How to Watch & What to Watch: Orange County Half-Mile

240614 Orange County Half-Mile - How to Watch [678]

DAYTONA BEACH, FL – June 14, 2024 – (Motor Sports NewsWire) – FloRacing is the live streaming home of Progressive American Flat Track. Complete coverage of this Saturday’s Orange County Half-Mile at Orange County Fair Speedway will kick off with the day’s first practice session at 4:00 p.m. ET (1:00 p.m. PT). Sign up now and catch every second of on-track action live at http://flosports.link/aft. 

FOX Sports coverage of the Orange County Half-Mile, featuring in-depth features and thrilling onboard cameras, will premiere on FS1 on Sunday, June 23, at 12:00 p.m. ET (9:00 a.m. PT). 

Silver Dollar Highlights

Event Rewind: Silver Dollar Short Track Main Event Highlights

What to watch

SuperTwins Storylines

Progressive AFT Season Resumes at Orange County Fair Speedway

Progressive AFT kicks off a run of four rounds in four weeks with the Orange County Half-Mile.  Read More

Clarity Inbound

Six races in and the direction the 2024 Mission AFT SuperTwins championship fight might be headed has been difficult to pin down, teetering between a rematch of last year’s two-rider duel featuring Jared Mees (No. 1 Rogers Racing/SDI Racing/Indian Motorcycle FTR750) and Dallas Daniels (No. 32 Estenson Racing Yamaha MT-07 DT) and a return to larger-scale conflict also including the likes of Brandon Robinson (No. 44 Mission Roof Systems Indian FTR750) and Briar Bauman (No. 3 Rick Ware Racing/KTM/Parts Plus KTM 790 Duke).

Whatever shape it intends to take will become much clearer in short order. A full quarter of the campaign is set to play out over just 22 days, starting with this weekend’s Orange County Half-Mile. Once the dust settles following the upcoming run of four races in four weeks, the season will be past halfway and started down the stretch.

The contenders have had nearly a month now to rest, recover, prepare, and plan for this pivotal run of rounds. Of course, as Mike Tyson famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.’ The haymakers will start flying this weekend in New York with no chance to catch a breath until after the DuQuoin Mile in early July.

Considering the four races in question consist of three consecutive Half-Miles concluded by a Mile – and that reigning champ Mees is the sport’s all-time winningest Half-Miler as well as the modern master of the Mile – it stands to reason that he’s primed to capitalize, does it not?

Well… maybe?

We’ll dig deeper into that possibility a bit later in this feature.

Royal Family

Royal Enfield is justifiably proud of its claim as the oldest global motorcycle brand in continuous production, dating all the way back to 1901 when including its original English heritage. And in fact, its line-up leans heavily into this history with a fleet of retro-inspired motorcycles.

When the marque elected to make a rare foray into motorsport with its entrance onto the Progressive American Flat Track scene, it did so on its own terms. This meant the development of its Twins FT racebike based around the INT 650 production model, a ‘60s- and ‘70s-inspired classic standard.

While the rulebook can make some considerations for such a decision – such as a 100cc displacement advantage for oil-cooled motorcycles – the stopwatch offers no such consolation.

This meant the brand, its Grand Prix-rooted Harris Performance chassis experts, and its Stateside effort built up around Johnny Lewis, had committed themselves to a rather Herculean development task.

Back when the Moto Anatomy squad was still fielding the bike in the Mission Production Twins class and outlining its initial attempts to expand its ambit to include the power-hungry Miles, Lewis explained, “The base motor that comes out of the INT 650 starts off at 47 horsepower. And most people know we’re racing against motors with 90-some horsepower – some of the Yamahas even have upward of 100.

“From the start, we were fighting a battle of trying to develop a motor that has to be double the horsepower of where it starts. Is the crank going to be strong enough? Is the rod going to be strong enough? We’ve basically had to change almost everything except for the bottom end, which is pretty much stock. In theory, we’re asking this motor to give us probably about 3500 more rpm compared to stock, if not more. We’re asking a lot out of this thing.

“With the new chassis, we have more flex characteristics, and it’s lighter, so we’re dropping weight at the same time. It’s a heavy motor. The first bike was extremely heavy. It was 365 pounds when the weight rule is 320. Some of these Yamahas and KTMs and Kawasakis that we’re racing against are at that 320 mark.”

While not yet a Mission AFT SuperTwins race winner let alone title contender, the development completed to date must be considered a smashing success. Beyond winning a pair of Mission Production Twins Main Events, the bike has repeatedly demonstrated its relevance even after its elevation to the Mission AFT SuperTwins category, the most demanding and challenging arena in motorcycle dirt track racing to be found anywhere on the planet. In little over a year of premier-class duty, Lewis has already reeled in numerous top-ten finishes for Royal Enfield, highlighted by a pair of top fives.

The bike’s potential to battle at the very front of the Mission AFT SuperTwins field was most evident during last year’s stop at Orange County Fair Speedway, where Lewis effectively controlled the day – leading the opening practice, posting the fastest time in qualifying, winning his heat, and defeating Mees and Daniels to claim victory in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge – at least until the track evolved away from his preferred lines just when the Main Event arrived.

As unfortunate as that timing may have been, the timing of the injury Lewis suffered two rounds prior to this year’s return to Orange County is arguably even more so.

However, despite missing the chance to finish the job this weekend, the situation provides another opportunity to test how far along the Twins FT has come in its broader development.

Lewis previously mentioned the desire to prove they were actively developing what is objectively an effective flat track race machine, rather than one that merely suits his particular preferences, characteristics, and idiosyncrasies.

Last year didn’t move the needed in that sense as the performance of then teammate Ryan Wells was quiet by comparison as the team fielded a two-rider effort for the first time.

However, prior to that, Cameron Smith (No. 34 RVR/KTM/Schaefer’s Motorsport KTM 790 Duke) showed that the Twins FT is more than a machine that’s strengths can only be harnessed by Lewis, sprinting to runner-up honors in the 2022 New York Short Track Mission Production Twins Main.

This weekend, Dalton Gauthier (No. 79 Moto Anatomy X Powered by Royal Enfield 650) will look to similarly show the bike to be more than a one-man machine in the Mission AFT SuperTwins class.

While jumping on a bike midseason, especially when pit up against the greatest riders in the world – is a daunting challenge, Gauthier is an immense talent who has succeeded on a wide range of equipment. But despite his credentials and many accomplishments, his track record in the premier-class is relatively limited, making this weekend’s opportunity equally juicy for him as for the brand.

It’s worth recalling that while he finished outside the championship top ten in his one and only full season in the premier class, his actually performed at approximately the same standard as his much more experienced teammates, Jarod Vanderkooi (No. 20 JMC Motorsports/Fairway Ford Ohio Indian FTR750) and Bryan Smith, suggesting he likely has the goods required to do the business in the top class if given the proper ride.

Could this be that ride?

New York State of Mine

Kolby Carlile (No. 36 G&G Racing/Yamaha Racing MT-07) will be anxious to get his season properly on-track in front of his home-state fans this weekend.

Carlile could use a strong outing after struggling to match last year’s highs in the early stages of the ‘24 campaign. Although largely absent of fanfare, the 2017 Parts Unlimited AFT Singles champion registered an impressive season in his first attempt with the G&G Racing outfit in ‘23. Last season, he earned tenth in the championship on the strength of eight top tens, including a fourth-place finish at the Sacramento Mile where he missed out on the podium by a scant 0.021 seconds.

This season has proven a bit more of a struggle for the Canandaigua, New York, native, as he’s still looking to break into the top ten. However, his most recent result – an 11th at Silver Dollar Speedway – was his best yet. Perhaps this weekend’s return home will serve as a springboard into regular top-ten contention yet again.

Singles Storylines

Chasing Confidence

After earning his long-awaited maiden Progressive AFT victory in a red-flagged affair at Texas Motor Speedway, Chase Saathoff (No. 88 JPG Motorsports Honda CRF450R) has looked to back it up with a checkered flag win in order to further solidify his standing as a Parts Unlimited AFT Singles Main Event winner.

Despite the fact that reigning champion Kody Kopp (No. 1 Rick Ware Racing/Parts Plus KTM 450 SX-F) was swarming from less than a tenth of a second back when the race in Fort Worth was stopped, there were (and are) no questions regarding the legitimacy of Saathoff’s accomplishment, be it from Kopp or anyone else.

The win certainly felt earned and deserved. Saathoff was quick all day in Texas, won his heat and the Al Lamb’s Dallas Honda Challenge, and then led every lap of the race despite the repeated red flags and restarts.

That said, Saathoff’s subsequent efforts to follow that win with an exclamation point has landed more like question marks.

As at Texas Motor Speedway, Saathoff ripped out to big early leads at both Ventura Raceway and Silver Dollar Speedway. However, in the latter two examples that actually played out to the checkered flag, he was ultimately tracked down and pushed back down the order.

This weekend provides another opportunity to claim a conventional outright victory. And if he manages to do so, it wouldn’t just serve as redemption for the twin defeats in California, it would also avenge last year’s loss at Orange County Fair Speedway, where he stretched open more than two seconds at the front before being chased down and then overtaken (in rather unwelcome fashion) by Kopp.

It’s said that iron sharpens iron, and Saathoff has certainly learned more than his fair share of lessons in the heat of battle. It still feels like we’ve yet to see just how formidable he can be when he puts all of those lessons together into one Main Event-long dissertation

Look Out Below

If you happen to be hoping to win the 2024 Parts Unlimited AFT Singles title and your name doesn’t rhyme with Sodi Pop, I have some difficult news to share with you. The next three weeks are going to be critical in that pursuit and the odds are decidedly stacked against you.

The two-time defending champion already boasts a 22-point advantage as the season arrives on what, at least on paper, looks to be his strongest stretch of the year.

The Rick Ware Racing star has taken the checkered flag first in nine of the most recent 15 Half-Miles, including four of the last six. That larger tally also includes a trio of second-place finishes, including the one just discussed in which he was 0.089 seconds back and looking for a way into first when the race was red-flagged and ultimately called complete.

Making matters worse for the aforementioned non-Kopp contingent, the Washington native has previously dominated at two of the three upcoming Half-Miles, winning by over a second in last year’s Orange County Half-Mile, while stacking up wins of 2.533 seconds and 4.120 seconds in the last two stops at the Lima Half-Mile.

Tom Drane (No. 59 Estenson Racing Yamaha YZ450F), in particular, has shown himself to be at or near Kopp’s level over the last season or so by a variety of metrics. The Aussie is going to need to do that and more if he hopes to not only prevent from pushing the title fight out of reach but draw nearer in the standings.

And the level of difficulty is about to increase precipitously on that front.

Hi Lowe

It’s a big stretch coming up for Trent Lowe (No. 48 American Honda/Mission Foods CRF450R) as well. Thus far in ‘24, he’s largely existed somewhere between the top three and the rest of the field.

16 points back of third-placed Drane, 13 up on fifth-ranked James Ott (No. 19 1st Impressions Race Team Husqvarna FC450), and with three third-place finishes to his name, the season has been solid for Lowe, albeit somewhat less the desired jump up to full title contention.

It wouldn’t take all that much improvement to transform regular battles for third into potential victories, although it’s worth reminding that the last fraction of improvement is always the hardest to find. But with a big chunk of the season poised to blur past over the next four weeks, there’s little time to waste.

Building on a theme, Lowe was solid if less than spectacular at Orange County, Bridgeport, and Lima a year ago, registering fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-place results at the upcoming venues in question.

The Turner Honda ace no doubt has designs on doing whatever necessary to locate that elusive last percentage in the weeks ahead. We’ll be tracking his progress in that attempt.

by the numbers

Half-Mile, Will Travel

As previously mentioned, on the surface, the upcoming schedule of three Half-Miles in three weeks (followed by a Mile the following week) seems to play right into the hands of reigning Mission AFT SuperTwins king Jared Mees just as he’s making his surge toward the top of the order.

Mees currently owns 37 Half-Mile victories, two more than any other rider in the long history of the Grand National Championship and nearly twice as many as the remainder of the active field combined (22).

However, that tally has been built more on the longevity of his Half-Mile excellence as opposed to week-to-week dominance in the discipline. If we narrow the focus down to 2019-2024, a slightly different picture emerges when comparing Mees to his primary title threats:

  • Briar Bauman actually owns the most Half-Mile victories over that stretch, earning 12 to Mees’ 11. And while the majority of that success was taken aboard factory Indians, Bauman did ring up KTM’s first-ever twin-cylinder premier-class victory at last year’s Lima Half-Mile.
  • Brandon Robinson has collected five Half-Mile wins himself over that span, including the most recent HM waged (the Texas Half-Mile, this season’s first and only Half-Mile to date).
  • Dallas Daniels has but one Half-Mile win to his name. However, that came in a stunner over Mees at last year’s Bridgeport Half-Mile. Additionally, Daniels joins Mees as the only rider to have finished on the podium at every Half-Mile since the start of the ‘23 season.

So, while Mees is indeed in prime position to make a move, the opposition is well armed to defend their positions and fully capable of making strides of their own in what’s proven to be a fluid title fight.

History Awaits

If you imagined Kopp’s Half-Mile mastery would have him nearing some historic marks in that regard, you’d be correct, although that’s not the biggest statistical story in play (hint: we’re burning the lede).

If Kopp repeats at Orange County this weekend, he’ll be within a single Half-Mile victory of the Parts Unlimited AFT career record. Here’s how it stands now:

Half-Mile Wins

  1. 1. Shayna Texter-Bauman: 11
  2. 2. Kody Kopp: 9
  3. 3. Dallas Daniels: 5
  4. 4. 4 riders tied with: 4

But then recall that Kopp already owns the career Short Track wins mark with some distance between him and second place:

Short Track Wins

  1. 1. Kody Kopp: 8
  2. 2. Dallas Daniels: 6
  3. 3. Dalton Gauthier: 5
  4. 4. Brad Baker/Gerit Callies/Dan Bromley: 3

That sort of placement in multiple categories must add up to something pretty special, correct?

Correct.

Kopp is now just one victory away from equalling Shayna Texter-Bauman (No. 52 Rick Ware Racing/Parts Plus KTM 450 SX-F) for the all-time Parts Unlimited AFT Singles Main Event victory lead.

Main Event Wins

  1. 1. Shayna Texter-Bauman: 19
  2. 2. Kody Kopp: 18
  3. 3. Dalton Gauthier/Dallas Daniels: 13
  4. 5. Ryan Wells: 9

History awaits.

SuperTwins Standings

Singles Standings

About Progressive American Flat Track: 

Progressive American Flat Track, sanctioned by AMA Pro Racing, is the world’s premier dirt track motorcycle racing series and one of the longest-running championships in the history of motorsports. Sanctioned by AMA Pro Racing in Daytona Beach, Fla., the series is highly regarded as the most competitive form of dirt track motorcycle racing on the globe. For more information on Progressive American Flat Track, please visit us on the web, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, check us out on Instagram and catch all the Progressive American Flat Track racing action on FOX Sports. 

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