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Racing Scene Column - AMA Pomona GN

Racing Scene Column - AMA Pomona GN


The 16th and final AMA Flat Track motorcycle race of 2014 ran Saturday, October 11 at the LA County Fairplex king-size half-mile in Pomona in front of about 7,000 spectators. Open wheel racing vets Wally Pankratz, Tom Patton, Jeff Heywood and Sonny Nutter were present as was Chris Agajanian for the Ascot Park flat track reunion. Chris Morgan and Charlie Frank again were co-promoters. Law Tigers (the motorcycle lawyers), plus Harley-Davidson dealerships in Pomona and Glendale again were presenting sponsors.

The promoters page in the 32-page $7.00 program addressed a rumor that 2014 might be the final race at Pomona after decades of two-wheel racing at the site. Horse racing has ended officially at the Pomona Fairplex and its race dates transferred to other So Cal tracks. However, the Pomona Fairplex track will be used to train racehorses in 2015. The AMA co-promoters hope to return for the 2015 AMA Pro Racing Flat Track Finals as usual. The AMA season championship usually is decided each year in Pomona.

A rider autograph session in front of the main grandstand from 5:30-6:30 pm allowed spectators to have retired motorcycle greats autograph the race program and attire. Eddie Wirth, 1985-86-87 GN Champion Bubba Shobert, Jody Nicolas and Don Emde were some of the luminaries signing at tables near the front straight. Grand Marshal Gene Romero was the 1970 AMA Grand National Champion at age 22. He won 12 AMA GN events, including the prestigious 1975 Daytona 200 on a Triumph. He retired in 1981 after 16 years as a pro rider and is an inductee into the AMA Hall of Fame.

Total purse at the 2014 Pomona Flat Track Finals was $44,000. The $33,450 GNC Expert main paid $6,000, $4,100 and $2,850 to the top three. The $4,000 Single Pro support class paid $1,000. $500 and $350 the the top three. Four past AMA GN Champions, including Joe Kopp (2000), were in the field this year and raced. Kenny Coolbeth was entered but did not race.

The GNC Expert Twins had 37 riders and the support class 450cc Pro Singles had 41 riders. A pair of 500cc speedway bike exhibition heat races and brief feature had seven veteran riders race on the longest track they race. The 37 GNC bikes were: 17 Harley-Davidson, 12 Kawasaki, four Triumph, and two each KTM and Suzuki. The 41 Single Pro 450s—34 Honda, three each Kawasaki and KTM, and one Yamaha. A Kawasaki EX650 won the GNC Expert 25-lap feature over three Harleys. The Single Pro 16-lap main had three Honda CRF 450R bikes in the top three positions.

Racing started at 7:00 pm with a pair of Pro Single 8-lap heats with 16 riders in each. The top seven finishers advanced to the 16-lap feature. Davis Fisher (by 4.785 seconds) and Kyle Johnson (by 0.396) won. Then three 10-lap GNC Expert heats started 12 riders each with the top four finishers going directly to the 25-lap main. Bryan Smith won by 3.347 seconds and Brad Baker won by 2.611 after leading all 10-laps from the six-rider front row. In heat three, Mees led three laps before Jake Johnson passed him in turn four and led the final seven laps, edging Mees by 0.176.

An 18-rider Pro Singles 8-lap Last Chance Qualifier sent the top four to the feature. Bronson Bauman won by 0.621. That race had a red flag on lap 5 after laps 1-2 leader Lewis Foster and Andrew Butler fell near the first turn rail. They remounted and rode back to the starting line. Bauman took the lead from laps 3-5 leader Andrew Luker on lap 6 and led the final three laps, beating Luker by 0,.621.

The $2,500 Dash for Cash 4-lap race for the top two finishers in the three GNC heat races paid $1,000, $500, $350, $300, $250 and $100. Smith won by 0.363. Mees, Baker, Henry Wiles, Jake Johnson and Sammy Halbert followed. Only 3.667 seconds separated first from sixth place.

A pair of 10-lap GNC Expert semi-mains started 12 and transferred the first three finishers in each semi to the 18 rider main that staged riders in three rows, six to a row. Scott Baker took the lead on lap 2 and beat the lap 1 leader by a mere bike length (0.049). Kayl Kolkman took the second semi by 50-yards (2.145 seconds). Dustin Crow (No. 61) passed Chad Cose (No. 49) on the final lap for the final transfer spot. Jake Shoemaker used a provisional berth to start 19th in row four. He finished 12th with only one rider lapped and 17 of 19 starters racing at the finish of the9:31 to 9:44 pm all green race.

Three GNC riders had a mathematical chance of winning the 2014 title at Pomona. Jared Mees, 28, led Bryan Smith, 31, by 13 (260-247) with Jake Johnson, 30, at 244. After 25 laps, completed in 12:59.626, Smith won by 1.457 over Johnson. The winner averaged 31.185 per lap while the runner-up averaged 31.243. Brad Baker, the Pomona GNC 2013 winner and 2013 season champion, finished third, 4.222 seconds off the lead. He used plate No. 12 last year and No. 1 on his factory Harley this season. “In 2015 I will use No. 6 for (1980 & 83 AMA champion) Randy Goss,” the 21-year old from Washington told me.

Mees, the 2009 and 2012 champion, finished fourth (-6.537 seconds) on his No. 9 Harley. He won his third crown 279-276 over Smith. Johnson, the 2010-11 GNC champion, earned third with 264. Mees received his No. 1 plate at the podium from AMA's Joe Bromley. He told the crowd, “I wanted to be alone (to avoid contact). I raced conservatively tonight.” His 27-year old wife of one year Nichole (nee Cheza) practiced on her No. 15 Harley at 3:20 pm. She ran the 19th fastest lap of 34 riders with times, but she did not race. “I broke a bone in my left foot when it hit a rut in a turn.” Her foot and ankle were in a cast and she used crutches to get around the pits and watch her husband race.

Personable Smith (No. 42 Kawasaki) won five 2014 main events of 15 run. He was the point leader by nine points over Mees at Calistoga Speedway on September 27. However, Smith was disqualified for not pitting near the main event conclusion. He had been black-flagged several times for smoking because of an oil leak. Smith entered Pomona 13 points in back of Mees and scored 29 points (including a point for winning the six-rider, four lap dash for cash $1,000). Mees earned 19 points. The Calistoga DQ and lack of points cost Smith his first GNC title. Smith said he loves the smooth Calistoga track. He added the Pomona track was rougher this year than last year, but it's still one of his favorites.

The 2014 GNC 16 event circuit raced in 11 states—Calif., Colo., Fla., Ia, Ill., Ind., Md, Oh., S. Dak. Va., and Wash.. California had races at the Sacramento mile, plus the Calistoga and Pomona half-miles. Daytona Beach and Knoxville, Iowa were other well-known stops.

The 2014 GNC season had six winners: Smith-five, Kenny Coolbeth-four, Mees and Henry Wiles-two each, Baker and Briar Bauman-one each. Rain right before the Rapid City, S. Dak. main canceled that feature. GNC Rookie of the Year Wyatt Maguire, who made seven of 15 mains, scored 37 points for 18th in points. Rookie Shayna Texter made four mains and tallied 18 points for 30th place as 49 riders scored at least a point. Maguire, from Wash., and Texter, from Penn., are both 23 and graduated from Pro Singles. Maguire earned the $5,000 rookie of the year award.

Davis Fisher led all 16 laps of the Pomona Pro Single main over point leader Kyle Johnson, who won the championship by one point (191-190) over Fisher. Fisher collected 24 points to 19 for Johnson. Eight riders won the 14 series features. Johnson won four, Fisher and Jarod Vanderkooi won two each. Single race winners were: Ryan Wells, Brandon Wilhelm, Dominic Colindres, J. R. Addison and Jacob Lehmann.

Seven brake-less speedway bikes competed for the second year at Pomona. They usually race on eighth-mile tracks; horsemen call the Pomona a five-eighths mile. Max Ruml and Billy Hamill won three lap heat races. Billy Janniro dropped out of his heat with a clutch problem. Seven riders raced in a scheduled three lap main that ended after two laps because Justin Boyle fell in turn one without injury. Hamill won over Ruml and Janniro. Other riders were Jason Ramirez, Rocco Scopellite and Eddie Castro.

Fastest qualifier during GNC four laps of group qualifying session two at 4:40 pm was Sammy Halbert, on a Harley, at 30.916. The afternoon temperature was 82 and it was 68 during the GN feature with 78% humidity per AMA. The fastest lap of all occurred in heat two of three when winner Brad Baker ran a best lap of 30.208. The 450 Pro Singles group qualifying round two at 4:20 pm had a fastest lap of 31.692 by Fisher on a Honda. Fisher ran the fastest Pro Single lap of all—31.635--in winning the first heat.

The AMA Pro Flat Track championship banquet was held Sunday, October 12 at the Pomona Valley Mining Co. restaurant overlooking the I-10 Freeway two blocks from the track. Champion Mees received a $10,000 Rolex Daytona Cosmograph watch. Mees also won a $1,000 award for running the fastest lap in the most races. Coolbeth was second.

The top three in 2014 GNC points received trophies and AMA checks for $10,000, $6,000 and $4,000 respectively. The top three in Pro Singles points received trophies and checks for $5,000, $3,000 and $2,000. Mechanics of the year were Kenny Tolbert and Sammy Sweet in GNC and Craig Parkinson in Pro Singles. Manufacturer of the year was Kawasaki in GNC and Honda in Pro Singles.

The $15,000 Sunoco “Go the Distance Award” $3,000 went to Mees over Johnson for completing the most miles. The next three spots split $6,000. In Pro Singles Bronson Bauman earned $2,000 for completing the most miles. Arai Helmets awarded $5,000 to GNC champion Mees and $3,000 to Pro Singles champ Johnson. Second in points Fisher received the sportsmanship award that was voted on by AMA members in the paddock.

Bryan Smith's No. 42 team was recognized with the “Team Excellence Award” for their professionalism all season. Jeffrey Carver, Jr. (No. 23) was awarded the “Outstanding Performance Award” for riding so many different bikes and remaining competitive all season. He made ten features and scored 68 points to finish 15th in final points.

A special No. 1 plate was presented to Dave and Kathy Hoenig for many years of dedication to the sport of flat track. The couple has attended 444 AMA Grand Nationals, including 369 consecutively. The final points chart shows GNC riders came from 14 states--Calif., Conn., Ill., Ind. Kan., Kent., Mich., N. J., N. Y. Okla., Penn., Tex., Wash., and Wisc.. plus two foreign countries—Canada and Australia.