Sunday, October 26, 2014

Reviewing the 2014 AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Championship Season

Two weeks removed from the end of the 2014 AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Championship season, and race fans all over the nation, especially those of us in the Midwest who have the approaching winter coming up soon, are all ready and waiting for the next few months to pass and for the racing to recommence in The Rolling Thunder Show for the 2015 season in what seems like eons away.

After a spectacular season in the greatest racing show on two wheels in the world, how can anyone think that the next season of banging bars and swapping dirt and rubber can even come close to eclipsing or equaling what has just transpired in the season that has just passed?

But of course, the unknown is what keeps us all coming back to the oldest and most competitive form of two-wheeled motorsports year after year, and even though the season ahead is much further away then the season just past, we also know that the next season of racing will be upon us all at the first opening rounds in Daytona come mid-March.

In the meantime, looking back on the season that was will help to keep the juices and adrenaline flowing as well as to remind us that even the great things in life you must take an occasional break from in order to maintain the status quo.

The 2014 AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Championship will be remembered for many things, the highlight of those being Jared Mees clinching his 2nd AMA Grand National Championship, Bryan Smith taking the Kawasaki to it's first half-mile win and winning a series' leading five races on the season, the title battle that went down to the line after 15 points-paying rounds that were completed and saw three men duke it out like the champions that they all are and only separated by 13 points when the last dust had settled, the diversity of not only the Lloyd Brothers Motorsports team in readying three different makes of Twins Series motorcycles for former 2-Time AMA Grand National Champion and team rider Jake Johnson to fight it out to the end with the leading duo of Mees and Smith, and for all of the changes in latitudes and changes in attitudes that captivated all of the fans, teams and sponsors throughout the year.

In the shot above, riders, teams and attending MotoGP fans and dignitaries get ready for the 25-lap National main in round 11 of the 2014 AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Championship season at the legendary Indy Mile at the Indiana State Fairgrounds on August 8.

(L-R) Bryan Smith on the #42 Villa-Esparza/Crosley Radio/Howerton Products-backed Kawasaki EX650, Jared Mees on the #9 Rogers Racing/Las Vegas H-D/Blue Springs H-D-sponsored Harley-Davidson XR750, Brandon Robinson on the #44 USC Kawasaki/Hart Racing/Hot Shot-sponsored EX650, Jake Johnson on the #5 Ramspur Winery/Lloyd Brothers Motorsports/Parkinson Brothers Racing-backed Ducati 'L' twin, Brad Baker on the #1 Harley-Davidson Motor Co/Screamin' Eagle Racing Parts/Dunlop-sponsored factory XR750 and Kenny Coolbeth, Jr. on the #2 Zanotti Racing/Moroney's H-D/Burt Ives Honda-backed XR all get into position and get their race faces ready before the crowd on hand during the Red Bull Indianapolis MotoGP weekend.

Changes and happenings of note for the season included BRob44 jumping ship two races after Indy from the USC Kawasaki team that he had started the season off with, and returning to the family environment and casual atmosphere of the T.J. Burnett Farms Kawasaki team at the Springfield Mile II in late August. Although his final results of an 8th-place finish in the championship were not indicative of his true abilities (mostly due to his injured shoulder holding him back throughout the season), it was obvious after the change that the former Basic Twins Champion was back in familiar territory and looking forward to finishing the season on familiar equipment and looking to the season ahead.

Baker, who fought off an early-season training injury, came back to win the penultimate round of the season at Calistoga to cap off an up-and-down season in his first year on the factory H-D team, and will carry the #6 in the 2015 season after relinquishing the #1 plate to friend and rival Mees at the season-finale in Pomona. The Bullet ended the season ranked 5th in the championship and will be heading to Spain in December to fight it out again with now-dual MotoGP World Champion and close friend Marc Marquez in the Superprestigio Dirt Track race, and will surely be ready to retake that elusive #1 plate come the opening salvo in March just shy of five months from now.

Smith, who came 'this close' to capturing his first AMA Grand National Championship, will shrug off the 3-point difference after his Calistoga DQ to return as strong as ever next season and try to do it all again after winning the 2012-13 Twins Series Championships.

Johnson, who reportedly is looking for a ride after his strongest season of racing in several years with the LBM team, will hopefully come back either with the Lloyd Boys again, where it seemed he was a natural fit with the family-friendly environment throughout the LBM camp, and not consider retirement as has been mentioned at such a ripe young age of 30 years-young and 13 great years in the series. Although he missed out on a win again during the 2014 season, and has come up empty in the 'top of the podium' department since his second GNC during the 2011 season, Jake's eight podiums and eleven top-5s on the season are nothing to be ashamed about. And with the series regaining in overall popularity and gaining steam in the big world of racing competition, losing one of the most popular, friendly and outgoing personalities of the sport would still be a major kick in the balls to all who follow the sport from either near, or afar. Please say it ain't so Jake.....

And we also know that former 3-Time AMA Grand National Twins Champion Kenny Coolbeth, Jr. (4th-place in the championship) will return to what was his new team this year in the Zanotti Racing fold after having to sit out the last round at Pomona due to the injuries he suffered in his Dash crash at the penultimate round at Calistoga. Coolbeth not only proved all of the naysayers wrong this year by winning four races on the season, he also stopped the Kawasaki stronghold on the mile tracks by winning two superb events at Indy and the Springfield Mile II, just the way the Coolbeth of 'old' had dominated on the track in his years with his former employer out of Milwaukee.

And Mees, well of course he has cut back on his off-season schedule of ice racing and indoor events, but you can be sure he will be showing up at some of the ICE Speedway events that he so dominated for several years in the past, and you can bet he and the Rogers Racing team, along with the second-winningest tuner in Kenny Tolbert and Sammy Sweet (who both captured Mechanic of the Year awards at the season-ending banquet) will be ready to keep their grasp on that coveted #1 plate throughout the 2015 season.

Henry Wiles 6th-place finish in the final 2014 tally was highlighted by his dual wins in TT competition at Castle Rock and his again-dominating and decade-long stranglehold at Peoria, but his new ride in the Twins Series this season aboard the Don's Kawasaki EX650-based mount really showed that The Hammer can wield a Twin almost as lethally as he can a Singles mount on the TT tracks. The biggest surprise of the season, however, came at the season-finale where he swapped his normal Kawi ride for a one-off seat on one of the pristine Zanotti Racing XRs, where he rode to a season-equaling Twins Series 5th-place finish (SF Mile II.)

Wiles is shown above on the #17 Don's Kawasaki/DPC Racing/EA Racing-sponsored Kawi during the first round of qualifying at the Indy Mile on August 8.

Stevie Bonsey ended the season ranked in the 9th-place spot, and with three top-5s and ten top-10s to show for the 13 points-paying rounds he did compete in after missing Calistoga and Pomona due to his practice crash at the penultimate round in Calistoga, Bonsai showed that he belongs and deserves one of the best rides in the business on the Zanotti Racing XR team. His casual and laidback demeanor translates only on the track in terms of him being a safe, calculated rider but also truly lethal when it comes to one-upping the rider or riders alongside in terms of ability and sheer will. And you can bet he'll be starting off the season right by trying to keep his dominance alive at the Gene Romero indoor series in Vegas come January.

Shown above, Bonsey throws the #80 Zanotti Racing/Classic Harley-Davidson/Top 1 Oils-sponsored and Steve Polk-tuned XR750 through it's paces during the first qualifying round at the Indy Mile on August 8.

Sammy Halbert missed winning a race for the first time in several seasons, but also missed the Colonial Downs round after suffering injuries at the Peoria TT in mid-August. Finishing in the 7th-place spot in the championship, The Slammer also went away from his steady XR750 program of the last several seasons to show up at Indy (above) with a Kawasaki Twins Series ride, still in the teething stages, but good enough for a 15th-place finish in it's first National ride out.

Jake Shoemaker, the 2013 Rookie of the Year, started the season out riding his own Montgomeryville Cycle Center Kawasaki, and ended the season riding the recently vacated USC Kawasaki for the final three races of the season. 'Shoe' finished the season ranked in the 10th-place spot with two top-3s (a season and self-best of 2nd-place at the Colonial Downs Mega Mile), three top-5s and seven top-10s. Not too bad for a second year Expert and for hopping on a new ride at the Springfield Mile II (4th-place.)

Shown above at Indy. Shoemaker on his #55 Montgomeryville Cycle Center/Greg Vietri/Penske Suspension-sponsored Kawasaki and Sammy Halbert on his #7 South East H-D/White's H-D/Specialty Fabrications-backed Kawi get ready to roll out for the first round of practice at Indy back in early August.

2013 AMA Pro Flat Track Pro Singles Champion Wyatt Maguire started the season on the Kirkland Racing Suzuki which they had purchased from the Weirbach Racing team during the off-season of late 2013, and ended the season riding for the father and son team of Richard and Ted Weirbach on their immaculate-prepped and new Kawasakis. In his first race out with the team, the Washington State resident took a 2nd-place finish in his semi behind winner Cory Texter, losing by just .038 seconds and turning it into a 15th-place finish at the Springfield Mile II in late August. For his 18th-place finish in the championship standings, he was awarded the 2014 AMA Pro Flat Track Saddlemen Rookie of the Year Award, and may have just found himself with a 'new' home with the Iowa-based Weirbach boys for the 2015 season.

In the shot above, Maguire rolls out for the first round of practice at the Springfield Mile II on the #16 Weirbach Racing/Racing Unlimited/Kirkland Racing-sponsored Kawasaki (in it's 750cc big track form.)

And a shout out has to go to former AMA Pro Flat Track Pro Singles Champion and Alton, Illinois resident Jeffrey Carver, Jr. for his 15th-place finish in the overall championship this season, accomplished by taking six different makes of motorcycles and putting them into ten different points-paying rounds throughout the 2014 season. Can you say diversity?

Carver, one rider that many wonder why he hasn't or can't land a solid, steady ride in The Rolling Thunder Show after winning his first National main at Castle Rock last season and losing the great Kiesow Racing team after they stepped down after last year's season was over, proved if you can't do it one way, you can do it MANY ways by putting more makes of motorcycles into more mains this season than the second-closest rider in the series (Jake Johnson and the LBM team being that next rider!)

One of Carver's rides came aboard the #23 Lombardi's Harley-Davidson/Dan Dafner/Carver's BBQ-sponsored Harley-Davidson XR750, shown above during first practice at the Indy Mile in early August.

Carver finished the season with three top-10s on the year and earns our Ironman and Never Say Die Award for showing no matter what it is he throws a leg over, he can bring it home. Someone PLEASE help find this great young racer a steady ride for the 2015 season!

Well, as you can tell we could go on and on about all of the great stories in The Rolling Thunder Show's version of the 2014 AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Championship season, but sometime even Stu's Shots has to take a breather and rest the adrenaline for the upcoming season (although we don't want to!)

Besides the great write up below from AMA Pro Flat Track, another great read by one of the greats of the sport comes from my longtime friend and traveling buddy, Larry Lawrence, who broke out his slide rule and calculator to run the numbers for the season in the most recent issue of Cycle News, which is a MUST read you can check out here.

Final point tally for the 2014 season is here to help you run those numbers alongside Double L, but I can guarantee you that you won't find any missives from the longtime pen of racing and one of Indy's longtime residents.

And if you're like me, you'll be watching and checking out the fine videos from AMA Pro Flat Track and FansChoice.TV for the next several months in order to keep you from going off of the deep end too badly in the cold winter weeks ahead.

Thanks for tuning in and turning on with us, as we do some hibernating for the winter ahead and await the great season of racing that will surely have us all on the edge of our seats for the upcoming 2015 season!

Jared Mees wins second AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Championship title after season-long battle with Bryan Smith and Jake Johnson

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 16, 2014)Jared MeesBryan Smith and Jake Johnson all joked with one another on the front stretch while shooting a video before Saturday's Flat Track Finals.
There was a light, jovial atmosphere between the three close friends and closer competitors. That would change just a few hours later, when the leathers and helmets went on and the trio took to the track for the final time in 2014 to decide the AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Championship Expert title.
In the end, it was Mees putting the finishing touches on a season in which he finished outside the top five just once and walking away from the LA County Fairplex with the No. 1 plate for the second time in his career.
Smith, on his No. 42 Villa-Esparza/Crosley Radio Kawasaki, won the Dash for Cash and the main event, but wound up three points short of Mees and his No. 9 Rogers Racing Harley-Davidson. Johnson was second on the night riding the No. 5 Ramspur Winery Harley-Davidson and third in the standings, capping a strong season.
"It was a heck of a day, and I knew coming in here, Bryan was going to be one of the toughest guys," Mees said. "I just rode hard. It's the best I felt at Pomona, and I wanted to win, I put it all out there. In the main event, I started racing Bryan a little bit, then Brad came in the mix, then I just went, 'Man, I just want to be alone. I just want to be by myself.' I just kind of rode pretty conservative and kind of knew where I needed to be. I felt like I rode it smart, really."
The top three riders in the GNC point standings were separated by just 15 points. Mees' lead was 13 coming into the night, though.
"I knew coming in here I pretty much had to go out and win," Smith said. "Whether it was bringing it back on the box or in a box, I knew I had to win it. Luckily the track came to me. ... It was all I had. Unfortunately Jared finished two spots higher than I needed for me to get that thing."
Smith won by 1.457 seconds over Johnson, who was on the podium for the eighth time this season. Johnson finished with 264 points.
The next three in the final standings were just as close with each other at the end. Kenny Coolbeth didn't race his No. 2 Zanotti Racing Harley-Davidson at Pomona after suffering an injury in the previous race at Calistoga. But the Connecticut resident finished fourth with 208 points.
Defending champion Brad Baker finished his year with a podium finish, taking third on his No. 1 Factory Harley-Davidson. Baker finished in fifth in points, six back of Coolbeth. It was the 10th straight top 10 for Baker.
Henry Wiles rode a Zanotti Racing Harley-Davidson in the finale and put it in fifth. He finished sixth in points with 196. Wiles was one of three riders, along with Mees and Johnson, to score in every Expert main event in 2014. He swept the series' two TT (Tourist Trophy) events and ended with a run of seven top 10s.
Sammy Halbert used a pair of top 10 finishes at the end of the season, including a sixth at Pomona, to lock in the seventh spot in points on his No. 7 South-East Harley-Davidson, scoring 178 points during the year.
Brandon Robinson was eighth in points, having put his No. 44 machine in the main event in each of the final four races, even though he was 19th at Pomona. With 151 points, Robinson was safely in his spot, 27 behind Halbert and 16 in front of ninth place rider, Stevie Bonsey.
Bonsey crashed out of the event at Calistoga and missed Pomona with an injury suffered there, but still held on to a top 10 spot overall in points. He was one spot ahead Jake Shoemaker, who rounded out the top 10 with 118 points, 17 behind Bonsey.

Flat Track Finals
2014 Flat Track Awards Banquet

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  

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