2021 Threat Matrix, Part 2: Daniels Dives Deep Ahead of Title Defense

Last season, Dallas Daniels overthrew the established order in the AFT Singles class. Long revered for its unpredictability and deep roster of potential race winners, the Estenson Racing prodigy grew into a virtually unstoppable force during his first full season as a professional, winning eight of 15 races and running away with the title.

Still just 17 years old and not technically old enough to graduate to twin-cylinder competition, Daniels will be back to defend the #1 plate in 2021. But even though he should only continue his stratospheric trajectory as a rider, he’s got a target on his back big enough to be seen from outer space and his rivals are salivating at the prospect of a rematch.

Daniels said, “I guess you could say there's a little bit of pressure, just because no one has ever won back-to-back Singles titles, at least since AFT took over the series. But to be honest, this is only my second pro year. I'm only 17. In my opinion, I still have a lot to learn and a lot of room to grow and improve. Last year was obviously awesome and we got the championship, but I think we can be much better in 2021.

“I've been training pretty hard. I spent the first part of the winter down at Johnny Lewis' and trained there for a little bit. And then I was able to move to Palm Coast, which is real close to Daytona Beach, and train with JD Beach, Kolby Carlile, and Davis Fisher. I stayed in a rental house and learned from them. They're all obviously in really good shape. And then I was able to go to the motocross track and ride with Briar Bauman and Jared Mees -- obviously the top athletes of our sport. I feel more prepared than I've ever been.”

When asked if he could point to a rider or two that he saw as his biggest competition heading into the new season, Daniels was stumped (“It's really hard to pinpoint one guy. The class is so stacked.”).

Instead, he went down the list of what is unquestionably a talent-laded roster.

The Veterans


Photo: Red Bull KTM Factory Race Team

Max Whale  (No. 18 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 450 SX-F)

“Max is a top-notch rider and he’s going to be on top-notch equipment with top-notch people behind him over at Red Bull KTM Factory Racing. Even though he finished second in the championship last year, we didn't race together all that much -- I never found myself in a big battle with him other than Springfield and DAYTONA a little bit. But when he came over to the States his last year in Amateur Nationals, and I was able to race with him quite a bit. He's obviously got a few more years of AFT under his belt now, and he's grown tremendously. He's going to be even tougher now that he's with the factory KTM team.”

Henry Wiles (No. 17 American Honda/United Rentals CRF450R)

“With riders like Wiles, the AFT Singles class isn't a stepping stone any more -- it's a full-on Expert class. He's the winningest TT rider in the history of our sport. Henry is obviously tough no matter the bike or the team... He's an outstanding dirt tracker and he'll make it work. I think he'll be even better this year, growing with the Honda team and getting more notes.

“(Peoria) I think will be fun. Henry has obviously shown that he knows what he's doing there and he's got some secrets. I'm just looking to go there and learn and treat it like any other race. Obviously, I want to win, and I won there in 2019 and got my first professional win. If I had to guess, I'd say that's going to be a really tough race against Henry for sure.”

Mikey Rush (No. 15 Estenson Racing Yamaha YZ450F)

“Mikey was doing really well at the beginning of the year, but right in the middle of the season he started having some problems with his body that set him back a little bit. And obviously, he had a mechanical problem at the Indy Mile and crashed at Springfield. All that set him back, but he's going to be tough this season. He's got more notes and he's been doing a lot of testing and training this offseason. He's another one just like Henry -- a really good athlete who's won Grand Nationals. Those guys are tough every time the green flag drops.”

Morgen Mischler (No. 13 Roof Systems DFW/Duffy Fleet Services KTM 450 SX-F)

“If you look back, Morgen's been in the mix for a long time. He's got a lot of racecraft, especially on the big clay ovals. I'm pretty sure he's with the same team again this year, so they'll continue to grow. He'll be tough on the type of tracks he excels at. I'm pretty sure we'll see some more good races between him and me like we did last year.”

Shayna Texter-Bauman  (No. 52 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 450 SX-F)

“Unfortunately, she had a down year. All of us have had bad races, bad years, or whatever. I don't think it's the end of Shayna or anything like that. She'll bounce back and she'll be a contender like she was in 2019. 2020 was kind of a weird season for all of us, including me winning the title. I think there's a bit of an asterisk next to my name since we didn't have any TTs or anything. I want to go out there and win the championship with the schedule a little more back to normal. She'll be tough like always.”

The Rising Stars

Trent Lowe (No. 48 Suzuki Motor of America/WBR RM-Z450)

“I grew up racing against Trent Lowe since we were on 65s, along with Jeremiah Duffy, who races Production Twins now. I've raced with him for a long, long time. Trent has now joined Wally Brown Racing on the Suzuki. That's a really good bike and a really good team. Trent is a good rider, and I think he had a few podiums last year. He'll continue to get better and better.”

Brandon Kitchen (No. 105 Husqvarna Motorcycles/Vance & Hines)

“It took Brandon a little while to get out of his local district when he was an Amateur. The only time I really raced with him was our last year in Amateur Nationals in 2018. He’s now on Husqvarnas, still kinda doing it himself like he has been, but he's been improving constantly. I expect after winning a race last year, he'll be a top-five championship contender in 2021.”

Trevor Brunner (No. 21 American Honda/United Rentals CRF450R)

“I raced with him a little bit on 80s and 250s. It took him a little while to get out of his district as well, but once he did, I raced with him at Amateur Nationals every year. He's on the Honda team with some really good guys behind him and some good motorcycles. He showed what he could do last year as a rookie. It’s kind of funny; I think as a rookie he won his sixth race and I won my sixth race, and we both finished 11th in points and got Rookie of the Year. We had pretty much the same rookie season. So I expect him to be another tough competitor, along with his teammates (Wiles and Cole Zabala).

Kody Kopp (No. 143 Smartop/Jones Honda/Latus Motors CRF450R)

“Obviously, Kody, with his dad being Joe Kopp, he's no slouch. Years ago, I spent some time with him. My dad worked for factory Triumph, and we went and stayed at their house and stuff. I watched Kody come up through the Amateur ranks on 250s, 450s, and now turning professional. It's funny -- I remember my dad telling me when I was a little kid beating some of the older pro guys, he'd say, ‘Someday you're going to have to race against yourself, and you're going to have a little guy coming to beat you.’ It’s not quite like that -- Kody is only a year younger than me, but I kind of see myself in him in some ways. He goes to some of these races and just cleans house. He's going to be tough for sure, and he's on a good bike with a good team behind him.”

The List Goes On…

Jared Lowe (No. 243 Lowe Racing/Babylon Racing Honda CRF450R)

Ian Wolfe (No. 157 I.S.W. Racing/Shelly Smith & Sons Towing Honda CRF450R)

Jacob Cascio (No. 121 Jackson Rancheria/Cascio Racing Yamaha YZ450F)

Hunter Bauer (No. 124 NKR Canada/Waters Autobody Racing KTM 450 SX-FFE)

Aiden RoosEvans (No. 26 Waters Autobody Racing KTM 450 SX-FFE)

Ryan Wells (No. 94 1st Impressions Race Team Honda CRF450R)

Tanner Dean (No. 38 1st Impressions Race Team Honda CRF450R)


“It's good to see because we have quite a few rookies coming in -- Jared Lowe, Ian Wolfe, Jacob Cascio, Hunter Bauer, who’s a fast kid from Canada -- it's good for the sport to see the young talent coming in in big groups like there are.

“You’ve also got Aiden RoosEvans moving to Waters Autobody -- they'll be a good effort. 1st Impressions is now turning into a real strong Singles team having two riders the caliber of Ryan Wells and Tanner Dean and good bikes. And I'm definitely forgetting some because there are just so many riders who could win a race.”

Dallas Daniels (No. 1 Estenson Racing Yamaha YZ450F)

“On Facebook everybody is like ‘This guy is on a new bike, he's going to be tough, and this guy is on a new team, this guy has a new mechanic…’ But to be honest, everybody gets better every single year. We all get faster and faster. All I can do is worry about my program and do everything I can to make myself a top-notch rider and try to defend my title. If I worry about all these other guys, by the time I figure it out, it'll be too late. So I just make sure my body and my mind are prepared and everything else will come.”