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Event Rewind: Orange County Half-Mile Event Highlights
Progressive AFT Breaks New Ground at Bridgeport Half-Mile
Jared Mees leads the pack into the first-ever motorcycle race at Bridgeport Speedway. Read More
It may have taken a half season of dizzying ups and downs, but Briar Bauman (No. 3 Parts Plus/Jacob Companies KTM 790 Duke) officially has his mojo back now, and he’s not afraid to say so.
After consecutive finishes of first, second, and second, the 2019 and 2020 Mission SuperTwins champion spoke about how far the project has come already. He said, “Truthfully, mentally, coming from championships, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to come in and win everything,’ right? We got to Daytona, and I get a podium and I’m like, ‘This is so easy.’ And then we had a string where… It didn’t even feel like I was making the Main.
“So, honestly, as I’m getting more time on this motorcycle, the KTM is incredible. That thing came out of a streetbike before I got it, which blows my mind after spending so many years on a purpose-built motor.
“But, man, I try not to be arrogant, but I’m here. I’m feeling it right now. I have an incredible team. Everyone is behind me. Let’s just keep it rolling.”
If Bauman does indeed keep it rolling, he is bound to factor into the championship outcome, even if only in the role of super spoiler in the ongoing Jared Mees (No. 1 Indian Motorcycle/Rogers Racing/SDI Racing FTR750)/Dallas Daniels (No. 32 Estenson Racing Yamaha MT-07 DT) title fight.
He admitted that he was conscious of that fact after spending the previous four seasons as one of the two primary protagonists battling over the throne.
“It’s weird for me to get in between Dallas and Jared. I’ll be completely honest with you just because I‘ve been in the championship thing before. But dude, I’m a loose cannon, and if I could have got Jared, I would have taken a real big shot myself.”
And that’s exactly how it should be.
While it may be prudent for riders to think twice about the risks they’re willing to take when riding in close proximity with those in the hunt, the legitimacy of the championship demands that every rider gives it their all.
Daniels and Mees are both doing everything they can to not just beat the other but also to place other riders between one another. That’s impossible to do if everyone refuses to engage and the results then would not represent a genuine reflection of the competition.
So Briar, go ahead take all the big shots you’ve got.
(And for the record, Bauman is not completely eliminated from this chase yet. 49 points is a massive deficit, but anything can still happen, as we’ll discuss again a bit later…
The Orange County Half-Mile was, in many ways, a heightened microcosm of Royal Enfield’s Progressive American Flat Track adventure to date.
Even taking on the Mission Production Twins class with a platform built around an engine that starts its life as a sub-50 horsepower, air-and-oil cooled power plant for a retro standard seemed a borderline impossible task at the time of inception.
And despite providing the naysayers wrong in the form of race wins, the developmental limitations of the machine were again brought into question when the project shifted its sights on the premier Mission SuperTwins category, where it would be pit up against the absolute pinnacle of dirt track racers and machines found anywhere on earth.
Little over a half season into that effort, it seems that the line that separates success and failure for Royal Enfield is as narrow and elusive as the one at Orange County Speedway. But that line exists.
And for all but ten minutes plus two laps of a six-hour show, Johnny Lewis and his No. 10 Moto Anatomy X Powered by Royal Enfield 650 stood above all.
Lewis put his name atop the leaderboards during practice and qualifying, won Heat 1, and defeated Mees and Daniels to reign supreme in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge. But then that fine line altered slightly and left him outside the top ten in the Main Event.
It was far from the first time this year that Lewis and his RE have shown the ability to challenge up front only to have one thing or another prevent them from fully capitalizing on that potential in the Main Event.
But that potential is there, which alone is a triumph. The fact that the combo has already registered a pair of top fives in its debut premier-class season is impressive enough. But it’s already become abundantly clear that, if the stars do happen to align some evening, a Main Event victory is not beyond their grasp.
Things Can Go Sideways in a Hurry, Pt. I
The title defense of Kody Kopp (No. 1 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 450 SX-F) is going swimmingly at the moment, as the defending class champ now boasts a near-two-race title advantage after previously being narrowed to single digits.
There is no guarantee that surge will continue unabated, however, and points leads can collapse far quicker than they can be assembled or rebuilt.
If Kopp needs to look for an example of how quickly things can go awry any given night for even the most talented and well-supported rider, he need only look across the tent at Red Bull KTM stablemate Max Whale (No. 18 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 450 SX-F).
Whale was Kopp’s nearest championship competitor when the day began at Orange County Speedway. At the end of the night, he was relegated to seventh.
The Aussie was a victim of the ultra-slick track, sliding to the dirt at the start of the Main Event. While he was able to remount for the restart, Whale rode at less than 100% and collected just 18th place and two points for his sufferings.
As a result, he was helpless as Chase Saathoff (No. 88 American Honda/Mission Foods CRF450R), Trevor Brunner (No. 21 Estenson Racing Yamaha YZ450F), Tom Drane (No. 59 Estenson Racing Yamaha YZ450F), Trent Lowe (No. 48 American Honda/Mission Foods CRF450R), and Dalton Gauthier (No. 79 D&D Racing/Certified KTM 450 SX-F) all played championship leapfrog at his expense.
Granted, Kopp’s huge championship advantage effectively insulates him from a single bad luck outing. But if that means he needs more than one example of what can go wrong…
Things Can Go Sideways in a Hurry, Pt. II
James Ott (No. 19 1st Impressions Race Team/Husqvarna Racing FC450) went to New York fresh off back-to-back podiums and gunning for his maiden Progressive AFT victory. Everything was shaping up nicely too, as the Californian clocked up top-five times in practice and qualifying.
Unfortunately for Ott, his bike stalled off the start of his heat race.
Unfortunately for Ott, that put him at the back of the field for the LCQ, where he could only climb to ninth before reaching the checkered flag.
Unfortunately for Ott, that meant he would need to burn his only provisional start to gain entry into the Main.
Unfortunately for Ott, Morgen Mischler (No. 13 American Honda/Mission Foods CRF450R) was also in need of a provisional start, and Mischler came into the weekend armed with one more championship point (124-123), which gave him the nod and left Ott watching from the fences rather than attempting to fight his way to the top of the box.
Projecting the Impossible
Of the great Scott Parker’s many career records, some in particular seemed likely to never come under threat. Among the most high-profile and seemingly out-of-reach was his career wins mark of 94.
Until recently, that number seemed as safe as could possibly be. It stands almost a full season’s worth of wins ahead of second-ranked (and similarly retired) Chris Carr, who posted 78 victories during his career.
And as recently as 2019, third place was held by another retired superstar in Jay Springsteen, whose career tally of 43 was less than halfway to Parker’s unthinkable total.
But now it may be time to start thinking the unthinkable.
An active rider in Jared Mees has since taken over third place and is closing on second in a hurry. With 70 wins to his name, it seems only a matter of time before he eclipses Carr.
While still 24 short of Parker, Mees’ current pace puts that number firmly in his sights as well.
Even if we consider only the most recent five seasons – ignoring his dominant back-to-back ten-win seasons of 2017 and 2018 – Mees is still averaging over six wins per season. He’s already past that number in 2023, and with two Half-Miles and two Miles remaining on the slate, another double-digit win season seems quite likely at this point.
At his current clip, Mees will storm past Parker in less than four seasons. Does the factory Indian superstar, who is now 37 years old, have it in him to maintain his present level for the next four years? That remains to be seen, but all signs point toward yes.
For what it’s worth, Parker won his last race when he was nearly 39, Carr when he was 41, and Springsteen when he was 43. And all three raced during an era before riders like Mees elevated training and nutrition into a new stratosphere, which should only bode well for Mees’ longevity.
The Reign of Drane
Tom Drane made such an impact during his limited Progressive AFT debut in ‘22 that expectations were, perhaps, unrealistically high coming into his first full season. Four consecutive finishes of tenth or lower only served to underline that sentiment.
But the Australian is cooking with race fuel now, and he’s more than living up to even the wildest predictions of success.
Two-time Parts Unlimited AFT Singles champion and current Grand National Championship contender Dallas Daniels kick-started a youth movement when he burst onto the scene mid-way through the 2019 season. A succession of rising stars have followed in his wake, including 2020 Rookie of the Year Trevor Brunner, 2021 Rookie of the Year Kody Kopp, and 2022 Rookie of the Year Chase Saathoff.
Drane is now 13 races into his Progressive AFT career. Here’s how his opening 13 stack up against those of the aforementioned aces across several metrics:
DNQs (Did Not Qualify):
- Drane: 0
- Daniels: 1
- Saathoff: 1
- Brunner: 2
- Kopp: 2
Worst Main Event Result in Which They Qualified:
- Drane: 13th
- Brunner: 15th
- Kopp: 16th
- Daniels: 17th
- Saathoff: 17th
- Saathoff: 11
- Daniels: 9
- Drane: 9
- Brunner: 7
- Kopp: 7
- Daniels: 7
- Drane: 7
- Saathoff: 5
- Kopp: 3
- Brunner: 2
- Drane: 6
- Daniels: 4
- Kopp: 2
- Sathoff: 2
- Brunner: 1
- Daniels: 2
- Drane: 2
- Brunner: 1
- Kopp: 0
- Saathoff: 0
For those of you counting at home, despite the stiffest of comparisons, Drane is either first or tied for first in five of the six categories and is tied for second in the other.
And this doesn’t even factor in last year’s Springfield Mile, in which he posted the fastest time in final qualifying and proceeded to win the Al Lamb’s Dallas Honda Challenge before the Main Event was rained out.
It’s safe to say the Estenson Racing pilot has gotten his career off to a pretty decent start.
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