RACING SCENE - (AMA @ PAS) – By Tim Kennedy
Los Angeles, CA. – Perris Auto Speedway became Perris Motorcycle Speedway for one night on Saturday, October 7. The touring AMA American Flat Track (AFT) Series presented by Vance & Hines visited the Riverside County half-mile clay oval for the first time in the track's 22-year history. The race marked the first So Cal visit by the AMA National Championship dirt circuit to a track other than the Fairplex in Pomona since AMA raced in 1990 at the half-mile Ascot Park in Gardena.
The AMA two-wheel equivalent to the World of Outlaws sprint car traveling series attracted an almost full house (estimated 6,000) at Perris. Ticket buyers to the ongoing fair were admitted to the PAS grandstand for an additional $10, or to the first and fourth bleachers for $5. Persons arriving on motorcycles received free parking near the entrance.
A large number of fair-goers took advantage of the offer to watch professional motorcycle racing on dirt once they heard the engines during late afternoon practice and qualifying. Radio commercials on local FM stations, an ad in the fair free program, and area newspaper ads attracted additional spectators to the fair and motorcycle races.
The 104th Southern California Fair (September 30 - October 8) was in progress and helped swell the spectator count. So Cal Fair started in 1913 as the Riverside County Fair and moved to several sites in the county, including Hemet, prior to making the Lake Perris Fairgrounds its home in 1987.
The new Perris race gives AMA AFT the opportunity to attract new fans. Prior to the racing events Saturday, fans were allowed to visit the pits and talk to riders and teams. A rarity in the PAS pits was mothers changing diapers of babies under the canvas sun shelters used by each AMA team to provide shade.
So Cal Fair Board of Directors and the AMA sanctioning body co-promoted the 2017 AMA season finale in Perris. It required big bucks to host the premier national dirt track two-wheel racing sport. Riverside Harley-Davidson and other local firms came on board early to help make the event financially feasible.
AMA prepared the track and encountered brisk wind and high 90s-temps at mid-day and mid-80s when racing started. It was still 70 when the Twins feature started. AMA had the track smooth from the inside berm to to crash-wall and cushion-free. The rut-free track developed a blue groove low from tire rubber, but passing was possible. Riders said the track was “slick” early, but it got better later after a truck sprayed water on it Riders were most cordial and friendly to all spectators.
Riders I spoke to really liked the Perris track and hoped it returns to the AFT 2018 schedule. Riders said Perris is similar to the Calistoga half-mile and both tracks are “much-better” than the Williams Grove (Pa) half-mile. Other tracks I would like to see on the AFT schedule are the Knoxville, (Ia) half-mile and the Wheatland, Mo. Lucas Oil Raceway three-eighths mile.
Races took place from 6:30 to 9:30 pm. Three main events included 8-laps for 12 of 20 “Hooligan Class” riders, 15-laps for all 18 Single Cylinder (450cc) riders present, and a 25-lap feature for 18 of the 27 Twin Cylinders (650 to 999.9cc) riders present.
After interviews of the second feature top three riders, an interesting exchange followed. Fair Board CEO Carl Wuersch used the pit mic and asked the large crowd if they wanted to see AMA racing return to Perris. Fans cheered loudly and voiced their approval. He told the crowd, “This is the first year we have had AMA at our fair and we hope to have them back many more.”
Co-Grand Marshals for the AMA Perris event were AMA riders Sammy Tanner (No. 7) and Ronnie Jones (No. 16). They won Ascot's first and last AMA Nationals. Sammy won the inaugural 1959 feature and Ronnie won the finale in September 1990. Both men were interviewed at the starting line prior to the first race. Sammy,78, is the Arai helmet distributor in So Cal.
AMA racing legends from past decades introduced were: Dallas (AMA plate No. 58) Baker, John (5q) Wincewicz, Gene (3) Romero, Everett (25) Brashear, Keith (19) Mashburn, Tom (80) White, Don (25) Emde, John (98) Hateley, Jim (39) Berry, Chris (17r) Cannon, Eddie (12) Mulder, Danny (25) Perkins, Eddie (77) Wirth, C. H (6) Wheat, Sonny (19) Nutter, Rob (25) Morrison, Jody (58) Nicholas, Dennis (15x) Kanagae, Bryan (79x) Farnsworth, Tom Horton, and Bobby (12x) Sirkegian.
Long-time motorcycle racing promoter Chris Agajanian helped with the Perris promotion. He had his Ascot Park merchandise trailer parked inside the front gate and staff sold Ascot merchandise. The AMA $5.00 program used at all AFT races had a special Perris cover. The 30-pages included rosters for the Twins and Singles, plus recent head-shots of 18 Twins and nine Singles riders. It also listed the 2017 AFT season race tracks.
The AFT seven-month dirt track season included races in order at: Daytona Beach, Fla. (a TT), Woodstock, Ga. (short track), CMS-Charlotte, N.C (half-mile), Phoenix - Turf Paradise (mile), Sacramento - Cal Expo (mile), Springfield, Ill. (mile), Lexington, Ky (mile), Oklahoma City (mile), Lima, Oh. (half-mile), Elbridge, N.Y (half-mile), Calistoga, Ca. (half-mile), Sturgis, S.D (TT), Rapid City, S.D (half-mile), Peoria, Ill. (TT), Springfield, Ill. (mile), Williams Grove-Mechanicsburg, Pa. (half-mile), TMS-Fort Worth, Tx. (half-mile), and Perris (half-mile).
Scottie Deubler, the voice of AFT, was in the announcing booth; AMA traveling pit announcer “Bubba” Blackwell did pit interviews. He joked about his heavy Alabama accent as he interviewed Singles last chance qualifier winner Antonio “Toni” Elias, the 2017 MotoAmerica Superbike Champion. The veteran 34-year old European racer from Manresa, Spain won the 2016 Super-prestigio race. He wanted to race in AFT Singles for fun on his Yoshimura Suzuki 450. Somehow they understood each other.
Perris was one of the first-time sites this year for AMA National Championship racing. Others were half-miles Williams Grove Speedway (Pa), Calistoga Speedway (Ca.), and the TT race at Buffalo Chip Campground (Sturgis, S. D). The Perris race, like the Sacramento mile during the California State Fair, had operating ferris wheels and other typical fair rides and games within view of the track.
RIDERS: The 27 Twins riders came from 11 states: Calif.-9; Mich.-4; Fla., Ill., Ore., Pa., plus Wash.-2 each; Ky, N.Y, Ok, and Oh.-1 each. Motorcycles raced were: 12 Kawasaki 650, six Harley-Davidson 750. five Yamaha 750, three Indian Scout 750, and Chad Cose (No. 49) debuted a new Honda 998.
The 18 Singles riders came from 13 states and three foreign nations: Two each from Ca.., Pa. & Wash., plus one each from: Id., Ill., Ky, Md, Mich., Mo, N.Y, Ore., S. D, & Texas. Three foreigners came from England, Holland and Spain. Motorcycles used were: 10 Honda CRF450R, four Yamaha YX450F, and two each Kawasaki KX450F and Suzuki RMZ450.
The 20 Hooligan class riders were led in time trials (21.876) by past AMA champion Joe Kopp, who rode a Triumph Street Twin. Other “Hooligan” bikes used were: 11 Harley-Davidson 1200, five Indian Scout, and one each Ducati Pantah Super, Ducati Scrambler, and Harley-Davidson 750.
Qualifying differences were close between the fastest and slowest in both the Singles and Twins classes. In Singles it was only 0.698 between fastest Tanner Dean (20.196) and slowest (20.894). It was 1.381 seconds between Twins fastest qualifier Jared Mees (20.047) and the 27th quickest rider (21.428).
TV COVERAGE: The AFT Series visited 14 states and ran 18 main events in Singles and Twins classes. Each event was telecast live on the Internet on fanschoicetv.com. NBCSN from July 3 through October 7 carried one-hour taped telecasts of all 18 events, including rider pre and post-race interviews, rider profiles, and series news. Telecasts had TV cameras mounted on several bikes, putting viewers in the middle of the action. TV coverage was excellent with announcer Jason Weigandt, pro rider Larry Pegram, and pit reporter Heather Debeaux. These shows should help make new fans for AFT dirt track racing.
Feature fields in both Singles and Twins started 18 riders in three rows with six riders per row. Front row starter Jared Mees (No. 9) got the hole shot into turn one and led all 25 laps of the Perris AFT Twins feature. The Clio (MI)-based rider steadily built his lead to 3.464 seconds (a full straightaway) by lap 18. He admitted he backed off a bit in the turns and his advantage slipped each lap to the finish.
Mees, 31, led by 30-yards at lap 22 and 20-yards at the white flag. He held only a ten-yard lead at the checkered flag. He took a victory lap with a passenger. Then he put his front wheel against the crash-wall and did a smokey burnout. He did a wheelie on his back tire to the first turn to salute fans and celebrate his career-year.
CHAMPION: The 2017 champion clinched his fourth AFT championship two races earlier on September 9 at Williams Grove. The 5' 5”, 160 pound muscular rider stated his prior title years (2012, 14 and 15 on Harleys) came down to the final race, usually in Pomona. This year at Perris he scored his tenth victory and reached his record-breaking 17th podium (in his 17 starts). He DNQ for the June 24 Lima, Ohio race that he promoted. He broke a three-way tie for most podiums in a season with past champions Scott Parker and Ricky Graham.
Mees told the crowd, “I knew the hole shot was going to be important and I got it. I tried to be smooth in the corners for the last six laps. We don't get to race motorcycles until we are 50. I opened the season with a win at Daytona and closed it with a win here. I look forward to being with Indian for a long time. I'm looking forward to next year, but I'm scared too. I don't know how we can top this year.” He said the Perris track “is very technical. You have to go slow to go fast.” He thanked his chief mechanic/tuner Kenny Tolbert, team owner Craig Rogers, wife Nichole, and the Indian factory.
In addition to his ten victories, Mees finished second six times and third once (on the Phoenix mile). He usually ran in the top three with his Indian Scout teammates Bryan Smith and Brad Baker. The weekend before Perris, Mees won both lucrative open comp main events at the three-eighths mile dirt Walt James Stadium in Rosamond, Ca. at the Willow Springs Raceway. Many AFT riders came directly from the September 23 Texas race to California and raced both weekends in So Cal.
Mees married fellow AMA Pro Nichole Cheza at the starting line of the Springfield mile on race day in September 2013, prior to the first race. The ceremony was shown live on www.fanschoicetv.com. They are known affectionately as the “AFT first couple.” They now have a four-month old daughter who accompanies them to races. Nichole's father and uncle were tuners of her No. 15 750cc Harley. The now retired 30-year new mom from Clio, Michigan was a respected main event rider.
Jeffrey Carver, Jr. got off the front row in P. 4 and trailed fellow front row starters Johnny Lewis and Sammy Halbert to lap 6. Then Carver went deeper into turn one under Halbert and moved him up the track, dropping him two positions. P. 2 Lewis (on softer Dunlop tires than his competitors used) clearly backed up the nose-to-tail five riders behind him as Mees steadily opened a 50-yard lead by lap 14.
On lap 18, frustrated Carver finally used the same inside high-speed pass he used on Halbert for third to get under P. 2 Lewis entering the first turn. The decisive pass was so sudden Lewis rode up the track and lost four positions with Stevie Bonsey, J. D. Beach, and Halbert also advancing. Once he secured second place, Carver ran the fastest lap of the race.
Bonsey, a 27-year old rider from Salinas, Calif. making his comeback following a year and a half injury-related absence, ran third, with Beach, Halbert, and Lewis following. As Carver reeled in Mees, the battle for P. 3-6 intensified. Beach, the 2015 MotoAmerica super-sport champion and road racing specialist, took third from Bonsey on the inside by a wheel at the finish line. The all-green light race took 8:43.283; 17 of the 18 rider field finished within 11.902 seconds.
P 5 -17 finishers were: Halbert, Lewis, Robert Pearson, Davis Fisher, 2016 AFT Singles champion Ryan Wells, Briar Bauman, of Salinas, Bryan Smith, Jake Johnson, Henry Wiles, Mikey Rush, Nick Armstrong, Kayl Kolkman, of Ventura, and Kenny Coolbeth. Brandon Robinson's No. 44 H-D factory bike failed to start from his inside row two starting position.
Johnson and Coolbeth rode the other two factory Harleys. Wells won the 2017 Twins rookie of the year with 93 points and a fast-rising star in the sport. He is sponsored by the Evel Knievel Museum in Topeka, Ks.
FALLS: Perris had several riders fall, but no serious injuries resulted. In the Twins second semi-final, Davis Fisher (No. 67 Kawasaki) had his back wheel brake lock, sending him at reduced speed into the protective“air-fence” barrier. In the Twins LCQ, James Monaco (No. 123) broke a shifter-shaft and fell at 80 mph into the third turn protective “air-fence”. On lap 1 of the Singles main, bikes collided in the second turn near hay-bales in front of the wall. Six bikes from rows two and three crashed. Nos. 95, 63, 324, 128, 358 and 103 hit the ground. Only 103 and 358 were sidelined.
Mees and Smith rode the fast, new for 2017, purpose-built factory Indian Scout. Long-dominant Harley-Davidson and other manufacturers used production-based bikes. The third Indian factory rider, Brad Baker (the 2013 AFT National Champion on a Harley) was absent. He broke his jaw in an off-road crash after the 16th race at Williams Grove. Brad, from Dryad, Wash., was replaced on the third Indian in Texas by NBCSN AMA color analyst Larry Pegram who raced it to tenth in Texas.
No. 20 Jarod Vanderkooi, from Ohio, had the third Indian factory ride in Perris. He set 13th fastest qualifying time, but a burned out clutch caused his DNF in a semi-final race and he missed the feature. Lewis raced an Indian Scout, purchased recently from a dealer, for an independent team; he set the ninth quickest qualifying time.
In 2017, Indian won 14 of the 18 Twins features, Kawasaki had three with two riders (a pair of TTs and a half-mile), and Carver's privateer Harley earned one at race 17. Indian became the first “new player” manufacturer to dominate AFT since 1984 when Honda won 19 of 33 GNC races with Ricky Graham and Bubba Shobert. Look for more teams to switch to Indian Scout in 2018.
VICTORY TOTALS: Mees had 20 AFT (or GNC) feature wins prior to the 2017 season and ranked 16th in career victories. His ten wins this year upped his total to 30 and he now ranks ninth all-time in GNC victories. He has passed legends Joe Leonard (the first AMA National dirt track champion in 1954), Dick Mann, Bart Markel and Steve Morehead.
Bryan Smith's four 2017 feature triumphs also gave him 30 career GNC victories, tying his Indian teammate and rival Mees. There are no competitors they would rather beat than each other. Other still active top winners on the list are: 36 feature winner Kenny Coolbeth (fifth on the list), plus 29-time winner and Peoria TT king Henry Wiles (13 consecutive at Peoria through 2017 and counting).
The list of most career GNC feature victories is topped by Scott Parker (active 1979-2000) with 94 triumphs. Next best is 78 wins by Chris Carr (1986-2008). Jay Springsteen (1975-2000) has 43 wins, and Ricky Graham (1980-1994) has 39. Bubba Shobert has 34 wins, Kenny Roberts 33, and Will Davis 31. Clearly, Mees and Smith should move up the list of winners in 2018.
Mees' ten victories in one season this year tied the great S. Parker for second most in a season. Series 1984 and 1993 champion Ricky Graham's 12 victories in 1993 is still the GNC gold standard. Mees' four AFT National Championships has him tied with Carroll Resweber (1958-61) for third position behind only nine-time champion Parker and seven-time champion Carr.
Five riders won the 18 Twins features during 2017. Personable Bryan Smith, the 33-year old 2016 Twins champion, won four, Salinas-based Briar Bauman two, and Carver and Wiles won one each. Forty-six AFT Twins riders scored at least one point.
SINGLES: Brandon Price, 17, passed laps 1-11 leader Ben Lowe with an inside move entering turn one on lap 12 and led to the lap 15 checkers. He won the Singles feature by 0.657 over Lowe. First-time Singles champion Kolby Carlile, 20, from Canandaigua, N.Y, rode his Yamaha to third place. Friendly Carlile, known as “The Flying Tomato” (for his long red hair), clinched his initial Singles championship after several years on the circuit. He scored 267 to 244 by Price.
Carlile said on the pit mic,”I can't quite comprehends what's going on. I couldn't be more ecstatic. I raced tonight on a brand new 2018 Yamaha we got out of a crate last week. I've been dreaming of this since I was a little kid. I won this championship without winning a race like some others. But I'm going to win races next year.” He thanked his parents and his mechanic Andrew.
P. 5 finisher Shayna Texter, 26, led Singles points most of the season. She entered the race in second place, 17 points behind Carlile, with 18 points awarded the race winner. They started alongside each other in row one and both riders had on-board TV cameras. Price passed her for second in final standings by four points. She remains the first female AMA Singles dirt feature winner.
Blond 5' 0”, 110 pounds Shayna (formerly No. 25, but No. 52 now) dates AMA Twins No. 14 rider Briar Bauman. Her older brother Cory Texter (No. 65) races AMA Twins. Their father Randy also raced motorcycles. Singles feature winner Price wants to date Shayna's little sister, but big sis may not approve. On lap 2 in the fourth turn Price bumped Shayna out of P. 3 to P. 5 en-route to his Perris victory.
Nine riders won the 18 Singles features in 2017. Texter, from Willow Street, Pa, led with five (three at miles and two at half-miles), but she did not qualify for six mains. Carlile did not win a feature, but he was on the podium eight times and DNQ for only one main (Lima, Oh.). He scored three runner-up finishes, five thirds, three P. 4 and two P. 5. His lowest feature finish was an eighth. He said he will return to AFT Singles in 2018 to win main events and the championship.
Price won three times and had five podium finishes in his 18 feature starts. He said Perris was “a crazy race” for him. “I came off the starting line sixth and kept making passes.” He thanked his sponsors and “the huge crowd of fans who came out tonight.” Two-time AFT Singles 2017 winners were: Hayden Gillim, Dalton Gauthier, and Kevin Stallings; solo winners were:Dan Bromley, Tanner Dean, Jesse Janisch, and Parker Norris. Sixty-five riders scored at least one point in 2017 Singles racing.