In a championship hunt that started seven months ago at the Daytona Short Track, the protagonists in the 2013 AMA Pro Flat Track presented by J&P Cycles Grand National Championship season will go into their final battle today at the L.A. County Fairplex to do some final handlebar banging on the Pomona Half-Mile to determine the 2013 AMA Grand National Champion.
With the title hunt down to the final three men standing in the fight, the stage has been set for what will be one of the closest battles for the #1 plate in recent history as Brandon Robinson and Bryan Smith will both try their best to wrestle that coveted top spot in the overall standings from Brad Baker, who has held the championship lead since taking charge from Robinson in the title hunt way back in early July after winning his first AMA Grand National Championship event at the Hagerstown Half-Mile.
Smith, who for the second year has proven his dominance on the mile track on the #42 Howerton Motorsports Kawasaki, sits between the two and will try to improve his 3rd-place finish at Pomona from the season-ending round just 12 months ago, while Robinson will try to atone for his Castle Rock TT DNQ and his 18th-place finish just a week later at the Peoria TT by coming from behind to regain the points lead at the end of the day, and hopefully for him, that coveted championship on the #44 TJ Burnett Farms Racing Kawasaki.
Baker meanwhile should be able to put things on cruise control and march the #12 Dodge Brothers Racing Harley-Davidson XR750 to the front on a track that has favored the XR mount of choice on the half-mile venues for over 100 events. The last non-Harley win on a half-mile came at the Joliet Half-Mile in August '98 when Rick King took the #80 Corbin Racing Honda RS750 to the win ahead of a pack of XR-mounted riders.
But with Pomona being closer to a 5/8ths-mile track, and with Smith's strong 3rd-place finish in last year's finale, the question that will be on everyone's mind going into this afternoon's event will be 'have the Kawasakis been able to step it up on the smaller tracks' as much, or more, as they have on the bigger mile ovals?
No matter which way the dice fall during today's events, which roll out for first practice at 5:30 PM EDT/2:30 PM PDT, the season-finale at Pomona will undoubtedly be another great event for the 2013 season.
In the shot above, Brandon Robinson and the #44 TJ Burnett Farms/USC/James Hart Racing Kawasaki team celebrate on the podium after sweeping the day's events at the Springfield Mile I, round 10 of the 2013 season on August 31 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.
Robinson, who won the first Grand National of his young career at the Daytona Short Track II event on March 15, held the championship lead until his missive at the Hagerstown round in early July when he slid out during the main event and finished in the 17th-place spot. After the previously-mentioned results at Castle Rock and Peoria, the former 2008 Basic Expert Twins Champion went on a tear that started with his 2nd-place finish at the Indy Mile, continued with another podium and 3rd-place finish at the Colonial Downs Mile, and culminated with him sweeping the weekend at the Springfield Mile doubleheader.
With the Santa Rosa Mile main event rain-out, Robinson lies 15-points down from the top of the charts behind Baker, and 4-points down on 2nd-place man Bryan Smith heading into this afternoon's final clash. His shot for that #1 plate may be more of a long-shot today with the dominance of the XR750s on the half-miles, but as we all know anything is possible in racing, and Robinson's total domination at Springfield from the start to the finish of each day over the Labor Day weekend was a bold, hard statement to how hard the TJ Burnett Farms team has worked this year and a testament to BRob44's will to return to top form after his near career-ending and life-threatening injuries at the Indy Mile in August '09. He may be the long shot, but that will make him that much more ready to accept the challenge once the first green flag drops later today.
Smith on the other hand has all but totally dominated on the big tracks since hooking up with the Indy-based Howerton Motorsports team in late spring of 2012, and his 3rd-place finish at Pomona last season in a 'bogey' race that was just decided several weeks before the event unfolded was a testament to his ability to maneuver a wicked-fast Expert Twins Series machine around any size track, big or not-as-big.
The Flint, Michigan native, the senior member of the trio with the final shot at the #1 plate for the 2013 season, told us last month in an e-mail that Rick Howerton and his Howerton Motorsports Kawasaki 'resurrected his career' when the hooked up in April 2012, and Flyin' Bryan has paid back the Indy engineer and fabricator in spades, winning the 2012 Expert Twins Grand National Championship to go along with the two wins and five podiums in their first season together.
With today's final race Smith has the best shot of his career, up to this point, to grab that elusive overall championship and put the #1 plate on the front of the Howerton rocket for the 2014 season.
In the shot above, Smith climbs off the #42 Crosley Radio/Howerton Motorsports/Villa Esparza-backed Kawasaki EX650-based mount after winning heat race #3 at the Springfield Mile II on September 1 last month.
Brad Baker has been the epitome of cool for a 20 year old this season, his third full year of competing in the Expert Series after having won the 2009, and initial AMA Pro Singles Championship and finishing in the runner-up spot during the 2010 campaign to life-long friend and fellow racer Jeffrey Carver, Jr.
After his stellar 2011 AMA Pro Flat Track Saddlemen Rookie of the Year campaign while riding the Lloyd Brothers Motorsports Ducati, Baker left the team to hook up with Kenny Tolbert to ride the first season of the master wrench's new Kawasakis after Tolbert was left out of a tuning job with 7-Time AMA Grand National Champion Chris Carr's retirement at the end of the 2011 season.
But a slow start to the season after getting the bikes together and lack of track time doomed what could have been a superteam pairing when Tolbert was forced to mothball the team after the first Springfield Mile event and Baker missed making the field.
Bouncing from bike to bike and riding for several teams in the 2012 season, by the end of the summer The Bullet had found 'home' when hooking up with the California-based Dodge Brothers Racing team, and with the help of rider/coach and former AMA Grand National competitor Kevin Atherton, with his Dad, Dave, taking the helm of the wrenching duties for the team, Baker and the team seemed to meld together even better out of the box in during the 2013 season.
By Hagerstown at the end of the first week of July, the Washington State resident had won his career-first AMA Grand National Championship event and had taken over, and held since, the points lead in the 2013 campaign. And he hasn't had to look back, much, since.
With his confidence and overall riding ability what they have become (and always been!), The Bullet is on the cusp of what could very well be the first of many more AMA Grand National Championships, and with his 11-point lead over rival Smith going into today's season wrap, has The Rolling Thunder Show lead held firmly in his grip and his sights set on job #1-keeping it!
In the shot above, Baker and Kevin Atherton roll out the #12 Dodge Brothers Racing/Specialty Fabrication/Saddlemen-backed XR750 prior to the rider intros at the Springfield Mile II last month on September 1.
Today's events at Pomona will be the end of what has been an up-and-down season for the greatest racing series on two wheels in the world. With the weather delays and cancellations on the season, the lack of a tv package for the series, and no title sponsor in 2013, the series has had it's share of hits, and not good ones.
But the racing that has happened at each and every round of the season has been nothing short of the usual stellar events that the folks in Daytona have been putting out since taking control of the series since mid-2008 from the former powers-that-be in Ohio, and have continued to put on the great racing shows that fans, like myself, have loved and followed for decades.
And today's events will be available for free live streaming ala AMA Pro Flat Track's ProLive feature, so should you not be able to attend, like myself, you WILL be able to keep up with the action along with their usual great Live Timing link throughout the day.
Things are looking up for the 2014 season as per Dan Johnsen, AMA Pro Flat Track's manager, as they have been in talks with several 'large sponsors' to carry the load for the title sponsorship for the 2014 season, and have also been working on a reality-based tv show to better help showcase the series' great racing.
But today is what it is all about, in spite of the series' bright future--which keep in mind can and could get even brighter by people actually GOING to a race and taking in the entertainment offered, instead of bit..ing and moaning about what they think is a bad deal from at home on their couches! Keep that in mind the next time you make an errant comment that is filled with the hate-strewn negativity that fills social networks and racing forums of late, and get your a.. off the couch and go to one of these great events--this isn't your father's AMA Pro Flat Track, and the entertainment value alone, let alone the great racing which has always been present in the over five decades I have been following this great sport, is STILL there!
Enough said--now let's go racing as we wish Brad Baker, Bryan Smith and Brandon Robinson and the rest of the racers, teams and sponsors on-hand today the very best of luck and the safest of conditions in what will surely be a day to remember on the left coast!
Go get 'em guys, and may the best man, team and machinery win and walk away with the 2013 AMA Grand National Championship!
AMA Pro Flat Track presented by J&P Cycles Riders Gear Up for Season Finale at LA County Fairplex
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About AMA Pro Flat Track presented by J&P Cycles
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 www.amaproracing.com.
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