Turning Point Coming? The Long and Short of It, Pt. I

Coming up next on the season slate is the June 17’s DuQuoin Mile, after which the 2023 Mission SuperTwins presented by S&S Cycle title fight will officially be halfway complete.

And that will be a fine time for a more complete accounting of the ‘23 campaign’s opening half. But for now, let's take a sneak peek at what comes after and why it might just represent a turning point in the season.

There’s no hiding the fact that the year to date has centered on a cementing championship showdown featuring defending class king Jared Mees (No. 1 Indian Motorcycle/Rogers Racing/SDI Racing FTR750) and young points leader Dallas Daniels (No. 32 Estenson Racing Yamaha MT-07 DT). And rather than hide, the dirt track world has readily embraced an emerging rivalry that could easily prove to be a historical touchpoint for Progressive American Flat Track, sanctioned by AMA Pro Racing.

However, even before the first race of the season was in the books, the year’s schedule was primed to produce a series of runs and reversals. The long and short of it is, the long (Mile) and short (STs) races will have largely been put to bed after DuQuoin. That Mees and Daniels have fared so well should come as no huge surprise. Mees, who is now tied for third most Mile wins in Grand National Championship history, is two for two in the discipline this season. And Daniels, who owns more Short Track wins than any other rider in Parts Unlimited AFT Singles presented by KICKER history despite his relatively brief stint in the class, built his early advantage with three wins in the season’s four Short Tracks.

By contrast, the second half of the season is nearly 80% devoted to Half-Miles and TTs. While no one realistically believes that will remove the leading duo from winning contention, it might just inject some other names into that mix.

After the DuQuoin Mile completes a run of three successive Miles, the season will immediately shift to four consecutive Half-Miles. And yes, it’s true that Mees ranks as one of the best Half-Milers of all time – now just one win short of tying Scott Parker for most ever. However, Briar Bauman (No. 3 Parts Plus/Jacob Companies KTM 790 Duke), Brandon Robinson (No. 44 Mission Roof Systems Indian FTR750), and Jarod Vanderkooi (No. 20 JMC Motorsports/Fairway Ford Indian FTR750) have combined to win four of the most recent five Half-Miles. Throw in Davis Fisher’s (No. 67 Rackley Racing/Bob Lanphere’s BMC Racing Indian FTR750) maiden win at the ‘21 finale and the numbers jump up to six of the last nine for those four riders.

And in fact, over the last five seasons, Bauman owns a 11-to-8 Half-Mile win advantage over Mees.

One rider yet to win at a Half-Mile is Daniels, although he’s come close – as have Bronson Bauman (No. 37 Fastrack Racing/2 Wheelz KTM 790 Duke) and Daniels’ Estenson Racing Yamaha teammate, JD Beach (No. 95 Estenson Racing Yamaha MT-07 DT).

Speaking of Beach, he’s the only rider other than Mees or Daniels to score a win in 2023 – that win coming at the first TT of the year. Consider it a sneak preview of what might be in store for us a bit later this season.

After those four consecutive HMs follow three straight TTs. Beach’s TT brilliance is well established, having taken seven of the last eight and often in blowout fashion. All Beach needs to do is stay within striking distance in the points to give himself a genuine shot. And anything short of that standing, he could prove to be a most powerful ally for his teammate should they so choose to employ some team-oriented tactics.

Following the TTs, the season will conclude with an epic double finale at the Springfield Mile. Going in, Mees may be in position to sweep the season’s slate of Miles as he did in 2018… and he may just need to in hopes of retaining the #1 plate.

Coming in Part II: A look at how the second-half schedule shift could impact the Parts Unlimited AFT Singles presented by KICKER title fight.