Editorial: New Mix-Up at the Top

It’s still early in the Progressive American Flat Track season. As in early early.

The next seven rounds will be waged over battlegrounds measuring either a Half-Mile or a Mile, the end of which the shape of the Mission SuperTwins presented by S&S Cycle title fight will be much better defined. But it’s not too early to glean some promising indications that we just might be in for a more unpredictable Grand National Championship than was widely expected prior to the start of the season.

Even if things haven’t gone exactly to plan for either, it seems unlikely too many are seriously reconsidering the preseason championship favorite status of reigning double champ Briar Bauman and his great rival, Jared Mees.

That said, there is a heightened sense of vulnerability… Or perhaps more accurately, a greater opportunity for others to show the factory Indian aces a wheel and join the fray up front.

Bauman continues to be a constant force at the front, every single night. That said, he’s admitted to some degree of frustration as his win drought has stacked up eight races deep, dating back to last September’s Dallas Half-Mile II.

Mees is now dealing with a knee that he tweaked significantly enough to effectively prevent him from competing, let alone at a front-running level. Mees is fortunate to be less than two wins away from reclaiming the championship lead. That said, it is critically important for his title hopes that he heals up over the next couple of weeks to the degree that no more damage is done.

Most tellingly, neither Bauman nor Mees leads in the points. A season ago, following three rounds, Mees and Bauman ranked 1-2, separated by just two points but with the third-ranked rider an immediate 15 points removed from the championship lead.

Instead, the rider who looks down from the top of the points order is one JD Beach. While plenty predicted that the Estenson Racing ace would put Yamaha back atop the podium at the Atlanta Super TT, far fewer would have guessed he’d be controlling the title fight after doing so.

Beach remains an underdog from a full-season perspective, but allowing even a slight possibility that this championship fight could get turned on its head completely is more than most were willing to do back in early March.

Brandon Robinson hoped to finish as high as fifth or sixth in Atlanta and get out of the season’s first TT with a pretty healthy points haul. Instead, he failed to land inside the top ten. Still, as it turns out, the Mission Roof Systems pilot remains nicely positioned heading into the aforementioned seven-race run of Half-Miles and Miles. As it stands, Robinson ranks third, just five points off Bauman and one point up on Mees, the riders who continue to be his measuring sticks for success going forward.

Meanwhile, Sammy Halbert and Jarod Vanderkooi came into 2021 with dark horse championship aspirations. They’re both well-rounded riders with the skills to step up to genuine championship contention if everything goes just right.

So far, things have gone right enough, at least. Halbert continues to string together consistently strong results, a minor improvement of which would put the Coolbeth-Nila Racing runner right in the mix.

Vanderkooi has flashed the potential to take huge strides this season as he adapts to the Indian, particularly when he sliced up and dusted Bauman and Halbert en route to a career-best runner-up finish.

The next “moment of truth” is coming up fast with May 22’s Mission Foods Texas Half-Mile pres. by Roof Systems on the horizon. It’ll be a chance for Bauman and/or Mees to reassert their dominance over the series, and a chance for everyone else to keep us all guessing for at least a little bit longer.