Dallas Daniels (center) shares the podium with Brandon Robinson and Briar Bauman. (AFT photo)

Dallas Daniels Tops Daytona Nail-Biter

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Dallas Daniels (No. 32 Estenson Racing Yamaha MT-07 DT) secured a nail-biting victory at the Daytona Short Track I presented by Daytona Dodge to open the Progressive American Flat Track season on Thursday.

A hectic opening several laps around the Flat Track at Daytona Int’l Speedway featured the four riders on four different makes who lined the front row for the Mission SuperTwins presented by S&S Cycle main event. 

Johnny Lewis (No. 10 Moto Anatomy X Powered by Royal Enfield 650) raised more than a few eyebrows when he grabbed the early lead aboard the Royal Enfield while established Mission SuperTwins superstars Daniels, Brandon Robinson (No. 44 Mission Roof Systems Indian FTR750), and Briar Bauman (No. 3 Parts Plus/Jacob Companies KTM 890 Duke) jockeyed for position just behind.

After some back-and-forth, Robinson worked his way into the lead and then threatened to make an early escape. By the time Daniels and Bauman dispatched Lewis, the Mission Roof Systems rider had nearly a second in hand.

Daniels put his head down at that point, stretching out an advantage over Bauman while eating away at Robinson’s. By half distance the two linked up at the front just as they made their way into lapped traffic for the first time.

The Estenson Racing pilot began to actively search for a way into the lead with just over two minutes on the clock, nudging the front wheel of his Yamaha MT-07 DT up the inside of Robinson’s Indian FTR750 a few times before finally finding the gap he had been looking for.

Once through, Daniels, Robinson, and Bauman appeared safe to open their 2023 campaigns a respective 1-2-3 as time expired. However, the main event delivered a final twist in the form of a waving red flag that came after Lewis’ crashed from fifth following a clash with another rider.

Not only was Lewis’ hard-earned top five gone, but so seemingly was Bauman’s remarkable podium run in his debut aboard the all-new Rick Ware Racing KTM 890 Duke, his brake pedal disconnected during the melee.

However, even with Bauman’s technical issues and the potential for chaos the top three were forced to negotiate, the trio locked down their positions as they powered away from the staggered start and held on to the checkered flag.

“I tell you what – there’s nothing that makes you more nervous than that right there, leading the laps going away and a red flag comes out with two to go,” Daniels said. “My dad was talking to me (before the restart), saying “You’re good, you’re good.” And then he stopped talking, and I was like, “No, no, no, keep talking, I’m getting nervous!

“These two guys on the podium with me – I grew up watching these guys win here. These guys are my heroes. And now I want to beat them. It’s an honor to win here.”

Even if the podium went unaltered in the wake of the late stoppage, there was plenty of reshuffling as a result of the restart. Defending Mission SuperTwins king Jared Mees (No. 1 Indian Motorcycle/Rogers Racing/SDI Racing FTR750) was the biggest beneficiary, slashing up to a fourth-place finish after previously being mired as deep as 12th in the pack.

He was followed home by Daniels’ teammate, J.D. Beach (No. 95 Estenson Racing Yamaha MT-07 DT), who took fifth despite not faring much better than Mees to that point.

Four-time DAYTONA ST winner Sammy Halbert (No. 69 Martin Trucking/Castrol Yamaha MT-07) took sixth, followed by Dan Bromley (No. 62 Memphis Shades/Corbin/Vinson Construction Yamaha MT-07) and the remounted Lewis.

Davis Fisher (No. 67 Rackley Racing/Bob Lanphere’s BMC Racing Indian FTR750) – who had been fourth at the time of the red flag – ended up ninth, while Ben Lowe (No. 25 Rackley Racing/Mission Foods Indian FTR750) completed the top 10.

Reigning Parts Unlimited AFT Singles presented by KICKER champion Kody Kopp (No. 1 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 450 SX-F) got his title defense off to what was effectively a perfect start.

The fact that Kopp entered the season as the primary target of every other rider in the field seemingly did nothing but enhance the dominant streak he flashed so often a year ago. Despite contending with a slick track that demanded focus and invited mistakes, the factory KTM ace topped practice and qualifying, won his heat and the Al Lamb’s Dallas Honda Challenge, and then ultimately reigned supreme.

Kopp blasted off to the holeshot and basically put it out of reach a few short corners later. He systematically worked his lead up to around four seconds before cruising his way to an eventual 3.370-second margin of victory.

Afterward, Kopp claimed the day didn’t come quite as easily as it appeared outwardly. He said, “The No. 1 plate definitely is a little heavy I think. There were some nerves and some Outlaw races this offseason where I was doubting myself if we were still good on a Short Track. But this is some way to start a season for sure. We pretty much had a clean sweep of the day.”

Dalton Gauthier (No. 79 D&D Racing/Certified KTM 450 SX-F) held down second throughout, perfectly positioned to take advantage of a mistake that never came. Still, his runner-up effort sent a strong message that he’s still very much a threat despite returning to an independent effort in ‘23.

Trevor Brunner (No. 21 Estenson Racing Yamaha YZ450F) rounded out the podium, coming out on top of a race-long fight after making an early strike on Trent Lowe (No. 48 American Honda/Mission Foods CRF450R), the rider signed to fill Gauthier’s former seat at Turner Honda.

Aussie sensation Tom Drane (No. 59 Estenson Racing Yamaha YZ450F) made it two Estenson Yamahas in the top five with a nice start to his full-time Progressive AFT in fifth.