Springfield Mile: “It’s All About Strategy”

Sunday’s Springfield Mile lived up to its billing as the “crown jewel” of AMA Pro Flat Track, with 45 premier-class GNC1 entries vying for 18 slots in the 25-lap main event, the US flat-track debut of three-time FIM Superbike World Champion Troy Bayliss, and a 130-mph draft-pass finish with the margin of victory just 0.136 seconds.

Title rivals Bryan Smith (Crosley Radio Kawasaki) and Jared Mees (Rogers Racing Harley-Davidson) picked up where they left off last October at the Pomona Flat-Track Finals, with Smith winning both the four-lap Dash for Cash and main event, his fifth at Springfield. Kawasaki riders have won five of the last seven races at the central Illinois track.

Bayliss’ Lloyd Brothers Ducati teammate, Johnny Lewis, brought out the red flag on lap 12 when he crashed on the front straight, sliding to a stop adjacent a concrete wall. “We had a wobble all day,” Lewis said. “Coming off four, it let loose, and I couldn’t save it.”

Before the red flag, eight riders were gunning for the lead, including two-time Springfield winner Willie McCoy. “On the restart, they had me on the bottom, which I knew was dry,” he said. “I spun the tire and got a terrible start. By the time I got in my rhythm, the top four were gone.” McCoy finished fifth.

For Smith, the red flag was a blessing. “It let everybody’s tires cool down,” he said. “When it’s dry and slippery like this, you could clean the tire right off in five laps. It’s a fine line between going fast and melting the tire. The first couple laps after the restart, I could really pour the coals to it.”

Defending champion Mees led off the final corner, but Smith’s Kawasaki won the drag race into a strong headwind to the checkers. “Trying to draft Bryan too early was just going to suck everybody up to us,” Mees said. “I wanted to deal with him one on one. I led off four, but he has a strong motorcycle and just went on by.”

Seven-time AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Champion Chris Carr, who won Springfield 11 times, called Smith’s Ricky Howerton-built Kawasaki “the fastest straight-line dirt tracker since Kenny Roberts’ Yamaha TZ750.”

Back from injury and benefiting from off-season engine development with Vance & Hines, Harley-Davidson factory rider Brad Baker was fourth in the Dash and third in the main, just 0.001 seconds behind Mees. Sammy Halbert, third in the Dash and fourth in the main on his Johnny Goad-built BriggsAuto.com/Scott Powersports, Inc. Kawasaki, had the quickest lap of the race, a 0:34.737.

“The restart helped me,” Baker said. “I was able to get past Willie. I had a drag race with Sammy to the first turn and didn’t want to grab a shift because I thought I had him. That messed me up because I had to grab third and fourth, and they gapped me. But it was enough to mess up the people behind me. It gave us some breathing room.

“The last lap was crazy. I got a good run on Bryan, and I could have poked it underneath him into three for the lead, but I knew he was going to pass me right back. His motorcycle was phenomenal. We weren’t able to pass at start/finish like we would another Harley.

“Bryan juked to the outside,” Baker added, “like he was going to pass Jared on the outside, so I went that way, and at the last moment, he went inside and left me high and dry with so much speed I had to let off the gas so I didn’t run into Jared. I lost my momentum.”

Kenny Coolbeth Jr. was seventh and retains the championship points lead ahead of Mees. Halbert, Brandon Robinson, and Briar Bauman round out the current top five.

Five manufacturers—Harley-Davidson, Ducati, Kawasaki, KTM, and Triumph—were represented in the main. The brand-new DeMay Racing Yamaha FZ-07 ridden by Cory Texter came in short on power and underweight, and failed to transfer. The two Suzukis didn’t transfer, either. Baker had the quickest lap of the day, a blistering 0:34.503.

And Bayliss? Dead last (0:39.379) in opening practice, the Australian picked up more than a second and five spots in Qualifying 1 (0:38.131), 0.04 seconds and one more spot in Qualifying 2 (0:38.091), and finished 12th in his eight-lap heat race with a best lap of 0:37.489.

In eight-lap Semi 1, Bayliss whacked another chunk from his best time (0:36.754) and crossed the line 12th. Fellow road racer (and ex-flat-tracker) Danny Eslick, riding an XR-750, was 13th. Before his test earlier in the month at a half-mile in Georgia, Bayliss had never ridden an air-cooled Ducati, not even a streetbike.

“I knew it was going to be very hard to make the main today,” Bayliss said. “My lap times dropped ridiculously. I’m just over a second off the front row. It’s hard to get that last second, but I’m happy.

“Look, I’m at the wrong end of the age scale to be doing this, but I really like it. It’s all about getting Ducati back on track; I want to see the factories in dirt track here and in Australia. Hopefully when I come back here in September, I’ll be competitive and in the main. Now, we’re off to Sacramento and a whole new ballgame.”

Lewis, who started the main from the front row, knew the Ducati would be competitive. “Today was the first time I felt too hooked up at Springfield,” he said, nursing a sore wrist. “It’s been a treat to work with Troy because it’s helping me pick up things.”

Texter qualified for both main events at Springfield last year and was hoping for more from the new Yamaha platform. “We lack horsepower,” he said. “I had a lot of trouble staying in the draft. Otherwise, it’s a good bike. It handles really well. We just need to work on making it faster.”

DeMay Racing is not going to Sacramento for round four. “We’re farther off than we thought,” Texter said. “We’re going to shoot for the X Games at Circuit of The Americas. Horsepower won’t be a big deal there. I think the bike will work well on a half-mile.”

Texter’s sister, Shayna, also missed the main but was happy with her fifth-place Semi 1 performance on a self-built Kawasaki. “The day started out shaky,” she said. “I came in from the heat race and was scared of the motorcycle. I didn’t want to ride again, but we put our heads down and found something. That’s what it’s going to take right now, trial and error, to get to where we need to be.”

Texter turned the third-fastest lap in Semi 1, a 0:35.660. “That’s excellent considering I was pushing my own wind,” she said. “I’m bummed that I didn’t make the main event, but we made progress. I’ve had success at Springfield, Sacramento, and Indy, so I’m excited to get out to California and see what we can do.”

Both Smith and Mees debuted new motorcycles at Springfield that they hope to race this weekend. Smith’s latest Kawasaki is tiny, with a narrow carbon-fiber body, an underseat fuel tank, and dual radiators, among other changes.

“We’ll try it again at Sacramento,” Smith said. “There are some things that I like. Ricky Howerton drove a lot of cars and has an engineering background, so he can make sense out of that weird language racers speak. With some guys, I’m talking over their heads when I explain that micro-movement you feel.”

In the Mees camp, tuner Kenny Tolbert reversed the rear cylinder on one of the champ’s Harleys. Mees tried the bike again during a Dunlop tire test at the end of the day. “I probably should have raced it,” he admitted. Mees’ wife, Nichole, also on a Harley, was fourth in her heat race and 12th in the main.

Carr, now working for the series as a television commentator, likes what he sees. “We had more story lines coming into the first mile race of the year than we’ve had in my entire career,” he said. “Riders getting on different brands, Bayliss coming in, innovation finding its way back into dirt track. It’s pretty cool.”

Sunday’s Springfield Mile lived up to its billing as the “crown jewel” of AMA Pro Flat Track, with 45 premier-class GNC1 entries vying for 18 slots in the 25-lap main event, the US flat-track debut of three-time FIM Superbike World Champion Troy Bayliss, and a 130-mph draft-pass finish with the margin of victory just 0.136 seconds.

Title rivals Bryan Smith (Crosley Radio Kawasaki) and Jared Mees (Rogers Racing Harley-Davidson) picked up where they left off last October at the Pomona Flat-Track Finals, with Smith winning both the four-lap Dash for Cash and main event, his fifth at Springfield. Kawasaki riders have won five of the last seven races at the central Illinois track.

Bayliss’ Lloyd Brothers Ducati teammate, Johnny Lewis, brought out the red flag on lap 12 when he crashed on the front straight, sliding to a stop adjacent a concrete wall. “We had a wobble all day,” Lewis said. “Coming off four, it let loose, and I couldn’t save it.”

Before the red flag, eight riders were gunning for the lead, including two-time Springfield winner Willie McCoy. “On the restart, they had me on the bottom, which I knew was dry,” he said. “I spun the tire and got a terrible start. By the time I got in my rhythm, the top four were gone.” McCoy finished fifth.

For Smith, the red flag was a blessing. “It let everybody’s tires cool down,” he said. “When it’s dry and slippery like this, you could clean the tire right off in five laps. It’s a fine line between going fast and melting the tire. The first couple laps after the restart, I could really pour the coals to it.”

Defending champion Mees led off the final corner, but Smith’s Kawasaki won the drag race into a strong headwind to the checkers. “Trying to draft Bryan too early was just going to suck everybody up to us,” Mees said. “I wanted to deal with him one on one. I led off four, but he has a strong motorcycle and just went on by.”

Seven-time AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Champion Chris Carr, who won Springfield 11 times, called Smith’s Ricky Howerton-built Kawasaki “the fastest straight-line dirt tracker since Kenny Roberts’ Yamaha TZ750.”

Back from injury and benefiting from off-season engine development with Vance & Hines, Harley-Davidson factory rider Brad Baker was fourth in the Dash and third in the main, just 0.001 seconds behind Mees. Sammy Halbert, third in the Dash and fourth in the main on his Johnny Goad-built BriggsAuto.com/Scott Powersports, Inc. Kawasaki, had the quickest lap of the race, a 0:34.737.

“The restart helped me,” Baker said. “I was able to get past Willie. I had a drag race with Sammy to the first turn and didn’t want to grab a shift because I thought I had him. That messed me up because I had to grab third and fourth, and they gapped me. But it was enough to mess up the people behind me. It gave us some breathing room.

“The last lap was crazy. I got a good run on Bryan, and I could have poked it underneath him into three for the lead, but I knew he was going to pass me right back. His motorcycle was phenomenal. We weren’t able to pass at start/finish like we would another Harley.

“Bryan juked to the outside,” Baker added, “like he was going to pass Jared on the outside, so I went that way, and at the last moment, he went inside and left me high and dry with so much speed I had to let off the gas so I didn’t run into Jared. I lost my momentum.”

Kenny Coolbeth Jr. was seventh and retains the championship points lead ahead of Mees. Halbert, Brandon Robinson, and Briar Bauman round out the current top five.

Five manufacturers—Harley-Davidson, Ducati, Kawasaki, KTM, and Triumph—were represented in the main. The brand-new DeMay Racing Yamaha FZ-07 ridden by Cory Texter came in short on power and underweight, and failed to transfer. The two Suzukis didn’t transfer, either. Baker had the quickest lap of the day, a blistering 0:34.503.

And Bayliss? Dead last (0:39.379) in opening practice, the Australian picked up more than a second and five spots in Qualifying 1 (0:38.131), 0.04 seconds and one more spot in Qualifying 2 (0:38.091), and finished 12th in his eight-lap heat race with a best lap of 0:37.489.

In eight-lap Semi 1, Bayliss whacked another chunk from his best time (0:36.754) and crossed the line 12th. Fellow road racer (and ex-flat-tracker) Danny Eslick, riding an XR-750, was 13th. Before his test earlier in the month at a half-mile in Georgia, Bayliss had never ridden an air-cooled Ducati, not even a streetbike.

“I knew it was going to be very hard to make the main today,” Bayliss said. “My lap times dropped ridiculously. I’m just over a second off the front row. It’s hard to get that last second, but I’m happy.

“Look, I’m at the wrong end of the age scale to be doing this, but I really like it. It’s all about getting Ducati back on track; I want to see the factories in dirt track here and in Australia. Hopefully when I come back here in September, I’ll be competitive and in the main. Now, we’re off to Sacramento and a whole new ballgame.”

Lewis, who started the main from the front row, knew the Ducati would be competitive. “Today was the first time I felt too hooked up at Springfield,” he said, nursing a sore wrist. “It’s been a treat to work with Troy because it’s helping me pick up things.”

Texter qualified for both main events at Springfield last year and was hoping for more from the new Yamaha platform. “We lack horsepower,” he said. “I had a lot of trouble staying in the draft. Otherwise, it’s a good bike. It handles really well. We just need to work on making it faster.”

DeMay Racing is not going to Sacramento for round four. “We’re farther off than we thought,” Texter said. “We’re going to shoot for the X Games at Circuit of The Americas. Horsepower won’t be a big deal there. I think the bike will work well on a half-mile.”

Texter’s sister, Shayna, also missed the main but was happy with her fifth-place Semi 1 performance on a self-built Kawasaki. “The day started out shaky,” she said. “I came in from the heat race and was scared of the motorcycle. I didn’t want to ride again, but we put our heads down and found something. That’s what it’s going to take right now, trial and error, to get to where we need to be.”

Texter turned the third-fastest lap in Semi 1, a 0:35.660. “That’s excellent considering I was pushing my own wind,” she said. “I’m bummed that I didn’t make the main event, but we made progress. I’ve had success at Springfield, Sacramento, and Indy, so I’m excited to get out to California and see what we can do.”

Both Smith and Mees debuted new motorcycles at Springfield that they hope to race this weekend. Smith’s latest Kawasaki is tiny, with a narrow carbon-fiber body, an underseat fuel tank, and dual radiators, among other changes.

“We’ll try it again at Sacramento,” Smith said. “There are some things that I like. Ricky Howerton drove a lot of cars and has an engineering background, so he can make sense out of that weird language racers speak. With some guys, I’m talking over their heads when I explain that micro-movement you feel.”

In the Mees camp, tuner Kenny Tolbert reversed the rear cylinder on one of the champ’s Harleys. Mees tried the bike again during a Dunlop tire test at the end of the day. “I probably should have raced it,” he admitted. Mees’ wife, Nichole, also on a Harley, was fourth in her heat race and 12th in the main.

Carr, now working for the series as a television commentator, likes what he sees. “We had more story lines coming into the first mile race of the year than we’ve had in my entire career,” he said. “Riders getting on different brands, Bayliss coming in, innovation finding its way back into dirt track. It’s pretty cool.”

Bryan Smith Springfield

Two Kawasakis, four Harley-Davidsons, and a Triumph: Springfield Mile winner Bryan Smith leads Jared Mees, Sammy Halbert, Willie McCoy, Brad Baker, Kenny Coolbeth, and Brandon Robinson.

Troy Bayliss Springfield Mile

In addition to his international road-racing accomplishments, Troy Bayliss is a national dirt-track champion in his home country of Australia.

Brad Baker Springfield

Brad Baker: “Springfield takes a lot of time to get the experience to figure out that last lap and where you need to be.”

Brandon Robinson

Brandon Robinson races the Latus Motors Triumph in the GNC1 class. He’s currently fourth overall in points.

Shayna Texter Springfield

Shayna Texter missed the main event at Springfield but is headed to Sacramento for round four feeling “like my old self.”

Main Event Front Row Springfield

Front row for the Springfield Mile: Johnny Lewis, Brandon Robinson, Brad Baker, Sammy Halbert, Jared Mees, and winner Bryan Smith.

Cory Texter Springfield

Looking for more horses: Cory Texter finished 10th in GNC1 Semi 2 on the brand-new DeMay Racing Yamaha FZ-07.

Perennial front-runner Kenny Coolbeth Jr. missed the podium but leads the GNC1 points chase after three rounds.

Nichole Mees Springfield

Fourth in her heat, Nichole Mees transferred directly to the main event and finished 12th in the 25-lap race.

Wiles, Pearson and Bauman Springfield

Heads down, throttles pinned: Henry Wiles (17), Robert Pearson (27), and Briar Bauman (14) finished sixth, 15th and 11th, respectively, in the main event.

Final Four At Springfield

With laps winding down, Bryan Smith (42) leads Jared Mees (1), Sammy Halbert (7), and Brad Baker (6) in the main event at Springfield.

Crosley crew podium Springfield

Bryan Smith and his Villa-Esparza/Crosley Radio Kawasaki crew celebrate. “It was a clean race,” Smith said. “My hat is off to Jared and Brad for giving everybody a couple millimeters to spare.”