DAYTONA BEACH, FL – August 12, 2023 – (Motor Sports NewsWire) – FansChoice.tv is the live streaming home of Progressive American Flat Track. Complete coverage of this Saturday’s CertainTeed Castle Rock TT presented by Law Tigers at Castle Rock Race Park will kick off with the day’s first practice session at 6:30 p.m. ET (3:30 p.m. PT). Sign up now and catch every second of on-track action live at https://www.fanschoice.tv.
FOX Sports coverage of the CertainTeed Castle Rock TT presented by Law Tigers, featuring in-depth features and thrilling onboard cameras, will premiere on FS1 on Sunday, August 20, at 11:00 a.m. ET (8:00 a.m. PT).
Event Rewind: Peoria TT Main Event Highlights
Storylines Collide as Progressive AFT Invades Castle Rock
JD Beach prepares to defend his home turf amidst an intense Grand National Championship fight. Read More
The Castle Rock TT has been blessed (and burdened) with a fascinating history. It once ranked as among the world’s most prestigious and important motorcycle races before – at the height of its glory – it was smote by an angry goddess.
However, even ten feet of volcanic ash courtesy of nearby Mt. St. Helens couldn’t bury the event forever.
It’s been resurrected more than once since the catastrophic eruption, including last year’s fantastically successful revival.
Both pre- and post-volcano, the Castle Rock TT has been fiercely defended by its homegrown champions. Perhaps the most memorable and unlikely of the castle defenses was the comeback victory of Brad Hurst in 1979. A regional star but relatively unknown on the national scene, Hurst crashed in the opening corner. However, he still somehow charged from last to first, passing TT standout and Grand National Champion-to-be Steve Eklund to claim his first and only Progressive AFT victory.
That was the final race before the eruption but not the last time a local hero has stood atop the podium here.
Last year’s victor, JD Beach (No. 95 Estenson Racing Yamaha MT-07 DT), is just the latest in that long line. While he now calls Philpot, Kentucky, home, Beach originally hails from Snoqualmie, Washington, where he grew up racing at Castle Rock Race Park.
When he returned home to further cement his TT mastery here a season ago, it marked the 20th time a West Coast rider has won in the 24 Grand National Championship races held at Castle Rock, and the 10th time the winner was from the Pacific Northwest.
Beach will be favored to juice those statistics this weekend, but there could be extenuating circumstances to consider when laying out the odds.
The Order of All Things
Team orders have a checkered history in motorsports. Depending on the series, they’ve been alternately banned, executed in secrecy, grudgingly accepted, or even gleefully embraced. And actually, sometimes all of the above in the same series, depending on the era or mood of the fanbase.
They’ve generally been frowned upon in two-wheeled competition, and Estenson Racing has indicated that they’ll let their riders, Beach and Mission SuperTwins title hopeful Dallas Daniels (No. 32 Estenson Racing Yamaha MT-07 DT), compete without the burden of any such orders.
Despite finishing behind Daniels last weekend, Beach’s actions certainly seemed to support the claim, as he harried and pressured his teammate to the flag while actively looking for an opportunity to pull off a clean pass.
Beach and Daniels will come into Castle Rock with expectations of being the fastest two riders on track. If true, they’d be presented with the discretion to dictate the finishing order of first and second if they so desired.
However, based on last weekend, it’s assumed that if given the opportunity Estenson Racing would again choose not to flex that power even if team orders would provide a considerable boost to Daniels’ chances of delivering Yamaha its first (full) Grand National Championship in nearly a half century (Kenny Roberts, 1974). (Precisely how much of a boost will be laid out in the “By the Numbers” section below.)
That said, Daniels still has an edge that might not exist in a Castle Rock TT completely devoid of championship implications.
After finishing third at Black Hills Speedway, Beach said, “I felt really good. I felt like I had some speed. I’m not dumb though – I wanted to make a clean pass if I could.”
Even if his primary goal this weekend will be to secure his ninth win in the most recent ten Progressive AFT TTs, Beach is unlikely to attempt any overly ambitious maneuvers that would put his teammates’ championship chances in jeopardy.
Daniels, meanwhile, will have the latitude to take even bigger risks than he otherwise would to improve those chances.
Considering how difficult it was to pass at Castle Rock a year ago, if Daniels happened to get the holeshot or forced the issue to move past an early leader in Beach, he’d then have a pretty good shot of running at the front for the remainder of the race with a semi-unwilling blocker running interference just behind him. For Daniels, Beach would then both represent an obstacle on track and in the standings for his adversary, reigning champion Jared Mees (No. 1 Indian Motorcycle/Rogers Racing/SDI Racing FTR750), even in the absence of explicit orders to do so.
Make no mistake, Beach is the favorite to win this weekend – and at any given TT until someone starts challenging him with some regularity – but there are some unusual factors to take into account this weekend.
Weekly Spoiler Warning
Besides the usual inclusion of Briar Bauman (No. 3 Parts Plus/Jacob Companies KTM 790 Duke), who most certainly has a shot of upsetting the pre-race plans of Beach, Daniels, and/or Mees, a couple of other riders are worth keeping an eye on.
Three-time Castle Rock TT winner Sammy Halbert (No. 69 Martin Trucking/Castrol Yamaha MT-07) and all-time TT king Henry Wiles (No. 17 BriggsAuto.com/Martin Trucking Indian FTR750) boast the résumés to come in and do some serious damage this weekend. That said, neither has competed full-time this season, and it’s been a minute since either has truly factored into a podium fight.
It’ll be fascinating to see how things play out if either one does this weekend, especially if they happen to be battling in close proximity with the championship contenders.
During various interviews, both this season and last, Kody Kopp (No. 1 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 450 SX-F) has laid out several goals for himself:
Repeat as Parts Unlimited AFT Singles champion.
Match Dallas Daniels’ record of eight victories in a single season.
Continue to push for wins despite protecting a big championship lead.
Prove he can win TTs.
Win in front of the home crowd.
All of those… all of those… are within his reach this weekend.
Bend It Like Bender
Now ranked second in the points on the strength of three victories and eight podiums, Tom Drane (No. 59 Estenson Racing Yamaha YZ450F) would be in the midst of one of the series’ truly great rookie campaigns… if only he were a rookie.
According to the rulebook, “Riders will only be eligible for Rookie of the Year awards during the first season in which they are licensed to compete in American Flat Track.”
So even if the young Australian only took part in a single Main Event a year ago, that was enough to rule him out of Rookie of the Year contention this season.
That’s resulted in a more under-the-radar RoY chase, with five rookies – Logan Eisenhard (No. 166 Scotts Powersports/The Cycle Lab LLC KTM 450 SX-F), Declan Bender (No. 216 Killer Bee Racing/Luczak Racing KTM 450 SX-F), Landen Smith (No. 117 D&D Certified Racing KTM 450 SX-F), Clarke Morian V (No. 133 Morian Racing/Wells Tuned KTM 450 SX-F), and Olin Kissler (No. 155 DFC Suspension/Lindeman Logging KTM 450 SX-F) currently ranked between 19th and 29th in the points.
Eisenhard came out swinging, scoring a pair of ninths at the DAYTONA ST double opener. And up until this past weekend, those ninths were the only top tens registered by a rookie this season, while also establishing him as the odds-on favorite to claim the award.
While he’s still in the lead with 43 points, Eisenhard now has some serious competition. Bender took the best finish for a rookie yet in ‘23 with his seventh-place ride at the Black Hills Half-Mile. That result earned him 13 points, moving him up to 36 and within just seven points of his RoY rival.
Smith (15 points), Morian (12 points), and Kissler (10 points) are further back, but with 25 points on the table for a win, a huge result from any of the youngsters would completely change the complexion of the Rookie of the Year race.
Tall Order Daniels
Dallas Daniels’ primary goal this weekend has to be to move at least one point ahead of title rival Jared Mees before next month’s showdown at Springfield.
If he does, then he’ll “merely” need to match Mees’ performance there. Under that scenario, if the two split wins and runner-ups, Daniels would be the champion. That’s still a mighty tall order, but the sort of challenge a Grand National Champion needs to be able to reasonably accomplish to earn the #1 plate.
But, due to the fact that Mees has already locked up the tiebreaker for most wins, if they leave Castle Rock all even in the points, Daniels will need to outperform Mees in Springfield.
Now, beating Mees twice at the legendary venue where the reigning champion has won seven times in all, including five of the last six, during a season in which Mees has taken all three prior Mile wins? Well, it’s technically possible, but good luck…
Let’s consider what it’ll take for Daniels this weekend to edge ahead by that single, decisive point:
Daniels Victory: 341 points
Mees 2nd: 342
Mees 3rd: 339
Daniels Runner-Up: 337
Mees 4th: 337
Mees 5th: 336
Daniels 3rd: 334
Mees 7th: 334
Mees 8th: 333
In short, Daniels really needs to win this weekend. That’s also a tall order considering the expected strength of JD Beach and Briar Bauman, but their presence also makes it more plausible that Mees will finish third or fourth.
Even a runner-up for Daniels sets up the much less likely condition in which Mees would need to finish fifth or lower in order for Daniels to recapture the points lead ahead of the double finale.
To flip things the other way, the Mees’ dream/Daniels’ disaster would be for Mees to gain three+ points on Daniels and increase his advantage to eight+ points, thus robbing his young challenger control over his own destiny. In that event, even a double win at Springfield wouldn’t guarantee Daniels the title.
Consider these possibilities:
Mees Victory: 346
Daniels 2nd: 337 (9-point margin)
Mees Runner-up: 342
Daniels 3rd: 334 (8-point margin)
Mees 3rd: 339
Daniels 4th: 332 (7-point margin)
So if Mees wins or finishes second in a non-Daniels’ victory this weekend (and the latter actually happened at Castle Rock a year ago), the reigning champion could clinch the title in Springfield with a pair of second-place finishes, even if Daniels were to go out and win both races.
The funny thing is, from a pre-finale tactical perspective, a Daniels 2nd/Mees 4th, a Daniels 3rd/Mees 7th, or a Mees 3rd/Daniels 4th are all effectively the same outcome for Daniels at Castle Rock. In each of those cases, he’d go to Springfield with the understanding that he’d most likely need to win both races, but if he did, he’d walk away as the new Grand National Champion.
Short Order Kopp
As covered above, Kopp is in a strong position to not just repeat as Parts Unlimited AFT Singles champion, but to lock it up this weekend.
An inspection of the points reveals that only five other riders retain even a mathematical possibility of winning the title, with seventh-ranked Dalton Gauthier – who is 84 points back with only 75 points still in play – already eliminated from contention.
Once this weekend is completed, only 50 points will be up for grabs. That means if Kopp increases his 49-point advantage by a single point, it’s all over.
Here’s how many points Kopp needs to accumulate before the year is out to defeat all remaining contenders:
Tom Drane: 26 points (the equivalent of two 11ths and a 12th).
Trevor Brunner: 25 points (one win or an 11th and two 12ths)
Chase Saathoff: 15 points (a fifth)
Max Whale: 5 points (a 15th)
Trent Lowe: 4 points (a 16th)
Another way to look at it is, if Drane and/or Brunner finish in front of Kopp this weekend, the title fight goes to Springfield.
If they don’t, and Kopp finishes fifth or better – even in the event of Chase Saathoff’s maiden Progressive AFT win – you can crown him again.
About Progressive American Flat Track
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Source: Progressive American Flat Track