Editorial: Bauman's Back on Top - But Was He Ever Not?

Bad News Boys, Bauman’s Back!

Bad news for the contenders to the throne, reigning two-time Grand National Champion Briar Bauman is back.

But then again, did he ever really go anywhere?

Much was made (including here) of the fact that Bauman -- a superstar with aspirations of going down as one of the best to ever do it -- entered this past weekend’s Texas Half-Mile lugging a eight-race winless streak.

There was an argument to be made that the defending champion was suddenly vulnerable -- or at least as vulnerable as he’d been since the start of the 2019 season. And that was an argument being supported by the factory Indian ace himself, who openly voiced his frustration while admitting that he had lacked a bit of “fire” in his riding as of late.

That burden was shed in style with a trademark victory in Joliet, as Bauman put his world back in order and then proclaimed himself officially back in business.

But the scariest part of this from the opposition’s view is the fact that what’s been considered a concerning slump for Bauman would be viewed as a tear to celebrate for almost anyone else in the Mission SuperTwins presented by S&S Cycle category.

As important as Bauman’s numerous victories have been over the past two-plus seasons, his championship runs weren’t completely centered around them... how could they have been when his chief rival, Jared Mees, owns two more race wins than Bauman over the latter’s twin titles?

Photo: Dean Phelps

Rather than sporadic greatness, Bauman’s reign has been built on a grinding excellence that wears away the competition over the course of a season.

Even during his eight-race drought, Bauman racked up six podiums and finished no worse than fourth. Going back a bit further, he hasn’t finished lower than fourth in 14 straight races, and only finished worse than fourth on five occasions over his last 43 races.

Since the start of the 2019 championship, Bauman owns a stunning 84% podium strike rate. And that percentage is approximately 90% if you throw out the 2019 season finale -- when he’d already locked up the title and didn’t need to do anything -- and the 2020 season finale -- when all he needed to do was roll around safely to lock up a second-straight title.

That consistency allowed Bauman to control the ‘19 championship from start to (early) finish. It saw him go back and forth with Mees until the midpoint of ‘20, at which point Bauman assumed control and never relinquished it. And now it has seen him take the reins of the title race for the first time in 2021.

The vice has clamped down on a third-consecutive championship and is slowly tightening. If Mees, JD Beach, Jarod Vanderkooi, Brandon Robinson, or anyone else hopes to keep pace -- let alone derail -- Bauman’s steady march to another Grand National Championship, they had best be prepared to show up on the podium each and every week from here on out.