Jared Mees: The Grandmaster

Every Progressive American Flat Track season is a story unto itself. And on nine separate occasions that epic tale ended with Jared Mees crowned the Grand National Champion – a number never bettered and only once previously managed so famously by the legendary Scott Parker.

There’s been a great deal of variance in those nine Mees championship scripts. Some were grinding affairs, pieced together by whatever points necessary, such as a winless maiden GNC earned back in 2009.

Others were towering showcases of individual brilliance, as was the case with his twin 10-win runaways of 2017 and 2018, earned by 89- and 93-point margins, respectively.

In some years, the spotlight has been shared and in others monopolized. Some were about the climb, some about the reign. Others still were stories of redemption and reclamation, such as in 2021 when he returned to the throne despite contending with a devastating knee injury and after being edged for top honors by single digits in both 2019 and 2020.

The latest – #9 on the historic championship list – was, quite simply, a masterpiece. 2023 was defined by its drama, relentless virtuoso performances, and the compelling narrative of an established master confronting the challenge of a prodigious rival.

To stay on top, Mees was forced to somehow raise his game, a grim reality that was made apparent to the factory Indian pilot from the start when Estenson Racing’s emerging Mission SuperTwins ace, Dallas Daniels, ripped off a pair of convincing victories to open the season under the lights at Daytona International Speedway.

And that was merely the opening salvo in an early-season run that saw Daniels score three wins without finishing any worse than second over the year’s opening eight rounds.

“Yeah, for sure, he came out swinging,” Mees said. “Daytona was a little bit of a struggle for me, and he went out and banged off some wins.

“I knew that he was going to be tough for sure, but it was a little bit of a surprise how consistent he was. At the Arizona TT, we were running really good, but we had a little bit of a problem with the front brake (and ended up sixth). Basically, I knew right then, I've got to nail the podiums and win whenever I can from here on out. I need to capitalize at all the events that were going to be good for me – the Miles and Half-Miles.

“I had to make them all count.”

Mees did exactly that. He matched Daniels’ pace and intensity and took it up a notch further. In the end, he sat atop the standings boasting nine victories and 15 podiums – the final 14 taken in succession.

His average finish of 2.1 was the second best in modern Progressive AFT history, outdone only by his overwhelming Indian debut season in 2017 and accomplished despite Daniels’ near-constant presence at the front.

The monster year upped his running tallies to 72 GNC Main Event victories (third all-time), 37 Half-Mile wins (most all-time), 27 Mile wins (third all-time), and nine Grand National Championships (tied for most all-time).

The numbers alone already build a convincing case in Mees’ claim for consideration as the “Greatest of All Time.”

Of course, that mythical title is earned by more than just statistics. Heroes are defined as much by their nemeses as they are by the end results.

In this sense, Parker is fortunate to have battled head-to-head for a generation with a fellow GOAT contender in Chris Carr – a rivalry that ranks as among the most revered in all of motorsports.

Mees too has been fortunate in this sense, but in a contrasting fashion. His time at the top has spanned multiple generations of Hall of Fame antagonists (a role he’s too played so ably for a select few of his archrivals).

“What's really awesome and rewarding, is whoever has stood in my way, I’ve had to figure out how to get there and beat them. (Kenny) Coolbeth. Jake Johnson. (Sammy) Halbert. Bryan Smith. Briar (Bauman). Dallas.

“Whoever it is during each time frame defines how you have to step up and get better.”

As such, Mees has relentlessly improved his skills over the years to both take full advantage of his relative strengths and minimize his relative disadvantages in any given rivalry, to the point that one-time weaknesses become HoF-worthy strengths that can be exploited to gain the upper hand on the subsequent challenger standing in his path.

He explained, “With Bryan, he was so strong on the Miles, I was always praying for Short Tracks and TTs because those were his weak spots. And then here comes Briar. And Briar, I wouldn't say he struggles on the Miles, but that was his weakest point. Being able to always step up and get the job done with whoever you are battling with is always rewarding.”

The stats back it up. At the end of the 2016 season – arguably the height of his rivalry with Smith and the year of Smith’s career-defining Grand National Championship triumph – Mees owned just three career Mile wins (he actually had more Grand National Championships than Mile wins at the time). Since then – after vanquishing Smith in 2017 and 2018, and then squaring off with Bauman for the #1 plate in 2019-2022 – he’s radically upped that mark to 27.

Daniels posed a threat of another sort with his ability to find his way to victory contention week-after-week-after-week, providing no reliable opportunities to truly flex any discipline-centric superiority.

Understanding his young rival would inevitably be in contention at the checkered flag, Mees had to turn to another tool he’s sharpened over the years – the ability to close.

“(Daniels) went almost half the season with the worst position being a second. That was like, 'Man, I've got to get something here.’

“I think I've been getting pretty good at the scraps. It's just digging down deeper and deeper, moving around on the racetrack. Experience helps. It's been a really good development for me to win those scraps.

“I wouldn't say I’m able to exactly stay calm in those situations, but yeah, definitely, in a fight to the end, I know when the heart rate is rising, you just stay as calm as you possibly can.”

Again, the stats back it up. A great deal of the aforementioned Mile turnaround is due to his ability to come out on top of the close ones rather than fall just short as he so often did earlier in his career.

On 41 occasions Mees has finished on the podium at a Mile after engaged in a final-lap showdown for victory. He won just one time in the first 19 of those. He’s now won 16 of the most recent 22.

That ability to come through in the clutch proved the difference in 2023, as his nine wins came by margins of 0.033, 0.042, 0.174, 0.340, 0.573, 0.609, 0.753, 1.107, and 1.377 seconds (five over Daniels, three over Bauman, and one over Brandon Robinson, Daniels, and Bauman). By contrast, he came up short just twice (once to Daniels and once to Bauman) with a victory on the line.

Those nine nail-biting wins ultimately paved the path to a history-equaling ninth Grand National Championship.

Earning a history-making tenth will likely require Mees to dig even deeper and perform at an even higher level, if indeed, humanly possible. Daniels is only going to keep improving as he continues to learn from his clashes with Mees, while the one-year reprieve Bauman offered while acclimating to unfamiliar KTM equipment is now firmly in the past, best evidenced by his season-ending victory at the Springfield Mile.

“I wasn't surprised that (Daniels) succeeded and ran up front, but man, his first time off the podium was at Peoria due to a rock that was in his way. All in all, he had a great season. I know he wanted to win the championship, but I'd be pretty happy with my season if I was him for sure.

“And when Briar, who I was battling with, left to do his own thing, you know, I kinda felt he’d have some moments when he would be tough. But I knew that for him to come out on a brand-new bike and be a championship threat, I didn't think that would be the case. I knew he would have some struggles, and he did. But to be honest, I think Briar did even better than I anticipated. I figured he'd have some breaks and malfunctions and DNFs because with new bikes that happens, and he didn't. So hats off to him and his team.”

While immortality is almost within his grasp, it’s also in the long-range sights of Daniels and Bauman. Their incentive is not to witness Mees make history, but rather make their own, especially while presented with the chance to overcome a grandmaster of his status.

No, a tenth Grand National Championship will not come easily. But that’s how you make your legend. That’s how you make your case if you hope to go down as the Greatest of All Time.