DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Progressive American Flat Track season will resume this weekend in something of an unofficial homecoming round for the paddock with the Port Royal Half-Mile presented by Appalachian Harley-Davidson at Port Royal Speedway.
Despite the event making its first appearance on the series’ calendar, its importance was cemented with its announcement due to its location. Pennsylvania is almost inarguably the single greatest producer of elite flat track talent with an outsized percentage of the field claiming home ties of one sort of another to the state.
As such, any home-state advantage in the evolving championship chases are largely negated this weekend, particularly in the premier Mission SuperTwins presented by S&S Cycle class where the leading trio are all either native or resident Pennsylvanians. And as such, double defending Grand National Champion Briar Bauman, second-ranked Brandon Robinson and multi-time GNC Jared Mees will pick up their battle for supremacy with a bit of extra motivation pushing them forward.
Bauman landed the most recent blow with his well-timed Lima triumph, but even so, Robinson remains on fire and Mees comes in with an extra week to heal following last weekend’s weather-related cancellation.
Looking a bit deeper, the continued progress of Jarod Vanderkooi will be of interest as he continues to rack up podium finishes and threatens to turn this into a four-way title fight.
Also worth monitoring will be the relative performances of J.D. Beach, Kolby Carlile and James Rispoli as the Port Royal Half-Mile marks the first event utilizing the rule changes newly implemented with aims of leveling the playing field between race-only and production-based engines.
It’s a similar story in AFT Production Twins presented by Vance & Hines where six of the top eight-ranked riders – including the top two – will be angling to impress in front of their home-state fans.
Title leader Cory Texter has opened up a healthy 39-point advantage that only stacks ever higher with each successive standout performance.
Fellow Pennsylvanians Dalton Gauthier, Dan Bromley, Ryan Varnes, Cameron Smith and Johnny Lewis will all need to be at their best in hopes of pushing Texter as far down the order as possible in hopes of eroding his championship padding.
While that’s obviously easier said than done, it’s worth remembering that Lewis and Varnes did manage to finish ahead of Texter last time out.
The AFT Singles class is less of an intra-state affair with the top-ranked Pennsylvanian being Shayna Texter-Bauman, who currently sits sixth in the points.
Texter-Bauman is more than capable of contributing to a home-state victory sweep, however, considering she’s the winningest rider in class history and opened her ‘21 campaign with a double victory on Volusia Speedway’s similarly clay Half-Mile.
The chances for such a sweep improve up considerably if you allow for the inclusion of Australian Max Whale, who makes Pennsylvania his home base during the race season. The championship leader by virtue of the tie-breaker over reigning AFT Singles champion Dallas Daniels, Whale has been in tremendous form as of late, notching up two wins and a runner-up over his last four attempts.
The only rider with an argument of being even hotter is Henry Wiles, who has done the same over his last three attempts.
With Daniels desperate to strike back and the usual assortment of a dozen or so riders with at least an outside chance at stealing away a win, Port Royal should deliver another high-drama AFT Singles Main Event.