DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Reigning Grand National Champion Jared Mees took a huge step toward yet another premier-class crown with a triumphant performance in the Mission Springfield Mile I presented by Drag Specialties.
While fans of Progressive American Flat Track flocked to the Illinois State Fairgrounds in anticipation of a showdown for Mission SuperTwins presented by S&S Cycle supremacy featuring Mees and challenger Dallas Daniels, Saturday’s contest instead delivered a flashback to Grand National Championships past.
As it was, Mees was pushed to the checkered flag by long-time rival Briar Bauman after the two shook free from a six-rider pack to decide the race between them. The factory Indian star dug in with two laps remaining and ripped open a late 0.340-second margin as he moved that much closer to completing another successful title defense.
Brandon Robinson finished third after coming on strong in the early going, running around the outside of Daniels, JD Beach, Bauman and Mees in quick succession to briefly claim the lead three minutes into the race.
Robinson then ran in close formation with Mees and Bauman before fading to a distant third over the final five minutes, ultimately surviving a last-gasp assault from Beach to claim final place on the podium.
Meanwhile, for the first — and least opportune — time this season, Daniels simply lacked podium pace.
He did what he could to cling on to the lead group but was dropped from contention by the race’s halfway point. From there forward, it became all about damage limitation, which he managed by fending off Davis Fisher for fifth position.
Even so, what had been a one-point championship deficit is now 11 (367-356). As Mees holds the tiebreaker, that means even if Daniels turns his fortunes around overnight and wins on Sunday, Mees needs only finish sixth or better to add yet another championship trophy to his already expansive collection.
While nothing is guaranteed, that seems like a relatively modest task for the winner of six of the last Springfield Miles.
After claiming his ninth victory of the year, Mees said, “It was the most technical Springfield Mile I’ve ever raced. There wasn’t much grip out there, and you really had to let the motorcycle hook up. If you got just a little bit excited you buzzed it up.
“Honestly, it’s probably the very first Springfield Mile that you were better off leading the race because you could be timid, and if the guy behind you wanted to wick it up, it would spin up. I’ve got a phenomenal team, and we’re working really hard to get this thing done…It feels really good, but there’s one more tomorrow. Anything can happen, and we’ve got to bring it.”
Ben Lowe finished seventh just ahead of KTM-mounted Jarod Vanderkooi, while Henry Wiles and Johnny Lewis completed the top 10.
Parts Unlimited AFT Singles presented by KICKER
Kody Kopp had every opportunity to cruise around to a safe fifth, which is all he needed to do to successfully defend his Parts Unlimited AFT Singles presented by KICKER title. Instead, he orchestrated a breathtaking 0.010-second victory to lock down the No. 1 plate for the second consecutive year in supreme style.
Kopp ran third for much of the race, tucked in close behind a back-and-forth dogfight waged by fellow prodigies Tom Drane and Chase Saathoff. The reigning champ began to slot into second here and there as the minutes ticked away.
With two minutes to go, the race bunched up to a six-rider affair as second-ranked Trevor Brunner, rookie ace Declan Bender and veteran pilot Morgen Mischler all closed to within striking distance.
But even in close quarters, the battle for victory still looked to be decided between Drane and Saathoff. Drane led to open the final lap, Saathoff powered by as they navigated turn two, and Drane dove back into the lead entering turn three. But right there was Kopp in the shadow of the Australian, perfectly positioned to pounce as they sprinted to the line.
Kopp pulled out of the draft and nudged ahead by inches at the last possible moment.
The 0.01-second victory saw the factory Red Bull KTM star simultaneously become just the category’s second two-time champion, earn his first-career Mile triumph, and match Dallas Daniels’ class single-season victory record with his eighth win on the year.
“I don’t even know what to say,” said Kopp. “It’s no secret that the KTM team was struggling on the Miles this year, but we’ve got some guys in our corner that don’t give up. The guys on the team want to win as badly as I do, and they built us a heck of a runner this weekend. Second championship… I’m speechless. It’s insane.”
Drane came away with his ninth podium in his last 11 attempts in second, while Saathoff will carry his pursuit of a maiden victory over to Sunday after finishing third, just 0.092 seconds off the Saturday win.
Brunner and Mischler rounded out the top five, finishing just ahead of Bender, who made a huge push for Rookie of the Year honors by finishing sixth, less than seven-tenths back of Kopp in first.
While Kopp has now clinched the crown with 333 points, the fight for second is yet to be decided. Brunner stands a mere four points ahead of his Estenson Racing teammate Drane (289-285) for the honor, while Saathoff holds an outside shot himself at 270.