Castle Rock TT Race Recap: AMA Pro Harley-Davidson Insurance Expert Singles
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (August 7, 2012) - Following a short trip up the coast from Sacramento, Calif., the Castle Rock TT ended AMA Pro Flat Track's first West Coast swing of 2012 and signaled the end of the first half of the AMA Pro Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Championship presented by Motorcycle-Superstore.com and Lucas Oil.
The night was a big "homecoming" for Sammy Halbert (Fredericktown Yamaha) along with several other series regulars, but it was Halbert, who had started his motorcycle racing career on the slick little TT, who came out on top.
Halbert returned home with a Castle Rock GNC winning streak alive, the track was the site of his first GNC win in 2007 and last year's race. No GNC races were held at Castle Rock in 2008, '09 and '10.
Good starts were the key to success at the Mount St. Helens Race Park. That's exactly what Sammy Halbert got on his Yamaha YZ450F.
"We pulled some great holeshots in the Dash for Cash and main event. It feels so good to win again in front of the hometown crowd," said Halbert. "It's a big boost in the arm for our program. It feels awesome to win it on the new Yamaha. I was riding my 2012 fuel injected Yamaha 450 and it was working great."
When the 18 rider field hit turn one for the 25-lap national, Halbert was in the lead, but just as quickly, the red lights flashed on when Brandon Robinson (Action Motorsports) and Mikey Rush (Machette Energy Drinks) tangled in turn two. Both would make the restart, but Robinson pulled off seven laps into the race.
While the restart did not affect Halbert, current AMA Pro Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Championship points leader Jared Mees (Montgomeryville Cycle / National Cycle) benefited greatly from it. Mees had been mired in about sixth place on the first start, but came out right on Halbert's rear wheel the second time around.
"That was most of the race, but you still had to put it together," said Halbert. "You had to go fast and get on the straightaway good. It was really tricky getting onto the front stretch. If you messed up right there, someone could definitely get a wheel on you and make a pass. I had to make a pass in the heat race there. Luckily I kept it smooth and didn't make any big mistakes for the win."
Mees was charging hard, as he had defending Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Champion Jake Johnson (Zanotti Racing) breathing down his neck.
"When I settled down, I started making some good corners. I had a really good line coming into one with that tight left," said Mees. "I was making huge gains there. I was right there and he (Halbert) went into that tight three and got a hold of a hay bale with his foot. It flung out and I came around and smacked right into it. I about went over the bars."
A couple times it sounded like he maybe wasn't right on me, but I never looked back," said Halbert. "I just assumed he was there and kept my head down and rode as hard as I could. It was a little bit of a moment when I hit the hay bales and the next lap around there was hay all over the track. I was a little scared to go through it, but everything was fine."
Johnson's race turned somewhat boring as he lost contact with the leaders.
"It was all about the start tonight. I came off third and just kind of stayed there," said Johnson. "Sammy, Jared and me just all kind of stayed even for about the first half of the race."
"Once Jared got away from me, I saw he was putting a charge on Sammy. There was nothing I could do. I was just on survival mode," said Johnson. "It was getting pretty slick. I was just trying to keep it on two wheels and not throw it away."
Sammy Halbert's older brother Jethro was also enjoying the home cooking and recorded his best Grand National finish of 2012, a fourth. "I really thought I could hang with the top-three guys, but I started fading a little bit," said Halbert.
"I don't think I quite had the motor of those guys. It was a good, fun race. Jimmy Wood's / Southland Fabricating bike was working really good. The track was a little bit follow the leader and I'm just glad I got off with a decent start. I'm happy with a top-five. With about five laps to go I started having an issue through the sweeper and Stevie Bonsey, Joe Kopp and JD Beach got right on my back, but I held them off."
Their little war brought them up to challenge Jethro but he was able to withstand the onslaught, all four finished within a second. Beach was able to make the biggest move coming from an 11th on lap one to finish fifth over Bonsey and temporarily un-retired Joe Kopp.
"I just got an ok start. I got in line with everybody and just tried to work my way forward," said Beach. "When people would slip up, I was trying to sneak by them and not leave too much room on the inside for the guys behind me to do it. I ended up fifth so it wasn't too bad. I was trying to get Jethro at the end. I think if I maybe had one or two more laps, I could have. I just wasn't close enough, soon enough."
"The starting line is probably 50% of the battle. It's a follow the leader track," said Bonsey. "If you can make a pass here, you can pass anywhere. We got in that group and we kind of stuck where we were at. Bryan Smith slipped up so I got under him. I was chasing down Jethro the whole time. Every lap I would get a little more loose as my tire was going away. I came into the left hander after the jump and threw it sideways and I knew that somebody was going under me. I felt somebody behind me. JD got under me and I thought, oh man. They are so fast, if you give them an inch they will take it. It was a good race. We came up here not expecting much. I've been doing all my own stuff right now. I'm happy with sixth."
Crowd favorite, Joe Kopp made a one-time return to the series as it came to his "home" track.
"I got a pretty good start from the third row in the main event. It was hard to pass. I was just kind of following guys. I was seeing who I was following and picking one of them," said Kopp. "I guess after you get away for a while, the hardest part of coming back is turn one on the first lap, turn one and turn two. All I wanted to do was get to the race, the green flag. It is just that turn one off the start is just crazy. Let's just do a rolling start. Later, I had a pretty good rhythm going with JD and Bonsey. I didn't know how far we were working up, but we kept getting a couple here and there. I thought I got like eleventh, I'll take seventh."
Kopp earned the event's MotoBatt "Hard Charger Award." The cash award goes to the rider who advances the most positions during each expert main event.
Jeffrey Carver (Carver's BBQ / Twigg Cycles) slipped out of a top five position to finish eighth over Brad Baker (The Brothers Powersports) and Briar Bauman (Rod Lake Racing / USC Racing) filling out the top 10. Bauman currently leads the Saddlemen Rookie of the Year points fund against rivals Mikey Avila and Mikey Martin.
Castle Rock marks the mid-point of the 2012 AMA Pro Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Championship presented by Motorcycle-Superstore.com and Lucas Oil season with eight races down and eight to go. Sammy Halbert becomes the first GNC rider to record two wins as the ultra competitive class has a large field of contenders.
Halbert's dominate performance has allowed him to creep back into the points race despite his big get off in Springfield that left him with only one point for the day. Mees is still the man on top and a solid night only helps build his confidence.
"After fast qualifying and winning my heat, I was really looking forward to winning this race," said Mees. "We will take second and move onto Peoria next weekend.
Jake Johnson has thus far been winless, but podium finishes have the defending Grand National Champion in second in the points.
"To come out third, it feels pretty good. We had fast heat and sat on the pole," said Johnson. "Jared got his four points back this week. Hopefully I can take four back next week. It's going to be tough. It's going to be a fight to the end. We are all on our game right now. We are going to have to sit around and wait for somebody to make a mistake. I was hoping it would get a little bit easier, but it's not looking that way. "