Lucas Oil Indy Mile Recap: AMA Pro Harley-Davidson Insurance Expert Twins
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (August 22, 2012) - Surrounded by hype and hoopla, round 10 of the AMA Pro Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Championship presented by Motorcycle-Superstore.com and Lucas Oil came to the Indiana State Fairgrounds at the end of the Indiana State Fair and smack in the middle of the Indianapolis MotoGP weekend. The near capacity crowd that turned out on the near perfect night, filling the grandstand and infield were treated to racing action that lived up to the hype and more.
Mile track racing normally requires speed, strategy and stamina, and all three once again came into play in the 25-lap Grand National. When the double checkered flags came out, it was South East Harley-Davidson's Sammy Halbert claiming a narrow victory over Werner Springsteen Racing's Brandon Robinson. Halbert would only lead three laps, but they were the final three laps.
The win gives Halbert a win in all four of the dirt track disciplines Mile, Half-Mile, Short Track and TT. "The grand slam feels awesome. We've been trying for a long time," said Halbert. 'We've come up a few inches short a few times, but this time we are on the other end of it. It feels great."
The race had started with defending AMA Pro Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Champion Jake Johnson getting the hole shot on his Zanotti Racing Harley-Davidson. Johnson held the point for six laps, but Bryan Smith pushed his Crosley Radio / Howerton Racing Kawasaki by on lap seven as he looked to repeat his Sacramento Mile dominance.
Johnson was pushing his Harley-Davidson for all it was worth in an attempt to keep even with Smith. On lap 11, it caught up with Johnson going into turn three when he lost his brake and hit the ground at over 100 mph. The red lights brought the field to a stop with 14 laps to go.
Johnson's night was done, but he would be credited with 15th as three riders had already succumbed to problems. The staggered restart saw Smith flash to the front with current points leader Jared Mees (Rogers Racing / Blue Springs Harley-Davidson) right on his heels. One lap later, Mees would have the lead as the field thundered across the line as Smith's Kawasaki was noticeably slowing. Smith would not finish another lap, stopping on the back straight with reported electrical problems.
Suddenly with the two front runners on the sidelines Robinson grabbed the lead. "It's a dream come true. Leading a national for the first time was pretty nerve racking," said Robinson. "I couldn't believe I was leading the Indy mile, it was insane."
Of course in typical mile racing he was not alone. Halbert, Mees and the hard charging Brad Baker (Dodge Brother Racing) were nipping at his heels. "When Bryan broke leaving me the only Kawasaki up front it made it a lot easier to control the tempo," said Robinson. "It was better not having to pass Bryan because his bike is super fast. He is in my opinion, the best miler on the circuit right now. Everything just played into my favor."
Halbert was able to take advantage of Robinson's relative inexperience late in the race. "On the restart my clutch was going out, so Jared got by me. Then Bryan broke, and I thought all right now we've got a shot at this," said Halbert. "Then another Kawasaki comes blowing by. I thought, 'How do we deal with this?' Luckily I don't think Brandon's was quite as fast. I was able to get by him. It was a late, late kind of stuff move, but the way the rule package is, not only does it suck to race against the Kawasakis, but it's dangerous. You have to really make risky moves to pass them. You have to pass them really late in the corner. That's why Jake went down. You have to risk it extra. We made it happen tonight. The bike was really hooked up and got the win."
Robinson was making his first start after his Castle Rock get off just two weeks ago. "The only thing that was in my mind was that I broke my scapula at Castle Rock and I'm racing four weeks early," said Robinson. "That was always in the back of my mind. I didn't want to fall. I had a lot of confidence coming into here. Once I got up front, it just felt natural again, like it did at Sacramento."
Halbert was able to lead off the last turn and hold off the screaming Kawasaki at the line by just .027 of a second. "It was a tough race. There were a lot of different emotions in that race," said Halbert. "In the beginning I was just bummed out because we were behind Bryan. There was nothing you could do. Jake was trying hard. He ran it inside hard and lost it. My strategy was just to follow Bryan. There was no way you were going to pass him out here. Even though he was slower in the corners, compared to us."
Just a breath back in third was Mees, maintaining his points lead. "I was trying to get by Robinson and then Sammy got by him," said Mees. "Sammy was hauling in the corners and I was thinking I needed to get by that Kawasaki so I could draft him. Then Robinson drafted back by me and he was running Sammy down. I wasn't able to get close enough to him to make the draft, I couldn't double draft them. I thought it was my race to win, but we ended up third. Robinson rode a good race, that bike is just so fast. It too bad for Jake, but it happens."
The battle for fourth went down to the wire with Baker, Kenny Coolbeth (Harley-Davidson Motor Company) and Henry Wiles (Foremost Insurance) fighting over the spot. It turned into a two rider race when Baker's Harley went off song in the last turn. The Harley-Davidson, Ducati battle went to Wiles and his Ducati.
"I was kind of hanging in there after the restart. I was just struggling a little bit getting off the corner," said Wiles. "That is the main problem that we had. It took us a little bit to get going in the beginning of the race. We were turning pretty decent lap times. It was exciting but we still have a few things we are working on to try to sort out on the bike. I was able to kind of draft up around with those guys. We were just right there. It seemed like I just struggled a little bit getting the bike off the corner, but I could keep them in sight."
"The bike was just trying to kill me in the heat race. We made some adjustments after that and it was way better," said Coolbeth. "I just had to knock the rust off a little. Riding with the Jap bikes is just crazy. I rode with the Ducati quite a bit in the main event and you couldn't do anything with it. It was like going 10 mph in the corners and down the straightaway it would just go. You could come off right on them and it would just kill you on the straightaway. Henry did something stupid going into one on the last lap and just about took me out. It's just racing, but I was just kind of mad about that because he didn't really need to do it. I came to win or I wouldn't have come here. I feel good and will go on to Springfield."
Earlier in the night, the four lap dash had gone to Smith as he edged Johnson and JD Beach (USC Kawasaki). Johnson's second place finish allowed him to pick up four points on Mees, who failed to qualify for the dash. The dash had four Kawasaki and two Harley-Davidson entries.
What looked like a big points night for Johnson went for naught with his fall down and Mees recovery for a third place finish. Halbert's win propelled him into second now 21 points back of Mees with Johnson seven more back. The points race has turned into a three rider battle as Smith sits in fourth 78 points off the lead.
The night's MotoBatt "Hard Charger" Award went to Robert Pearson for advancing 11 positions in the Main Event.