DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Jared Mees strengthened his case for consideration as the greatest rider in the history of Progressive American Flat Track, sanctioned by AMA Pro Racing, securing a third consecutive Grand National Championship in Sunday’s season-ending Mission Springfield Mile II presented by Drag Specialties at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, Illinois.
Mees’ hopes of ending his spectacular 2023 atop the podium were foiled, however, by two-time Mission SuperTwins presented by S&S Cycle champ Briar Bauman, who edged his great rival to the season’s final checkered flag by 0.075 seconds.
Bauman and Mees slipped free first from title challenger Dallas Daniels and then Brandon Robinson to settle into a two-rider duel for the contest’s second half. The back-and-forth affair remained in question right up to that last charge to the stripe where Bauman earned his first-career Springfield Mile victory and Mees added to his legend. While the season belonged to Mees, Bauman’s stunning finale served as an enticing sneak preview of what could be in store for the series in 2024.
Bauman said, “The team had a never-quit attitude. It’s always different when you’re in a position to wrap up a championship, which Jared was, so he might have been doing things a little bit different, but nonetheless, it’s a win to me. Life has been a little bit different recently. We lost my mom eight months ago and she hasn’t missed a race in five years. Lima kind of snuck up on me – I was surprised we won – but today when I came across the checkered flag, the emotions rolled out of me.”
Despite having been pit up against multiple generations of dirt track titans over the past two decades – from Chris Carr to Kenny Coolbeth to Jake Johnson to Brad Baker to Bryan Smith to Bauman and now Daniels – Mees has stacked up a résumé that stands alongside any previously assembled in the 70-year history of the championship. The factory Indian superstar now boasts an incredible nine Grand National Championships (2009, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2021, 2022, and 2023), equaling the great Scott Parker for most all time.
Mees said, “It’s what you wake up for every day. It’s what you train for. Hats off to Scottie Parker – that’s the guy that keeps me going. He kept me going year after year, race after race. He’s still the best in my book, and it’s an honor to match something that he did.
“So many people contributed to this. I’m a little lost for words for once. I had a really good feeling we were going to get it – we were really fast all weekend long. I wanted to try to win that last one. But I went into that last lap and when Briar ran up underneath me, I was like, ‘Dude, I’m bringing it home.’ I just followed him right off the corner and he brought me to the line, and that was good enough for me. We’re going to let this one soak in.”
Some five seconds back, Daniels tracked down Robinson while simultaneously being reeled in by J.D. Beach and Davis Fisher. From there a four-rider fight for third was waged to the end.
The same way a tenth victory would have been a fitting conclusion to Mees’ season, a 16th podium would have been a natural way to end Daniels’ remarkable sophomore campaign. Of course, the racing gods aren’t often supporters of such contrivances, and thus Fisher earned the last step on the podium by 0.024 seconds ahead of Daniels with Robinson and Beach just behind in fifth and sixth, respectively.
Fisher’s second top three of the season allowed him to secure a spot in the championship top five (257) behind Mees (388), Daniels (372), Beach (301), and Bauman (299), and end the year as the top independent Indian.
Daniels, meanwhile, completes 2023 with a five-win, 15-podium runner-up season and now armed with plenty of motivation and hard-earned experience heading into 2024.
Bronson Bauman finished seventh on Sunday, with Ben Lowe, Henry Wiles, and Jarod Vanderkooi completing the finale top ten.
Parts Unlimited AFT Singles presented by KICKER
Even though Kody Kopp locked up a repeat Parts Unlimited AFT Singles presented by KICKER crown a day early, the class did not lack for drama in its final outing of the year.
Nine riders ran in contention for victory for the full ten laps and two minutes of the epic finale, running five wide and swapping positions all the while.
As unpredictable as it was, throughout it all the top three positions were dominated by the usual suspects: Kopp, Tom Drane, and Chase Saathoff.
Drane took the white flag in the lead with Kopp on his rear wheel. But before any Saturday flashbacks could fully materialize, Saathoff blew past Kopp and dove under his Aussie rival entering Turn 3 for the final time.
The Honda ace leapt out of Turn 4 with his maiden victory in his sights, but his ascension to Progressive AFT winner status was cruelly delayed once again when Drane powered ahead to steal the win at the line by 0.043 seconds
The victory was Drane’s fourth of the season and more than enough to leapfrog his teammate and Sunday fourth-place finisher Trevor Brunner for second position in the final standings.
Drane said, “This means a lot to do it here, at Springfield, with some Aussie fans out there. My career pretty much started at this track. I can’t thank my whole team enough for all their effort to get us here.”
The near miss was Saathoff’s ninth podium of the season and his sixth runner-up. Meanwhile, two-time champion Kopp finished third to round out his incredible eight-win season with an 11th podium.
Morgen Mischler, Trent Lowe,, Declan Bender, and James Ott finished fractions of a second back in fifth through eighth, respectively.
Kopp’s teammate, Max Whale, crossed the stripe as the final rider in the lead pack, registering a ninth-place result despite finishing only 0.637 seconds off the victory. The result was still stout enough to hold onto a championship top-five ranking, however, with an ultimate class order of Kopp (351), Drane (310), Brunner (305), Saathoff (291), and Whale (266).