Dallas Daniels (32) won the American Flat Track opener Thursday night at Daytona Int'l Speedway. (AFT photo)

Dramatic AFT Opener Goes To Dallas Daniels

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The opening Mission SuperTwins victory of the Progressive American Flat Track, sanctioned by AMA Pro Racing, season went to Dallas Daniels (No. 32 Estenson Racing Yamaha MT-07 DT) in a Royal Enfield Short Track at Daytona I that contained far more drama than Daniels’ final 3.769-second margin of victory would seem to indicate.

For much of the night – including the opening half of the main event – the fans who packed Daytona Int’l Speedway Flat Track grandstands thought they just might just witness Sammy Halbert (No. 69 Dodge Bros. Racing/Castrol Harley-Davidson XR750) give the iconic Harley-Davidson XR750 its 503rd Grand National Championship race win more than five decades after its first.

Halbert topped a session in both practice and qualifying, won his heat race, and then proved victorious in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge aboard the venerable machine. He followed that up by grabbing the holeshot in the main event and then stretching open more than a second’s worth of padding at the front.

That advantage was further aided by the stiff fight Brandon Price (No. 92 Memphis Shades/Corbin/OTBR Yamaha MT-07) provided all comers while running second despite the likes of Daniels, Brandon Robinson (No. 44 Mission Roof Systems Indian FTR750), and Briar Bauman (No. 3 Rick Ware Racing/KTM/Parts Plus KTM 790 Duke) all seeking a way through.

Daniels finally managed to make a pass that stuck a little over six minutes remaining on the clock and immediately went about eating up the gap to Halbert. However, what promised to be a thrilling dogfight for victory was spoiled when Halbert’s machine began to smoke heavily with half of the race still remaining.

The Estenson Racing Yamaha ace dove through to steal away first. Moments later, the black flag was (first) shown to Halbert, who continued to push for several laps before finally heeding the instruction.

Halbert’s misfortune saw Price move back up into second with Bauman third, while Daniels weaved his way through traffic out front en route to victory.

After the contest, Daniels – who will now look to equal last year’s season-opening double victory at the venue – said, “This track was so technical. It was nothing like last year where you could just kinda go in and get it on. What a ride for the team. We kind of struggled all day, and I was just chipping away. I started catching up to Sammy, and he started to blow up and coolant was getting in my face. (Once in front), I started looking back a lot. For some reason I got nervous, but the last five laps, I really buckled down and those were my fastest laps of the race.

“After Springfield, we left a little bitter. It didn’t feel good. That whole offseason we worked hard. To get three in a row at Daytona feels good. That Main Event, I had so much fun plugging away. I would prefer to get the holeshot and be out front but being able to come through and dig my way to the front felt good.”

Price held on for a most welcome runner-up finish in his all-new team’s maiden outing, while Robinson moved through on a fading Bauman to earn the final spot on the podium.

Bauman’s tumble down the order wouldn’t end there, as he was also displaced by Davis Fisher (No. 67 Rackley Racing/Bob Lanphere’s BMC Racing Indian FTR750), nine-time Grand National Champion Jared Mees (No. 1 Rogers Racing/SDI Racing/Indian Motorcycle FTR750), and Jarod Vanderkooi (No. 20 JMC Motorsports/Fairway Ford Ohio Indian FTR750) before finishing seventh in the end.

Double defending Parts Unlimited AFT Singles presented by KICKER champion Kody Kopp (No. 1 Rick Ware Racing/Parts Plus KTM 450 SX-F) opened his quest for an unprecedented third class crown in near-perfect fashion, walking away with the Main Event after earlier winning both his heat and the Al Lamb’s Dallas Honda Challenge.

It was a fine way to not just start his title defense but also an all-new partnership after joining the Rick Ware Racing outfit just days prior to the opener.

While Kopp claimed the checkered flag running alone in the end, it wasn’t quite that simple in the doing. Despite grabbing the holeshot, he was actually overhauled by former class champ Dalton Gauthier (No. 79 D&D Racing/Certified KTM 450 SX-F) before completing the first lap.

Gauthier then pulled some space at the front while Kopp had his hands full with projected title rivals Tom Drane (No. 59 Estenson Racing Yamaha YZ450F) and Chase Saathoff (No. 88 JPG Motorsports Honda CRF450R).

But Kopp found his groove at mid-distance, putting in a charge that allowed him to reclaim the lead and power forward to secure the victory by 1.502 seconds over Gauthier.

“We just kept our heads on straight the whole offseason,” said Kopp. “I love this track, and I love Daytona. Huge shout out to Rick Ware for coming on the program a little over a week ago. We pulled it together, and we got a win tonight. Wally Brown built one heck of a KTM 450 – arguably even better than the factory bikes I might say.”

Meanwhile, the final spot on the box went to neither Drane – who crashed on the last lap and was ultimately credited in 15th – nor Saathoff. Rather it was Trent Lowe (No. 48 American Honda/Mission Foods CRF450R), who finished third by battling his way back through the pack after being pushed wide and well down the order in the early stages of the main.

Saathoff finished fourth another .309 seconds back with Justin Jones (No. 91 J&H Racing Husqvarna FC 450) rounding out the top five.

Taia Little (No. 11 Royal Enfield/Parts Unlimited) kicked off the program by winning the Royal Enfield Build Train Race season opener in runaway fashion.