American Flat Track saw a historic win streak retained despite stiff competition in front of a packed house at the Illinois State Fairgrounds to watch the AFT Twins presented by Vance & Hines contest the Harley-Davidson Springfield Mile I.
Young Max Whale from Gympie in Queensland added some Australian flavour to the event by making the big trip Stateside where the teenager competed in the Amateur Open Singles class, which he won, as well as the Amateur 450 class, with a crash in the heat race slowing his progress.
“Just done my first race meeting in America, stoked to have won the Amateur Open Singles at Springfield TT. Unfortunately I crashed in the heat race in the Amateur 450 which put me into the semi. I won the semi which put me on the back row for the final and I ended 5th in the main.”
The streak in question belongs to Bryan Smith, who pulled off a third successive Mile miracle aboard his No. 1 Indian Motorcycle Racing backed by Allstate Scout FTR750. The victory was the defending Grand National Champion’s fourth race win in a row overall, making him just the fifth rider in series history to accomplish that feat.
It certainly did not come easily on Saturday afternoon. Smith hoped to make an escape at the start, building up more than a half-second advantage early on before rival Jared Mees (No. 9 Indian Motorcycle Rogers Racing Scout FTR750) slowly reeled him back in.
Soon enough, the third member of the Indian Wrecking Crew, Brad Baker on the No. 6 Indian Motorcycle Racing backed by Allstate Scout FTR750, followed suit.
Adding a bit of spice to the lead pack following a pair of Indian podium lockouts were the respective arrivals of Davis Fisher (No. 67 Bob Lanphere Beaverton Motorcycles Kawasaki Ninja 650) and Sammy Halbert (No. 69 Estenson Logistics Yamaha FZ-07).
In fact, Halbert looked like he might have something for all comers on this day. He continually built up speed as the track came around to his bike set-up, enabling him to throw down the race’s fastest lap (34.571) with six to go.
The next man destined to join the fight up front looked to be Springfield master Kenny Coolbeth (No. 2 Harley-Davidson Factory Flat Track Team XG750R). The Main Event was shaping up to be a significant uptick in form for the entire works Harley-Davidson crew with all three riders battling in strong position, led by Coolbeth, who was sixth and closing with the laps winding down.
Unfortunately, a freak incident between Coolbeth and teammates Jake Johnson (No. 5 Harley-Davidson Factory Flat Track Team XG750R) and Brandon Robinson (No. 44 Harley-Davidson Factory Flat Track Team XG750R) dashed the hopes for the Factory trio. A red flag then flew, setting the stage for a six-lap shootout for victory.
Once the race was back underway, Halbert continued to demonstrate race-changing pace and led as the pack took the white flag. Title hopeful Mees dove underneath to slot into first as they entered Turn 1 and held the advantage coming back onto the front straight.
However, he found himself outmaneuvered yet again by Smith, who went around the outside of Halbert on the backstraight and then rocketed off Turn 4 just behind Mees in the decisive run to the stripe.
Smith, Mees, and Halbert took the checkered flag practically three abreast, with the photo finish giving Smith the nod by 0.005 of a second over Mees. Halbert, meanwhile, snapped the run of Indian 1-2-3s in third position, just another 0.039 seconds back.
After discovering he had won, Smith took the checkered flag in his hand and did a reverse victory lap in honor of the late Nicky Hayden.
The victory was the 30th AFT Twins presented by Vance & Hines victory of Smith’s career – including eight at the Springfield Mile.
“I’ve never won here at Springfield by being able to get away, so I put my head down (at the start). I was hoping to break away but I saw Jared trying to reel me in so I chilled. I wasn’t sure if we were cooking the tire or not. In the shootout, Sammy got up there and made it interesting for me and Jared. Heck, I didn’t know who won until I came around and they handed me the checkered flag.”
Despite narrowly missing out once again, Mees picked up another big points bounty for his title campaign. His season tally now reads two firsts, three seconds, and one third.
“Honestly, if I was to do it all over again, that’s probably what I would have done again. I was getting through the corners really good and getting off really good. I just came up a little short – that’s how it is on these Miles. I wanted to lead it off Turn 4 really bad because I felt I was really strong there, but obviously, I was just a millisecond not strong enough.”
“For sure Estenson Racing put together a great bike for me – that Yamaha FZ-07 was running great, especially at the end. I was struggling a lot at the beginning and lost the lead draft, but as the track got faster and more hooked up, my set-up came in. I put in a lot of work to catch those guys before the red flag, but luckily I was able to get up to the front and lead a couple laps. I definitely had a shot at the win. I wish I would have played my cards a little differently, but I’m stoked to get up here on the box.”
Baker came home a close fourth, while a very racy Fisher scored his best result of 2017 to round out the top five.
Next Saturday night American Flat Track will complete its run of four Miles in four weeks with the Red Mile in Lexington, Kentucky, on June 3.
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