DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (September 6, 2017)
– Following a near quarter-century absence, American Flat Track returns to Mechanicsburg, Pa. for the Harley-Davidson Williams Grove Half-Mile presented by Appalachian Harley-Davidson on Saturday, September 9. It not only marks a long-awaited return to the Keystone State – one of the sport’s biggest hotbeds for talent – but also has the potential to serve as an early coronation.
With only Larry Pegram‘s victory at Williams Grove Speedway back in 1994 to go by, there is effectively no recent history at the venue to point to in hopes of predicting this weekend’s AFT Twins presented by Vance & Hines showdown. As such, there should be no overlooking Harley-Davidson’s talented trio, Kenny Coolbeth, Jr. (No. 2 Harley-Davidson Factory Flat Track Team XG750R), Brandon Robinson (No. 44 Harley-Davidson Factory Flat Track Team XG750R) and Jake Johnson (No. 5 Harley-Davidson Factory Flat Track Team XG750R).
Veteran Coolbeth actually raced in the series’ only previous trip to Williams Grove Speedway in 1994, and calls upon a wealth of experience that has carried him to 23 Half-Mile victories over the years. But both Robinson and Johnson are further spurred on by the rare opportunity to race in front of their home-state fans. Especially Robinson, who was born an hour away from the Half-Mile clay track.
“I’ve never had a National so close to home before,” Robinson said. “So I’m really looking forward to racing in front of my home crowd to try and put in a solid result for H-D and myself.”
That said, there is an overwhelming amount of recent history compiled this season that suggests Jared Mees (No. 9 Indian Motorcycle Rogers Racing Scout FTR750) will be mighty tough to beat.
The Pennsylvania native rolls into Mechanicsburg in position to lock down his fourth overall championship in the premier class in front of the home crowd. The surging Mees has won more than half of the races this season (eight of 15) – including the last three Half-Miles in succession. One more victory this weekend would increase his championship advantage to an unassailable 52 points, erasing any mathematical possibility of another rider topping him over the season’s final two events.
“All I need to do is go there and win the race. A lot easier said than done, right?” Mees said about clinching the championship early. “I’m going to have a lot of family and friends there that are going to come out and watch. It’s only an hour from my home, where I was born and raised. Under the circumstances that I’m under I think it’ll be a great moment if I can go out there and capture the win. That’s our goal.”
The only one standing in the way of that goal is rival Bryan Smith (No. 1 Indian Motorcycle Racing backed by Allstate Scout FTR750). The defending champ is the only rider still within reach of Mees heading into the final three-race stretch. Smith looks to be rediscovering his early-season form with a pair of runner-up results in his last three outings. However, it’s likely he’ll need to score his fifth victory of the season at Williams Grove Speedway in order to keep his hopes of repeating as champion alive entering the season’s penultimate round later this month.
While they are no longer in championship contention, third-ranked Brad Baker (No. 6 Indian Motorcycle Racing backed by Allstate Scout FTR750) and fourth-ranked Sammy Halbert (No. 69 Estenson Logistics Yamaha FZ-07) are highly motivated by their respective quests to claim an AFT Twins race win this season before the year is out.
Fifth-ranked Briar Bauman (No. 14 Zanotti Racing Kawasaki Ninja 650) has won this season, not once, but twice. A third victory this weekend is certainly not out of the question, especially considering his dominant performance at this year’s Lima Half-Mile.
The AFT Singles championship fight comes into the Harley-Davidson Williams Grove Half-Mile presented by Appalachian Harley-Davidson with three riders battling for the crown and separated by only nine points.
While their contrasting strengths and weaknesses have defined the season in large part, the Half-Miles have proven to be the battlegrounds on which title leader Kolby Carlile (No. 36 Estenson Racing Yamaha YZ450F), second-ranked Brandon Price (No. 92 Brandon Price Racing backed by Parkinson Brother’s Racing/DPC Racing/Don’s Kawasaki Honda CRF450R) and third-placed Shayna Texter (No. 52 Richie Morris Racing Honda CRF450R) have found themselves on the most level ground.
In the season’s five prior Half-Miles, Carlile has taken two podiums and was cruelly robbed of a potential win by a mechanical DNF. Price, meanwhile, racked up two wins and a runner-up at those same races, while Pennsylvania-native Texter logged a win and two second places herself.
With the title fight so close and with so few races remaining, every single position could prove pivotal in the final championship tally. Adding more fuel to the fire, Texter will have extra motivation to top the podium in front of the home crowd, her first every National race in Pa.
Making things all the more interesting is the great potential for spoilers to emerge and split the title contenders up in the order — or even come from seemingly nowhere to snatch away the victory, the way Parker Norris (No. 24 Goodroe Racing Honda CRF450R) did at the Lima Half-Mile or how Tanner Dean (No. 138 Walrath Racing Honda CRF450R) did at the Calistoga Half-Mile earlier this season.