Saturday, November 17, 2012

AMA Flat Track: Stu's Shots & Todays Cycle 2012 Season Wrap-Up

The top-7 men in the 2012 AMA Pro Flat Track Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Championship presented by season get ready to roll out for the first practice session of the day at round 13 at the Springfield Mile II on September 16.  With four rounds to go in the season, the battle for the 2012 AMA Grand National Championship was coming to a head with the Pomona season-finale lying just 27 days away.

Finishing what could have been a totally miserable season after breaking his leg at round 5 at Lima just shy of three months earlier, Kenny Coolbeth, Jr. rounded out his season with another win (after having taken the Knoxville Half-Mile win in just his second race back from injury).  Coolbeth took the #2 Screamin' Eagle/Harley-Davidson Motor Co/Fox/Arai Helmets-sponsored factory XR750 to a decisive win at Pomona to end the season ranked in the 7th-place position after missing out on five of the season's 16 rounds due to his recovery.

After having another stellar year in winning three rounds in the Singles Series for the 2012 season (Springfield TT and Short Track and his record-tying 8th win at the Peoria TT), Henry Wiles and the #17 Lloyd Brothers Motorsports/Foremost Insurance Group/Ramspur Winery/ENI USA-backed Ducati team had what could easily be referenced as an up-and-down season in the series' ten Twins Series events. 

Losing three motors on the year, the team fought hard to still bring home two top-5 results with finishes of 2nd and 4th at Lima and Indy, respectively, and also added three other top-10 finishes to round out the year on a much higher note to rank as the 6th-place rider for the 2012 season.

2011 AMA Pro Flat Track Saddlemen Rookie of the Year Brad 'The Bullet' Baker was probably the most-traveled of riders throughout the 2012 season in terms of how many different motorcycles he threw his leg over in competition.  Starting off the season riding for Kenny Tolbert Racing on a fleet of Kawasaki KX450Fs and 650R-based mounts, it all fell apart for KT and the Washington state resident at the fourth round of the season at the Springfield Mile I round.

Failing to make the main, just days later Tolbert pulled the plug on the team due to lack of funding (other then what was coming out of the Texan's pockets) and mothballed the team, leaving Baker without any current options.  By round 5 at Lima he showed up on a bike that reportedly hadn't been in competition in several years, qualified strong only to end the evening in the 17th-place spot with only two points scored in two events.

See-sawing between some strong rides on a Tony Dodge-prepped XR, putting in two events on the Harley factory mount in place of injured team rider Coolbeth, and then competing on his own Baker Brothers' Honda for the remaining Singles Series events on the calendar,  the sophomore Expert ended the year with a super 2nd-place finish at Pomona and as the 5th-ranked rider in the nation.  I don't believe since Gary Scott's defense of his '75 championship has a rider rode or competed on such a wide breadth of equipment in one season and Baker's ability to jump on different machinery throughout the year more then shows it is just a short matter of time before we see him on top of the box.

Bryan Smith was one of only four men in the 2012 season that made all 16 events on the year (the other three will be mentioned shortly.)  With the advantage of two wins on the year on the #42 Crosley Radio/Howerton Motorsports powered by Eaken Racing/MPH/Guts Wear-sponsored Kawasaki 650R-based rocket (Sacto Mile and Springfield Mile II) and a big handful of top-3s, Flyin' Bryan not only finished the season as the 4th-ranked rider in the country, but also took home the ceremonial Twins Series Championship for the year. 

All of the talk this last season was focused on and around the new parallel twin mount that first showed it's strength and prowess under the mile specialist's grip at the Springfield Mile I round by winning his heat and the Dash for Cash (and eventually a hard-fought 3rd-place in the first Twins Series event of the season.)  By mid-year the talk had turned to advantages and riding styles and differences between the power output, weight and racing lines used by the new breed of mile machines.

At Pomona last month, it also showed that a Kawi could also end up on the box at a half-mile event in what was a great 3rd-place finish to cap off the season's ramblings.  It was also what I believe to be the second-best finish on a half-mile track since the Kawi's first started hitting the track in the 2010 season (Johnny Lewis took the #10 Scott Powersports Kawi to a 2nd-place finish at Hagerstown in 2011.)

With his string of 10 of 11 podium finishes between the Springfield TT and the Springfield Mile II rounds, 2-Time and defending AMA Grand National Champion Jake Johnson looked more than able to keep in the fight for his third series title in the 2012 AMA Pro Flat Track Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Championship presented by season.

But in the end, the champ and the #1 Zanotti Racing/Schaeffer's H-D/Boughner Racing/Arai-backed XR750 team not only had dropped to the 3rd-ranked spot on the year but Johnson failed to win a National main for the first time in his over ten years competing in the series.    Never fret, the quiet man with the championship focus will be back as strong as ever carrying the #5 again, proudly ready to go after it again.  And you can bet he'll be ready to make up for lost time.

Sammy Halbert again led the series in overall wins for the 2012 season (Lima Half-Mile, Castle Rock TT, Indy and Santa Rose Miles) and with his first-ever mile event win at the Lucas Oil Indy Mile on August 18 grabbed the dirt track 'grand slam' along the way.  Looking to steal the championship from Jared Mees by getting a 2nd-place in the Dash at Pomona after both Mees and Johnson missed the extra points-paying event, Slammin' Sammy's #7 South East Harley/The South Ass/Mo Vaughn Transport/LZ Racing-sponsored XR had his clutch go south in the National main and ended up with an unlucky 13th-place finish to end the year ranked as the 2nd-overall rider in the nation. 

Jared Mees had previously wrapped up the ceremonial 2012 Single Series Championship at the Springfield Short Track on September 15, but even then stated he still had 'unfinished business' in terms of clinching the overall championship at Pomona.  After getting banged and moved around at Pomona, Mees settled into an eventual 8th-place finish that would cap his run to the 2012 AMA Grand National Championship on the #9 Rogers Racing/Blue Springs H-D/National Cycle/Lucas Oil-sponsored XR750. 

With the team announcing several weeks ago that tuner Brent Armbruster would be leaving the team (and moving to the Lloyd Brothers Motorsports corral for the 2013 season), Mees' and Rogers' new tuner, Kenny Tolbert, will be back in action spinning the wrenches for the new AMA Grand National Championship-winning effort.

Could KT also be bringing along his fleet of Mean Green Kawi 650Rs that have been in the closet since mid-June?  Mees had talked of having to put a Kawi together in order to keep with the Kawi rockets in mid-September.  Or will KT's signing make the difference for them to be able to stay with their tried and true XR fleet?  Don't forget, the chances are still pretty good that the rules will get some tweaking in terms of restrictor sizes mandated and in weight minimums being set for all of the competitors for the 2013 season.  But will that be enough to keep the pundits quiet? 

Only time will tell, and it's going to be a long off-season...............

Stephen Vanderkuur hops off of his #10J Parkinson Brothers Racing/Performance Cycle & Dyno/MDR/SSR-sponsored Honda CRF450R after winning his heat race at round 5 of the 2012 AMA Pro Pro Singles season at the Lima Half-Mile on June 30.  AMA Pro Flat Track announcer Barry Boone talks to the crowd while Vanderkuur gets some help with his mount and gear prior to the podium celebrations.

Vanderkuur ended the season with three wins on the year and capped off his 2012 Pro Singles Championship in style by winning the season-finale round at Pomona to go with his previous wins at the Lucas Oil Indy Mile and Santa Rosa Mile events.  The young rider, another of a long line of superior flat track talent to come out of the state of Michigan, didn't even qualify for the first two rounds at Daytona, yet still finished the season on top over two riders who qualified for all 16 rounds on the season (runner-up in the 2012 championship Jake Shoemaker and 3rd-place man Jason Isennock) and completed his great run for the championship with seven top-3 performances, ending the year with a tally of 214 points to Shoemaker's 192 and Isennock's 175 points.

A big congrats to our new 2012 AMA Pro Pro Singles Champion, Stephen Vanderkuur, who had a strong season to capture the fourth Pro Singles Championship since the series' inception in 2009.  Vanderkuur joins former series champions Brad Baker, Jeffrey Carver, Jr. and Mikey Martin in a very unique group of young men who have since moved up to the AMA Grand National Expert class to compete against the best racers in the world in The Rolling Thunder Show.  A job well done, and I'm sure we'll see our new champion competing against the big boys before too long!

Dan Jacobson, Sr. is one of the many fans, photographers and journalists that follow the AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Championship to every event possible each season.  Based out of the Great White North in Fargo, North Dakota, 'Dakota Dan' as he is known, probably puts on thousands of miles each year traveling to the events he covers from his remote location, and chronicles those events at Todays Cycle  Check out Dan's latest from the season-finale at Pomona below, along with some super photography from Tom Hnitaw.

A big thanks to Dan Jacobson, Sr. & Todays Cycle for this great write-up on the season-finale at round 16 of the 2012 AMA Pro Flat Track Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Championship presented by season at the Pomona Half-Mile:

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