Not a One-Trick Pony: JD Beach Reflects
Was it fair to foist the burden of win-or-fail expectations upon a rider who finished 14th in last year’s Mission SuperTwins pres. by S&S Cycle championship, with an eighth place representing the lone finish better than tenth all season long?
Was it fair to brand him the heavy favorite as the anchor leg of a potentially historic all-class sweep?
You wouldn’t think so but judging by the results of the Yamaha Atlanta Super TT, yeah, as it turns out, it was.
Of course, summing up JD Beach by his 2020 results is a grossly inaccurate misrepresentation of an accomplished pilot -- one who has been blessed with an abundance of natural ability further honed by a relentless, blue-collar work ethic.
Still, the incongruence of expectations that saw him instantly yanked from afterthought to overdog weighed heavily on the Estenson Racing rider in the weeks leading up to the showdown at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
After securing the checkered flag to triumphantly conclude a pressure-filled night where even a runner-up result would have felt like some measure of disappointment, Beach looked more relieved than overjoyed. He even admitted to having been in a “dark spot” for a spell as he mentally braced for the event.
He explained, “It was just weird because it's not like I've never had that pressure to win before. I've won a lot of races, I've won titles. But it was just a hard feeling because it was almost like everybody counts me out not to win on Half-Miles and Miles and stuff like that. I'm just like pushed to the curb there, but then when it comes to this one certain track, it's like, 'Oh well, you're going to win this… there's no reason you can't win this,’ and all this stuff.
“It was a little hard to deal with. And it didn't help that we had almost two months of it with the break that we had. It was a little overwhelming.”
Beach credited his longtime trainer, Ty Kady, with helping him get his mind right in time to deliver.
“I've been working with him since 2014. He knows me well. He knows that I'm not scared to do the work. He also promotes pro mountain bike races, so he had a week where he was in Bentonville, Arkansas, doing a big race there. It was two weeks out from the (Atlanta Super TT), and I was just fried, mentally. I was stressing about it.
“I still rode and trained and stuff, but at the end of the week, I decided to take the weekend off, have some fun and regroup. I sent him a text, and I was telling him all this: 'I know you've been busy. I'm actually kinda glad that you didn't have anything hard on (the training schedule) because even though I still would have done it, I didn't need to.'
“He immediately called me and was like, ‘What's going on?’
“I explained to him all the pressure. He was like, ‘You have to put all that stuff behind you and focus on this. You need to prove that you're a race winner, and they can't doubt you no matter what kind of track it is. So go out there and show them what you can do.’”
“At that time when we talked, it really helped.”
It’s a good thing too because the pressure only continued to mount -- ironically -- as things went exactly to plan. Beach and his Estenson Racing Yamaha MT-07 DT set the pace from the opening session of Friday’s test day, setting a high bar that he battled to continuously clear the remainder of that day and into the next.
“Nine times out of ten... Nine-and-a-half times out of ten, I want to do a test day. But going into this race weekend, I knew we had a good bike. And then we went out for the first time, and within the first couple laps, I was three seconds quicker than the field.
“It was because I went out there and attacked the track and I believed in myself. It got to the point where I led the first session, and I led the second, and then the third. It kept going on, and so for me personally, I thought I had to lead everything.
“But these are top level guys, so every time we went out there, they were getting closer and closer. It got to where I was only a few tenths quicker. I was thinking, ‘All these laps that we're doing at the test, if we wouldn't have had this, race day would have been a lot easier.’”
Still, Beach continued to set the pace on race day -- topping practice, qualifying, his Semi, and the Mission Challenge. By the time the Main Event rolled around, the pressure was fully maximized after teammate Dallas Daniels had done his part, winning the AFT Singles and AFT Production Twins pres. by Vance & Hines Mains. That put Beach in position to complete the aforementioned historic three-class sweep for both Estenson Racing and Yamaha at its home round.
“That definitely was in my head for sure,” Beach admitted. “It was something that was talked about before the race weekend, and that was part of the reason why they put Dallas on the Production Twin, just to have the bike from our team in each class to try to get the wins.
“So, yeah, that was definitely in my mind before the Main Event. But as a racer, I was going out there to do a job for myself, and I wanted to get the win for myself.
“Fortunately, it all worked out and it wasn't me that dropped the ball for the whole team.”
All that pressure was vented not when Beach took the checkered flag, but rather when he released the clutch and got a dream start. Instead of a white-knuckle nerve-wracker, the race was, well, pretty much like a day at the beach.
“I was kinda expecting the Main to go a little differently just because all night, Sammy (Halbert) was fast, Kolby (Carlile) was fast, Briar (Bauman) was fast, and then there were a few other guys in the mix that could put down some fast laps too.
“In the Semi and the dash, I didn't just walk away. And so before the Main, I was reminding myself I've got a long race ahead. I could take my time and work my way forward if I had to and not do what I did in Daytona in 2019 and try to win it in the first turn.
“But then I got the holeshot and within a few laps I had a big gap. I was feeling good, and the track was breaking down and getting rough, but it actually made it more fun. I kinda do this thing where I count my laps as I go just so I stay focused. All I'm thinking about is what lap I'm on, what the next lap is, what I'm doing next.
“And I'm counting and I'm already halfway done with the race and I wasn't even tired. And then when I got the two laps to go, I was having so much fun and the bike was working so well, I was bummed that the race was almost over.”
With that Beach secured his third career premier-class victory. Had this particular TT win come following an opener that fell more along the lines of his 2020 season -- say a tenth and a twelfth -- it’s safe to say it would be viewed a bit differently in context.
It didn’t and it isn’t, however. Instead, it came following a season-opener in which Beach hustled his developing Yamaha racebike to a Semi victory and a Main Event runner-up around Volusia Speedway Park’s Half-Mile dirt track.
That performance both changed the narrative and put Beach atop the championship points standings after three rounds.
“I'm definitely excited about (the start of the season). We're three rounds in and I'm leading the points. And it's not like we had three TTs or something. We've had two Half-Miles and a TT. So, to be leading the points is awesome.
“I mean, I'm definitely not going to sit back and think we've got anything in the bag. We still have a lot of work to do and there's a lot of rounds to go. We definitely don't have everything sorted out, but to be leading the points now compared to how we were last year where I think our best finish was an eighth…
“We've definitely improved the bike, and I feel like I've gotten better too. But I would say the goals are still the same. For us, I think if we can finish top five in points, it would be great. I feel like if we have a few good rounds, and we're always fighting for the top five we could be in a position to top three in points. But it's still a long year ahead.”
The next seven rounds, consisting entirely of Half-Miles and Miles, will tell a lot. In particular, it will reveal exactly where the Yamaha stands compared to the all-conquering Indian FTR750s that dominate the grid.
The onus is on the machine more so than the man in this case. While Beach lamented being viewed as a non-factor at the Half-Miles and Miles, his flat track history demonstrates without argument that he’s anything but a one-trick TT specialist who only cleans up when he’s able to flex his championship-caliber roadracing skills.
Recall that Beach -- even as a series part-timer -- won Miles and Short Tracks on the undercard, twice podiumed at the Springfield Mile in the premier class, dominated the Superprestigio in the presence of Briar Bauman, and promptly landed on the box at the So-Cal Half-Mile for the 2017 AFT Finals in what his only Progressive American Flat Track appearance of the season.
Armed with the right equipment, Beach is a rider with the potential to become just the fifth rider in the sport’s history to complete the traditional “old school” Grand Slam, joining legends Dick Mann, Kenny Roberts, Bubba Shobert, and Doug Chandler.
“For me, that’s the thing that I've dreamed of. I've got a TT win and I've got a Superbike win. So to get a Mile, Half-Mile, and Short Track win and complete the whole thing would be awesome.”
Doing so would be yet another incredible accomplishment for a decorated career in which Beach has stacked numerous landmark achievements despite never having anything handed to him on a silver platter.
“I do feel I've grinded it out and worked hard. And yeah, I've definitely had a great career and rode for some great teams. But I feel like I never had the chance to take the next step when I was roadracing.
“I think riding for Tim (Estenson) -- he's seen that and he knows how hard I work. I think he knows what I deserve to get, so that's been great. I think, too, just because the team is based here in (Owensboro, Kentucky), I get to see quite a bit of what's going on. And to know how hard they work, it's nice to see it's starting to pay off.”
Perhaps now more than ever, Beach finds himself the central focus of a dead-serious professional effort with premier-class championship aspirations. It all boils down to their ability to raise their collective performance to the degree that they can go toe-to-toe with the likes of Briar Bauman and Jared Mees and the factory Indian Motorcycle FTR750s on a weekly basis.
But whether Beach continues battling Indians deep into the future or finds himself back on pavement gunning for Ducatis, et al. (or both) remains an open question.
“My goal in racing is to win no matter if I'm on a dirt track bike or a roadrace bike and take my career like I have been. It's a year-to-year thing kinda. I'll just try to do the best I can.
“It’s so hard to answer more specifically than that now because the way racing is and the way the world is. I didn't think I'd make this jump until I was completely done roadracing, but Tim gave me a great opportunity, and I believed in the team.
“I think for me, I want to be on a team that believes in me and works as hard as I do. If that's roadracing, dirt track, whatever, I'm there to win. I just want to take each year and not take it for granted, work hard, see where we end up, and go from there.”