Last time I was at Lexington, Kentucky’s Red Mile, I was 12 years old and cashed a $24 win ticket on a harness race. At that age (too young to legally cash the ticket but no one was carding) in 1974 money, I felt RICH! It was hard to keep myself from betting on jockey Jim Maupin every race after that.
Although I never went inside the grandstand this time and I hear there’s a casino there now, the part of the Red Mile I trod last weekend seemed little changed since 1974. The Production Twins and Singles teams pitted amongst the shade trees alongside the cinder block horse barns and the vibe was West Coast laid back.
And although I placed no bets and cashed no tickets on this trip to the Mile, my time at the American Flat Track race was every bit as rich as 1974. old friends were seen, new ones made, and the vocal, knowledgeable crowd and I were treated to epic, outstanding racing.
Following 14 minutes and two laps of lead-swapping action, Mission SuperTwins presented by S&S Cycle rookie Dallas Daniels (No. 32 Estenson Racing Yamaha MT-07 DT) added his name to the list of premier-class Main Event winners with an .008 nick of reigning champion Jared Mees at the line on Saturday night
Mees and his No. 1 Progressive Insurance FTR750 Indian were engaged in full on battle all day with Yamahas, starting with Daniels’ teammate JD Beach (No. 95 Estenson Racing Yamaha MT-07 DT). Beach had established himself the rider to beat in the lead-up to the Main, leaving a head-shaking Mees to discuss with his own teammates about how the Yamaha would just pull away on the straights.
But Beach was forced out of Saturday’s Main by mechanical issues a couple minutes into the race, leaving Mees, Daniels, and Mission Production Twins Challenge entrant James Rispoli (No. 43 Wally Brown Racing/Haversack KTM 890 Duke) to battle it out in the lead pack.
Then Bronson Bauman punched a rod through the cases on his No. 37 Latus Motors Racing Harley-Davidson XG750R, dumping oil on the main straight and turn 1 while running fourth, and forcing a red flag stoppage near half-distance.
The race resumed with Mees, Daniels, and Rispoli sitting 1-2-3, and Brandon Robinson(No. 44 Mission Roof Systems Indian FTR750) joining the lead group in fourth. While Rispoli took a peek on a few occasions, it was Mees and Daniels who traded back first and second for the remainder of the contest.
Mees lined up Daniels and made what he hoped would be the race’s decisive maneuver entering Turn 3 for the final time. He pulled it off perfectly and seemed destined to keep his perfect Red Mile streak intact, right up until the final moment when Daniels blasted by at the stripe to take the win by .008 seconds.
The victory was not only Daniels’ first in the premier class, it was also Yamaha’s first on a Mile going all the way back to Kenny Roberts’ legendary victory aboard the TZ750 at the 1975 Indy Mile. Daniels also became the first rookie to win in the premier class since Mikey Rush won at Daytona in 2007, and the first rookie to win on a Mile since Scott Parker did so at Indy in 1979.
“I can’t believe I won a Grand National,” Daniels said. “I’ve been dreaming of this my whole life. It’s been a long road for me and the team. Those guys have worked their butts off. It’s been a long road since they started, and I know this is so rewarding for them.
“Taking my dad on that victory lap… I’ve been talking about that since I was like eight years old. We did it…It’s awesome!”
An exhausted and disappointed Mees debriefed with his team. Still lost in his thoughts, Mees was reminded by a teammate about what it was like for him when he won his first, and pointed the champ towards Daniels. Mees regained his attention to the moment and gave the young winner a congratulatory hug.
Rispoli held on for third to become the first Mission Production Twins Challenge rider to land on the Mission SuperTwins podium and add to what was already an incredible debut for the WBR KTM.
Robinson came home fourth, followed by another Mission Production Twins Challenge pilot in Ben Lowe (No. 25 Mission Foods/Roof Systems Yamaha MT-07) to complete the top five.
Jarod Vanderkooi (No. 20 Mission Roof Systems Indian FTR750) was sixth, followed by an uncharacteristically quiet Briar Bauman (No. 3 Indian Motorcycle/Progressive Insurance FTR750). Davis Fisher (No. 67 Bob Lanphere’s BMC Racing Indian FTR750), Jesse Janisch (No. 33 Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson XG750R), and Robert Pearson (No. 27 Rackley Racing/John Franklin Indian FTR750) rounded out the top ten.
24 hours after being beaten to the stripe on Saturday, Mees returned to the top of the box in Sunday night’s SuperTwins Main Event after he and Daniels settled into a rematch at the front.
The two threatened to drop the remainder of the pack from the start but were gradually reeled back in by Davis Fisher (No. 67 Bob Lanphere’s BMC Racing Indian FTR750) and Briar Bauman (No. 3 Indian Motorcycle/Progressive Insurance FTR750).
However, just after half-distance Bauman’s charge faded, leaving Fisher as the only pilot with a shot at transforming the battle for the win into a three-rider affair. He made good on that promise with five minutes to go, creating a contest of contrasting strengths and lines.
Daniels led to open the last lap but with Mees and Fisher both in close pursuit. As the three exited Turn 2, it still appeared to be anyone’s race until Mees and Fisher both stormed past Daniels with unexpected ease.
Daniels’s inopportune bike issues turned the fight back into a two-rider match-up for the final half-lap. Fisher did all he could to draft by the reigning champion at the stripe, but he came up 0.126 seconds short of beating one of history’s best Mile racers at one of his best tracks.
The victory was Mees’ 23rd Mile win, tying him with Ricky Graham for fifth all-time in the discipline. It was also his fourth in five attempts in Lexington, Kentucky.
“It was actually beneficial to have the Jumbotron on the front straightaway because I was able to glance at it,” reported Mees. “The first couple of laps, Dallas and I had a pretty comfortable lead. That was good because I could hold back and pace off of him and see where I was strong and see where I could maybe pull out. I sat there and studied him because I have to ride very precise to make everything count.
“It felt good – it really did. I think (Dallas) had a bit of an issue going down the back straightaway, but you’ve got to get to the checkered flag to win these things. It’s unfortunate for him because he was riding so good.”
Daniels seemed capable of limping to the podium but instead got zapped at the line by 0.067 seconds by teammate Beach (No. 95 Estenson Racing Yamaha MT-07 DT). While Beach’s expected challenge for victory failed to materialize, he did manage to register a late charge to climb back into podium contention. The Kentuckian overhauled eventual fifth-place finisher Bauman and sixth-placed Mission Production Twins Challenge entrant Janisch, before finally sailing by Daniels at the flag.
Vanderkooi finished a couple tenths back of Janisch in seventh, with Bronson Bauman, Brandon Robinson (No. 44 Mission Roof Systems Indian FTR750), and Ben Lowe (No. 25 Mission Foods/Roof Systems Yamaha MT-07) rounding out the top ten.
Mission Production Twins presented by Vance & Hines
If anyone forgot just how dominant James Rispoli (No. 43 Wally Brown Racing/Haversack KTM 890 Duke) was at times when he won the 2020 Mission Production Twins presented by Vance & Hines championship, he provided a most compelling reminder on Saturday night.
Rispoli made his return to the class at the Red Mile to debut the WBR KTM 890 Duke and did so in style. He not only made the bike a winner, he did so in runaway fashion, leading from start to finish.
The only rider who even managed to keep him honest was Jesse Janisch (No. 33 Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson XG750R). Janisch clung on behind him just outside the draft, but he never managed to present a realistic challenge to Rispoli’s position at the front.
After claiming the win, Rispoli said, “The Wally Brown Racing team has a wealth of experience. They’re smart guys. We took the common sense route and they built a phenomenal package. KTM built a great platform, but these guys found a way to get that horsepower to the ground. I’m so pumped. I’m stoked to return to Mission Production Twins, and to win? I’m stoked.”
While Rispoli may have had a drama-free run to victory, the battle for the final spot on the podium was most entertaining. A tight five-rider pack made up of the returning Michael Rush(No. 15 Hellipower Racing/Las Vegas Harley-Davidson XG750R), Ryan Varnes (No. 68 Schaeffer’s Motorsports/Rausch Fuel & Oil KTM 890 Duke), Ben Lowe (No. 25 Mission Foods/Roof Systems Yamaha MT-07), Cory Texter (No. 1 G&G Racing/Yamaha Racing Yamaha MT-07), and Nick Armstrong (No. 60 Competitive Racing Frames/Lessley Brothers Yamaha MT-07).
Among a great deal of shuffling, points leader Armstrong systematically made his way from seventh to third, but went off the groove and dropped right back to seventh, erasing all his hard work.
Defending champion Texter did what he does and emerged late as he and Lowe scrapped for third over the final two laps. Ultimately, Texter took the position by 0.122 to further a three-race podium streak. However, he’s still three points back of Armstrong in the championship chase after Armstrong clawed his way back up to fifth at the flag.
Varnes finished sixth with Rush taking seventh, a welcome result in his return ride after suffering a serious leg injury in last year’s finale.
The WBR KTM of Rispoli went from untested to Sunday’s heavy favorite, following a debut night of racing that saw it dominate Saturday’s Mission Production Twins Main Event and then deliver a podium in the SuperTwins Main as an encore.
However, any fears that it might prove invincible on its second day were more than balanced out by reality that it’s still in a relatively early state of development.
Rather than break free after taking the lead early in Sunday’s race, Rispoli found himself embroiled in an intense battle with Janisch as the two raced their way away from the pack.
Rispoli and Janisch swapped the lead back and forth repeatedly with Janisch grabbing the lead just as the clock expired. He then put his head down in hopes of corralling his opponent behind him for the final two laps, but the drama of a potential photo finish ended a straightaway early; Rispoli sat up as the two exited Turn 4 for the final time due to a mechanical issue.
After scoring his second victory of the ‘22 season, Janisch said, “The bike was getting off the corners a little better tonight. The bike was on rails. I’m stoked. It was a good race.”
A couple seconds back of the fight for the lead, Texter waged a similarly back-and-forth battle with Ben Lowe (No. 25 Mission Foods/Roof Systems Yamaha MT-07) for third. The defending champ swept past Lowe late and held on to inherit second position.
Ryan Varnes (No. 68 Schaeffer’s Motorsports/Rausch Fuel & Oil KTM 890 Duke) dropped out of podium contention but managed to hold on for fourth. Meanwhile, Michael Rush (No. 15 Hellipower Racing/Las Vegas Harley-Davidson XG750R) charged his way from Row 4 to fifth position as he made his paddock presence felt in a big way in his return weekend.
Nick Armstrong (No. 60 Competitive Racing Frames/Lessley Brothers Yamaha MT-07), who came into the night leading in the points, finished 12th. Despite that, Texter continues to sit second in the championship fight as both men were overtaken by race winner Janisch, who now leads Texter by one point (92-91) with Armstrong a further 10 points back in third at 81.
Parts Unlimited AFT Singles presented by KICKER
Combining the Parts Unlimited AFT Singles presented by KICKER class and a big Mile racetrack is typically the recipe for an ultra-tight pack war. Saturday’s showdown was no exception.
As many as eight riders were in with a shot for victory deep into the race before a couple of them went off the groove, leaving a six-rider shootout on the race’s final lap.
The on-form Morgen Mischler (No. 13 American Honda/Progressive Insurance CRF450R) did his best to control the chaotic affair from the front and it paid off with a 0.053 seconds margin of victory.
While Mischler regularly traded the lead with teammate Dalton Gauthier (No. 79 American Honda/Progressive Insurance CRF450R) for much of the contest, the final sprint came down to him, title rival Kody Kopp (No. 12 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 450 SX-FFE), and Trent Lowe (No. 48 Mission Foods/Al Lamb’s Dallas Honda CRF450R).
Mischler opened the final lap in the lead and made the most of his Honda’s horsepower to just fend off his challengers.
The win was Mischler’s first ever on a Mile as he continues to increasingly prove himself a well-rounded title contender. He said, “The puzzle pieces are fitting, and I see us just getting better with everything the team has been putting into it. For me, it’s just a matter of me doing my job.”
Despite just missing out on the win, Kopp continues to lead the championship on the strength of an early season that has seen him finish no worse than second.
Kopp’s teammate Max Whale (No. 18 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 450 SX-FFE), finished off the podium for the first time this season with a fourth-place effort. Gauthier, who is dealing with a partially torn ACL and MCL, finished fifth. Trevor Brunner (No. 21 Estenson Racing Yamaha YZ450F) finished sixth, just 0.420 seconds off the win, despite being forced to start from the back of the pack after using a provisional start to earn a spot in the Main.
Gauthier bounced back to take top honors in a barn-burning Sunday Main Event.
The drama to come was teased early on when Trevor Brunner (No. 21 Estenson Racing Yamaha YZ450F) got into the rear wheel of Saturday winner Morgen. Fortunately, both frontrunners escaped the contact unscathed.
Max Whale (No. 18 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 450 SX-FFE) wouldn’t be as lucky a couple minutes later when Brunner got into him and the Australian was sent off his bike and up into the Airfence.
Following the resulting red flag, there was barely a moment to breathe as the lead pack consisted of the entire field up until the two-minute mark. With one minute remaining on the clock, a seven-rider pack emerged – and one that somehow included both Whale and Brunner, who had fought their way together up from back row starting position at the restart.
Mischler opened up a slight advantage to open the final lap but was pulled back in by the chasing group as they charged to the flag. Gauthier nipped past his teammate at the last possible moment, edging ahead of Mischler at the flag by just 0.029 seconds to earn his first win of the season.
2019 class champ Gauthier said, “Me and my teammate worked together perfectly in the race. My last corner on the last lap was my best of the entire race. I really focused on that and needed to do it to get the win. I think we’re only going to get better from here. I need to make up some points, so I really needed this win.”
Whale got his revenge by securing the final spot on the box, taking third ahead of title leader Kody Kopp (No. 12 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 450 SX-FFE) and Brunner.
Rookie ace Chase Saathoff (No. 106 American Honda/Progressive Insurance CRF450R) finished in sixth with 2017 Red Mile winner Kevin Stollings (No. 99 Roof Systems/Ice Barn Honda CRF450R) ending up in seventh despite finishing just 0.639 seconds back of the win.
Next Up: Progressive AFT will go from wide-open drafting battles to close-quarters clashes at the Progressive Laconia Short Track presented by MOMS, at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire, on Saturday, June 11. Gates will open for fans at 12:30 p.m. ET/9:30 a.m. PT with Opening Ceremonies scheduled to begin at 4:00 p.m. ET/1:00 p.m. PT ahead of the evening’s Main Event program. Visit https://store.americanflattrack.com/ebooking/ticket/view/id/3692/ to reserve your tickets today.
photos by Tim Hailey, story by Hailey and AFT