria, but was able to throw a leg over the #17 Greg Crow Racing XR at the Lake Odessa Half-Mile on July 23.  Looking as robust as ever, Henry qualified in the 6th position, and finished out the night's events in 12th in the main.  NOT a bad EARLY return.

Henry skipped the Sacto Mile the next weekend, but showed up for the return of the Castle Rock TT on August 6, and left little doubt that he is back.  After finishing 2nd in his heat and 3rd in the Dash, The Hammer brought it home 4th in the main, only 3.85 seconds behind winner Sammy Halbert, runner-up Jared Mees, and 3rd place finisher Brad Baker. 

As Tyler Porter pointed out last week in his InSlide Line column at Fight For Dirt, this IS the same Henry Wiles who came back several years ago after breaking his wrists in an off-track injury, to win at Peoria.  You NEVER count this man out, and at the end of the day on Sunday, he could be adding to his win list at Peoria.

Jake Johnson had just brought his #5 Zanotti Racing/Leo Vince/Arai/Tucker Rocky-sponsored Honda CRF450R home in 2nd at Springfield, as he gets interviewed during the podium festivities by Cycle and The Rider's Larry Lawrence.  He eventually went on to finish the season with the coveted #1 plate in winning his first AMA Grand National Championship for the 2010 season, after having won the '06 and '08 Singles Series Championships. 

As was similar to last year, Jersey Jake already has some wins under his belt for the 2011 season, having won both the Salinas and Springfield TTs back in early and late Spring.  And Johnson's record at Peoria is extremely solid over the years, so expect to see him in the mix.  Johnson has historically come on strong at the end of the season over the course of the last few years, and this year should be no different with eight rounds left on the 2011 calendar.

Obviously, these three men only represent a small offering of who to keep an eye on this Sunday.  JR Schnabel on the #33 Monster Energy Werner Springsteen Kawasaki should be tough after his great run at the Springfield TT in May, in winning the Dash and coming home third in the main.  Jared Mees on his #9 Montgomeryville Cycle Honda will surely be in the mix (as always from Mr. Consistent!), as will Rookie of the Year shoe-in Brad Baker on his #12 Major League Moto/Baker Boys Honda.  Kenny Coolbeth, Jr. on his #2 Chaplin Kawasaki will be tough to beat, along with Chris Carr, in his final ride at the home of the Prince of Peoria, on his #4 American Motorcyclist Assoc. Honda.  Jimmy Wood on his #37 Southland Racing Honda will surely be in the mix, as should Shaun Russell on the #28 Werner Springsteen Kawasaki.  And you have many more that could be right there in the mix come Sunday afternoon!

And last but not least, you simply cannot overlook the current and season-long overall point leader, in Sammy Halbert on his #7 Woody Kyle/Fredericktown Yamaha.  Sammy tore everyone a new one at Castle Rock, and leads the series with four wins on the season, starting with the season-opening double rounds at the Daytona Short Track.  Don't forget his last-to-5th place finish at the Springfield TT in late May or his 5th place at the Salinas TT in late April.  The little man that lets his bike handling ability do the talk for him should be a force to be reckoned with come race time Sunday afternoon in the wondrous amphitheater setting outside of Peoria, IL.

Are you in, or are you out?  Time to get on board, as the men and women of The Rolling Thunder Show are getting ready to tear it up at Peoria as the stars hit the track at the annual return to the Budweiser Grand National Championship TT event.  Don't forget that another treat awaits you at Peoria-thanks to the great folks at Metro Racing, many in the field will be wearing Gary Nixon jerseys to help and honor the former 2-Time AMA Grand National Champion, who passed away on August 5.  This is a very neat gesture to honor the passing of one of the true heroes of the sport, and should make watching for your favorite rider look like an exercise of playing Where's Waldo. 

Buckle up, cuz this shows ready to roll on!

Thanks to John Blackstock (from over at and Facebook) for posting the link to this great video, a brief review of the 2010 AMA Pro Flat Track Peoria TT event, where Henry Wiles won his 6th Peoria TT Grand National Championship event in a row (2007 was rained out):

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