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Event Rewind: Springfield Mile I Main Event Highlights
Event Rewind: Springfield Mile II Main Event Highlights
The overarching story of the 2023 American Flat Track season always seemed so obvious in the moment – a passing of the torch and later a battle for (and of) the ages – but it didn’t actually crystalize until the finale. When every last point was finally tallied, the year was properly recontextualized for what it was: a genuine push toward GOAThood.
Jared Mees (No. 1 Indian Motorcycle/Rogers Racing/SDI Racing FTR750) is making that argument through his actions if not in his own words. His career now includes a record-tying nine Grand National Championships, twin- and single-specific GNC1 titles underlining his total mastery of the sport, a Nicky Hayden AMA Horizon Award, and a litany of secondary accomplishments.
At the moment, there’s no telling just how high the achievements will eventually stack. Even faced with a leveled-playing field and the emergence of some talents big enough to properly test him, Mees may have just orchestrated the single most impressive campaign of his career.
And the factory Indian superstar is a hugely influential figure far beyond the measure of a spreadsheet of race results. Outspoken and even fiery on occasion, Mees makes for both a great hero and terrific foil, a fact that he’s parlayed into in a series of defining rivalries, from Bryan Smith to Briar Bauman (No. 3 Parts Plus/Jacob Companies KTM 790 Duke) and now Dallas Daniels (No. 32 Estenson Racing Yamaha MT-07 DT).
That influence extends to the business side of racing with his role in promoting some of the sport’s biggest events.
Mees has already left a lasting mark on the sport, and yet he still has plenty of history to write.
The above should not take away from anything Dallas Daniels accomplished in ‘23 – the opposite in fact.
Still just a teenager when his sophomore Mission SuperTwins season opened, Daniels came this close to toppling an all-timer in Mees who was performing at the peak of his powers and in the midst of a career year.
Since it did not end in a Grand National Championship, 2023 will simply go down as yet another step in the meteoric climb of a rider who has transitioned directly from Nicky Hayden AMA Horizon Award winner to rookie Progressive AFT race winner to back-to-back Parts Unlimited AFT Singles champion to rookie Mission SuperTwins winner to full-blown Mees challenger.
In some ways, it’s almost a disservice that Daniels’ campaign did not result in the #1 plate. One could make a justifiable argument that he posted the third best season of any rider over the past two decades, outstripping the title-winning efforts of a host of Grand National Champions in the process.
Let’s take stock of it for a moment. Similar to what Mees faced – while also facing Mees – the young Estenson Racing Yamaha ace did battle in a premier-class featuring renewed depth and mechanical parity that also happened to receive a further talent injection with the merging of the Production Mission Twins category.
And yet, Daniels still managed to register 15 podiums in 18 races while demonstrating podium pace in 17 of those 18. And even on his worst days – be it due to missed set-up or crash – he still finished no worse than fifth.
And while Mees may be nowhere near the end, Daniels is only getting started. He’s proven a quick study and took a huge leap from ‘22 to ‘23. Just how good can he be in ‘24 and beyond?
Briar Bauman is probably still catching his breath. 2023 was a wild, strange, and challenging season. He was pushed to the limits emotionally and physically, suffering the loss of his mother while enduring the exhausting ups and downs of a developmental year after having grown accustomed to title contention aboard an all-conquering factory bike.
While he likely figured 2023 would have its fair share of highs and lows when he agreed to ride for Rick Ware Racing on the eve of the opener aboard a virtual unknown in its KTM Duke 790, such realities never truly hit home until you live through it.
The season-long toil was unrelenting and unpredictable. Ultimately Bauman suffered, survived, persisted, and thrived. The dizzying year ended not in disaster but atop the podium.
The campaign is now done and its lessons have been absorbed. Bauman once again proved he is as pure a talent as there is in the paddock, on par with the likes of Mees and Daniels. And armed with a season’s worth of data and development, the KTM now looks to be one solid offseason away from challenging for a championship.
And not only will Bauman reap the benefits of his ‘23 efforts going forward, so too will the entire sport.
While the previous three sections may read as hagiographies, the fact is their combined success left little on the table for the remainder of a deep and decorated field. As a result, 2023 was decidedly more mixed for the other would-be contenders.
Objectively, JD Beach (No. 95 Estenson Racing Yamaha MT-07 DT) was the best of the rest. In fact, he was better than Bauman by measure of the standings, edging him for third in the final standings by two points. Beach was consistently quick, notching up eight podiums among 14 top fives, while furthering his claim as the greatest TT rider in the history of the series. However, he fell short of the oval wins and championship contention that highlighted his ‘22 campaign. Perhaps unfairly then, an excellent season was somewhat overshadowed both by his previous effort and his teammate’s landmark ‘23.
Subjectively then, Davis Fisher (No. 67 Rackley Racing/Bob Lanphere’s BMC Racing Indian FTR750) may have had the most to feel good about. Fisher was a regular at the front, notched up a pair of podiums, and finished as the highest ranked independent Indian, lacking only the second-career victory necessary for it to be considered an unmitigated triumph.
The increasingly more difficult existence for the aforementioned independent Indians was also felt by Brandon Robinson (No. 44 Mission Roof Systems Indian FTR750). As the talent spreads to a more diverse line-up of machines with contrasting strengths and weaknesses, the FTR750 is no longer the bike to beat at every single venue. And even when it is, there is still Mees and his Kenny Tolbert-tuned factory Indian to contend with. Robinson did manage to score four podiums, including a pair of runner-ups, but his (quietly stunning) four-season streak of earning at least two victories came to an end.
That shifting reality saw a pair of one-time premier-class race winners – Bronson Bauman (No. 37 Fastrack Racing/2 Wheelz KTM 790 Duke) and Jarod Vanderkooi (No. 20 JMC Motorsports Indian FTR750 & WBR KTM Duke 790) – searching for the sweet spot in the evolving class with varying degrees of success.
Meanwhile, a host of Mission Production Twins grads – Johnny Lewis (No. 10 Moto Anatomy X Powered by Royal Enfield 650), Ben Lowe (No. 25 Rackley Racing/Mission Foods Indian FTR750), Kolby Carlile (No. 36 G&G Racing/Yamaha Racing Yamaha MT-07), and Cameron Smith (No. 34 Martin Trucking/Fredericktown Yamaha MT-07) – proved beyond any doubt that they belonged at the pinnacle of the sport with at least one top-five result for each one of them, albeit on a less-than-consistent basis.
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
It’s tempting to claim that what Kody Kopp (No. 1 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 450 SX-F) has accomplished since stepping up to Progressive American Flat Track is unprecedented at this early stage in his career. However, that’s not true, and frankly, it’s arguably more impressive that it isn’t.
For years, Kopp has not only been subjected to comparisons with his Grand National Championship-winning father, 2000 champ Joe Kopp, but also his immediate predecessor in advance hype, Dallas Daniels.
And to his credit, Kopp’s career trajectory has yet to waver from Daniels, no matter how steep: Nicky Hayden AMA Horizon Award winner, check. Rookie sensation after turning pro at age 16, check. Record eight victories in a single Parts Unlimited AFT Singles season, check. Back-to-back Parts Unlimited AFT Singles champion in years two and three, check and check.
If Kopp is able to maintain that ascent in the fashion of Daniels, an already crowded and competitive Mission SuperTwins class will soon be introduced to a new paradigm-shifting power, and the sport will be in a very good place indeed moving to the late 2020s and early 2030s.
However, 2024 is where their parallel career paths will diverge, at least for a time. While Daniels graduated to the premier class following his second 450cc title, the Red Bull KTM ace is aiming to reel in three straight titles aboard the works KTM 450 SX-F.
And yet, for all he’s already achieved, next year’s title hunt should prove anything but a turkey shoot.
And that’s due to…
All Aboard the Drane Train
By pretty much any measure short of the one listed in the rulebook, Tom Drane (No. 59 Estenson Racing Yamaha YZ450F) just wrapped up his rookie Progressive AFT season.
However, that one-and-a-half round wild card debut he made in 2022 not only eliminated him from 2023 Rookie of the Year considerations, it also made such a big impression that his quite credible early-season run of 5-12-13-11-10-7 felt a bit underwhelming.
Fast forward to the end of his first full campaign and no one was left underwhelmed or even whelmed. In fact, “overwhelming” is an apt descriptor for the Aussie’s initial attempt to claim the Parts Unlimited AFT Singles crown.
The class has enjoyed an unbroken run of major league talents stepping up to the pro ranks in recent seasons, going directly from Dallas Daniels (2019) to Trevor Brunner (2020) to Kody Kopp (2021) to Chase Saathoff (2022).
During their rookie seasons, that fab four combined to claim two wins and notch up nine podiums over a total of 56 rounds. Drane himself now boasts more wins (four) and more podiums (11) in a third as many attempts (19 rounds).
Daniels, Brunner, Kopp, and Saathoff all took what they learned and came back far stronger the second time around. If that holds true for Drane, what could he possibly have in store for us?
Despite being edged by his teammate for second in the final standings, Trevor Brunner (No. 21 Estenson Racing Yamaha YZ450F) continues to quietly build a pretty impressive Parts Unlimited AFT Singles record. He has stood atop the podium in each of his four seasons (and taken multiple victories in each of the last three) and now stands as just the second rider to hit a Grand Slam in the class. All he needs to do now is start next season the way he’s finished the previous two and he could be a real player in the title chase.
As has been well reported, Chase Saathoff (No. 88 American Honda/Mission Foods CRF450R) took a big leap following an excellent rookie campaign but has yet to be justly rewarded for that improvement. For those keeping track at home, Saathoff came up a combined 0.271 seconds short of earning five victories this past season, 0.564 seconds short of six, 1.664 seconds short of seven, and less than three seconds short of eight. And yet he still seeks his first. It feels inevitable that once he finally breaks down that wall, the wins will stack in a hurry.
By contrast, his Turner Racing Honda teammate, Trent Lowe (No. 48 American Honda/Mission Foods CRF450R), joined Drane in earning his first Progressive AFT win this past season. Meanwhile, James Ott (No. 19 1st Impressions Race Team/Husqvarna Racing FC450) reacquainted himself with the podium and made himself a contender alongside Saathoff as the betting favorite to become the next to join that exclusive list.
It was a bit surprising to see Max Whale (No. 18 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 450 SX-F) wind up fifth in the final standings, although there’s no doubt he has the potential to return to his more typical title fighting form come 2024.
Whale’s “struggles” were slight by comparison with some of the class’ other established stalwarts. The emergence of so many bright talents has made life difficult at times for a number of mighty big names. There was a stretch in the middle of the season where the likes of Dalton Gauthier (No. 79 D&D Racing/Certified KTM 450 SX-F), Morgen Mischler (No. 13 American Honda/Mission Foods CRF450R), and Shayna Texter-Bauman (No. 52 Parts Plus/Jacob Companies KTM 450 SX-F) were hard pressed just to finish inside the top ten. That said, things started and ended better for the trio and Gauthier in particular, who ultimately tallied up five podiums with a win on the season.
History in the Making
While previous entries in this section could often be deep cuts verging on the esoteric, we’re going as basic as you can get for the finale. There is no need to get fancy with numbers or go digging for stats with Jared Mees chasing the most foundational records the 70-year-old Grand National Championship has to offer.
As we stated above, he’s still building his case for GOAThood, but here’s where a number of relevant rankings stand at the conclusion of the 2023 Progressive American Flat Track season:
Grand National Championships:
- Scott Parker/Jared Mees 9
- Chris Carr 7
- Carroll Resweber 4
- 7 riders tied at 3
Main Event Wins:
- Scott Parker 94
- Chris Carr 78
- Jared Mees 72
- Jay Springsteen 43
- Ricky Graham 39
- Scott Parker 55
- Chris Care 29
- Jared Mees 27
- Bubba Shobert/Bryan Smith 25
- Jared Mees 37
- Scott Parker 35
- Will Davis 26
- Chris Carr 25
- Kenny Coolbeth, Jr. 23
Even More History in the Making
While the records in the Parts Unlimited AFT Singles presented by KICKER class may not receive the same attention nor carry the same weight as they do in the premier class, the ever-increasing importance of the category has also lent its statistics some genuine prestige.
Unsurprisingly, Kody Kopp is already a firm fixture in the class’ record books. And soon his 2024 title defense will position him to completely rewrite them.
Along with a chance to break a tie with Daniels for most career titles, Shayna Texter-Bauman’s (No. 52 Parts Plus/Jacob Companies KTM 450 SX-F) long-held claim as the winningest rider in the history of the class will be placed in serious jeopardy.
Here is where a handful of the relevant major records stand following the conclusion of the 2023 season:
- Dallas Daniels/Kody Kopp 2
- 11 riders tied at 1
Main Event Wins
- Shayna Texter-Bauman 19
- Kody Kopp 15
- Dalton Gauthier/Dallas Daniels 13
- Ryan Wells 9
- Shayna Texter-Bauman 11
- Kody Kopp 9
- Dallas Daniels 5
- 4 riders tied with 4