Janisch’s Title Triumph a Story of Fast Friends
Even in this year’s Mission Production Twins presented by Vance & Hines championship – one in which six different riders earned victories and another six came within fractions of a second of wins of their own – it was evident early on that the title fight was a two-way affair.
Yet despite being born just two days apart and their shared history as riders long overlooked and underestimated, reigning champion Cory Texter and primary challenger Jesse Janisch were fueled by diametric motivations.
Texter, who’d already reeled in the ‘19 and ‘21 class crowns and cemented himself as the category’s all-time winningest rider, announced his intention to retire at the end of season. From that point on, his campaign was a quest to walk away on top.
Janisch, meanwhile, was decades into a racing career that spanned dirt track, roadracing, supermoto, motocross, hillclimb, and grass drag racing. After previously making his name as a TT extraordinaire, Jesse was only a half-season removed from being relegated to the couch, called up for spot duty late in the ‘21 season by Vance & Hines to sub for the injured Dalton Gauthier.
He impressed mightily in that stint, earning himself a full season’s ride in ‘22 as a result. With additional time on the team’s Harley-Davidson XG750R under his belt, Janisch knew he had a realistic chance at finally earning his first professional title even as Texter sought his last.
That set the two on a high-stakes collision course for top honors – one that could be seen even from the far away vista of the preseason.
While the season played out to those expectations, with the two engaged in a season-long, bar-to-bar struggle of rollercoastering fortunes that went down to the final race, it was strangely absent on acrimony.
In fact, it was not just civil, but actually quite… pleasant?
The foundation for that unlikely outcome was established before the season even began. Despite understanding his championship ambitions almost certinaly ran through Texter, Janisch put the rival in his circle rather than in his sights. The two trained and dined together in Florida as part of a larger contingent of Progressive American Flat Track aces who push and motivate one another while preparing for the season ahead.
“In the offseason, quite a few riders make their way down here to Florida,” Janisch said. “Honestly, a lot of us are training together. Me, Cory, and Trent Lowe would bicycle and go riding and stuff. Obviously, our sport is kind of a small, tight-knit community. Almost every Friday, we had a group ride that went down to James Rispoli's house, that included me, C-Tex, Trent, James, Max Whale, Kody Kopp, Briar Bauman, Shayna (Texter-Bauman), Jarod Vanderkooi... We had a good group ride that was fun.
“Obviously, bicycling with C-Tex -- he's in really good shape. He has a lot of years under his belt and that really helps with cycling. For me it was good, because he's so good at it and I'm pretty new to it. Obviously, I wanted to be able to keep up and not just get my butt kicked. That helped push me, probably more than it helped push him.
“It was fun to work together in the offseason. It was fun to hang out. We're both pretty laid back. I enjoy being friends with people I race against. For me, it was good to hang out and go to dinner a bunch and stuff like that.”
That mutual respect somehow survived the crucible of a season that put them in direct conflict not just in the standings, but on track on more than one occasion.
“We stayed friends throughout the year. It was nice to know we were able to pretty much race each other super clean all year and never have any issues.
“It's definitely a two-way street. You just have to be realistic and be able to put yourself in the other guy’s position. I got a little aggressive with him at Rapid City – didn't hit him or anything but kinda took away the line. I said something to him afterward just to make sure it was all good.
“And in Wisconsin he got into me. But I screwed up off the corner and it's tough to pass there, plus he was riding for a championship. I knew the position he was in. He had to pass me. Yeah, he hit me, but he should have. That's his job. I didn't get mad about it. He said something afterward, and I was like, 'We're all good. Good job.’”
Interestingly, when asked to name the ride from this past season that stands out to him, Jesse only counted his improbable ‘from-the-back-row’ win at Castle Rock as his second favorite. The race he was most proud of was the Lima Half-Mile, which was actually dominated and ultimately won by Texter.
The ride was representative of his continued development as an all-around racer, one whose ‘bad’ days are now good days by the measure of most riders. It’s the same growth that Texter had previously undergone and leveraged to win two titles and make his push for a third.
Janisch said, “Like I’ve said, I’m very realistic, so before the season even started, I knew where I would probably succeed and where I'd probably struggle. Lima was just one of those tracks where I've always struggled in the past on a 450, and I'd never been there on a twin.
“I really tried to make sure everything was going to go good on that day. I watched a lot of film and tried to see how other guys ride the bike there. A lot of research went into that one. It was great to get second there.”
Lima notwithstanding, Janisch generally had the measure of Texter in terms of pure pace this past season, a fact backed up by his record-tying tally of seven victories (to Texter’s five) and 13 podiums (to Texter’s 11). A couple of mechanically-induced DNFs kept things tight to the very end, whereas otherwise Janisch might have been in a position to lock up his long-sought after #1 plate early.
And yet, despite owning a nine-point advantage at the time, Jesse went into the doubleheader finale at Volusia Speedway Park with the sinking feeling that he was likely to see Texter end his career in dream fashion with a third Mission Production Twins title – a turn of events that would be nothing short of a nightmare for Janisch.
He’d allowed his rival to reclaim control of his own destiny by finishing third in his home state at the inaugural Cedar Lake Short Track, which elevated Texter to within a Volusia sweep away from the championship.
“It was pretty wild for me,” Janisch said. “He has a really, really good track history at Volusia, and quite frankly, I don't. I knew how well he can ride there, and I know his style on the racetrack. That lined up with Volusia entirely. It was the same thing in Wisconsin. Once I saw how the track was turning out there, I knew he was going to be good.
“Cory is really, really good when the track has a locked down groove. He's very fast racing those styles of tracks. Being 100% honest, I went into Volusia assuming I had like a 10% chance of getting the job done. I figured Cory would win both nights just because of how strong he is there.
“I had kind of talked myself into believing I was probably going to lose it. I don't know if that took off any pressure or not because I still put pressure on myself to do well.”
Instead, Janisch led from start to finish in a red-flagged-and-restarted Volusia Half-Mile I Main Event that saw six riders finish a second apart at the flag. Fortunately for Jesse, he was the first and Texter the sixth in that particular freight train.
That put the Vance & Hines pilot in a position to wave his competitors by and settle into a safe ride to eighth en route to the championship in the following night’s Volusia Half-Mile II, a race won by Texter in his swan-song effort.
So happy endings all around, right?
“For sure, but I wanted to win,” Janisch said with a laugh before adding, “It's probably a little bit better story with Jared (Mees) and Briar (Bauman) going at it, but whatever. There are different ways to win races and championships.
“Maybe there aren't headlines of us butting heads, but I still think there's a cool story there that we remained friends the whole time and were able to race clean and still have a very close championship.”
It’s a cool story, indeed, but only half of the complete tale of Janisch’s 2022 Progressive AFT season. He was also the top performer in this year’s Mission Production Twins Challenge, by which he claimed a spot inside the top ten in this year’s Mission SuperTwins presented by S&S Cycle championship standings.
That experience provided Janisch an opportunity to showcase his potential in the premier class ahead of the upcoming 2023 season that will see the two categories merged into one. The full extent of that potential, however, was masked in part by the circumstances, which included running two Mains in rapid succession, starting from the back of the field, and the need to balance both his championship aspirations and those of the SuperTwins regulars.
Still, it was a valuable endeavor and one that puts him in a stronger position should he line up on the Mission SuperTwins grid full time in ‘23.
“It was fun to race against some of those guys and see how they ride the bike and try to nitpick everything they do, even if it would be better to be closer to the front to be able to study Briar and Jared. I did get to battle a little with Brandon Robinson and Vanderkooi, which was cool. I even passed JD (Beach) at Red Mile... (he passed me back).
“Regardless, it was pretty cool just to be able to get towards the front and be able to ride with some of those guys. See what they were doing and know I was catching them starting from the fourth or fifth row. It was good to get out there and see where I rate against the top guys in SuperTwins and where I could get better.”
“It was fun. I enjoyed it. And I enjoyed the extra Mission sponsored money too.”
Whether or not he has a spot on the Mission SuperTwins grid next season is still to be determined as we’re still in the point of the Silly Season that’s more frustrating than silly.
One thing is certain… Jesse Janisch will be racing something, somewhere. Over the past couple of years, he added another discipline to his extensive repertoire when he got heavily into the regional off-road racing scene. His return to that sport following the end of the Progressive AFT season was measured not in months, weeks, or even days, but in hours.
“Last year, I did the first five rounds of the series down here. But the way my flat track contract was, once January 1st hit, then I was done racing offroad. Obviously, I focused on the AFT rounds with the Vance & Hines boys. I continued training off-road – that's the main way I ride a motorcycle, with trails and off-road stuff – but I wasn't racing.
“At Cedar Lake, I asked Terry (Vance) if I could go off-road racing again once the season was over. He said yeah, so the day after Volusia, I was at Round 1 of the Florida series. I was able to get over there and do some racing and still make the banquet that night.
“I had to pull off because I was only on like two hours sleep. I felt like my eyeballs were bouncing in my helmet because I was so tired.
“It's just fun. I really enjoy the challenge of it.”
Still, it’s hard to argue that Janisch hasn’t earned his place competing in the top category of the world’s premier dirt track series. Both he and the sport’s fans hope to see him there when the season kicks off at Daytona International Speedway on March 9.
“So far I don't have a ride lined up. During Silly Season, the top guys available get picked first. Even though I won the Production title, I'm not necessarily viewed in that top tier to be sought after. Guys like Jared and Briar, those are the guys who are most sought after first, so we need to wait for the dominos to fall.
“I do have a really good offer for a part-time SuperTwins ride, and I also have a really good part-time opportunity in the Singles class. Currently, the way silly season works, I don't have a full-time ride yet, but I'm working on one. We'll see if that one pans out or not.”