DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — It all comes down to this. One of most competitive and engaging championship battles in the history of Progressive American Flat Track, sanctioned by AMA Pro Racing, has been waged over 16 rounds with its two leading protagonists producing a combined 28 podiums and 13 wins.
And yet, with just the series’ crown jewel event – the Mission Springfield Mile I & II presented by Drag Specialties – remaining to determine the victor, the separation at the top is a single point.
While 2023 has witnessed two of the greatest single-season performances in the 70-year history of the Grand National Championship, only one rider will be crowned the Mission SuperTwins presented by S&S Cycle champion this Labor Day weekend when the season wraps up with a decisive doubleheader at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, Illinois, on Saturday and Sunday.
This year’s title fight has it all. The No. 1 plate has been vigorously defended by one of the most decorated riders of all time in Jared Mees (No. 1 Indian Motorcycle/Rogers Racing/SDI Racing FTR750), who is looking to add to his slam dunk Hall of Fame résumé. By contrast, an incredible campaign has been mounted by one of the most promising riders to emerge in decades, Dallas Daniels (No. 32 Estenson Racing Yamaha MT-07 DT), who is in contention to secure the first of what could one day prove to be multiple premier-class championships.
The championship fight is equally compelling from team and equipment standpoints with the factory Indian Motorcycle squad and its purpose-built FTR750 racer in position to earn a seventh consecutive title. Meanwhile, Estenson Racing is aiming to deliver Yamaha its first undivided Grand National Championship in nearly half a century with its production-based MT-07 DT.
Another feature this showdown boasts in no short supply is a list of potential spoilers, anyone of whom could tip the balance in either direction.
That possibility is only magnified by the venue, which tends to produce extremely close and unpredictable racing; In the most recent ten Springfield Miles, eight have been decided by less than a second. Of those eight, six have featured at least three riders within a second of victory, four with four or more, two with seven or more, and one with a full ten racers taking the checkered flag within a second of the winner.
Spearheading the spoilers are two-time Grand National Champion Briar Bauman (No. 3 Parts Plus/Jacob Companies KTM 790 Duke) and two-time Springfield Mile winner Brandon Robinson (No. 44 Mission Roof Systems Indian FTR750).
And like Bauman and Robinson, J.D. Beach (No. 95 Estenson Racing Yamaha MT-07 DT) and Davis Fisher (No. 67 Rackley Racing/Bob Lanphere’s BMC Racing Indian FTR750) have each stood upon a Mile podium at least once in the past two seasons and rank inside this season’s championship top six.
Seventh-ranked Jarod Vanderkooi (No. 20 Wally Brown Racing/JMC Racing KTM 790 Duke) and eighth-ranked Bronson Bauman (No. 37 Fastrack Racing/2 Wheelz KTM 790 Duke) also merit special attention. Due to an injury suffered by Jesse Janisch, Vanderkooi will compete aboard the WBR KTM Duke that debuted with a podium on a Mile a season ago. Meanwhile, the younger Bauman has previously finished on the podium at the Springfield Mile, coming within 0.149 seconds of victory in the aforementioned epic 2019 contest in which ten riders were still in contention for the win as they exited the final corner.
Parts Unlimited AFT Singles presented by KICKER
Reigning class champion Kody Kopp (No. 1 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 450 SX-F) enters this weekend’s finale in a commanding position and the heavy favorite to successfully defend his Parts Unlimited AFT Singles presented by KICKER crown.
Kopp boasts a 35-points advantage built upon seven race wins with just 50 points left in play. That puts him within striking distance of not only joining Dallas Daniels as just the second rider to claim back-to-back titles in the class, but both match and surpass Daniels’ single-season wins record with a weekend sweep.
Kopp has already eliminated the title hopes of all his challengers save the Estenson Racing duo of Trevor Brunner (No. 21 Estenson Racing Yamaha YZ450F) and Tom Drane (No. 59 Estenson Racing Yamaha). While Brunner and Drane would need plenty of skill and luck to catch the leader, they also need to remain cognizant of how the standings stack up behind them.
Six riders are still in the mix for championship runner-up honors, with Chase Saathoff (No. 88 American Honda/Mission Foods CRF450R), Max Whale (No. 18 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 450 SX-F), Dalton Gauthier (No. 79 D&D Racing/Certified KTM 450 SX-F), and Trent Lowe (No. 48 American Honda/Mission Foods CRF450R) also maintaining at least mathematical possibilities of finishing second overall.
Among that grouping, Drane and Lowe split the wins in the season’s prior three Miles. Meanwhile, Saathoff finished second twice and third once, while Whale, Gauthier, and Brunner racked up a combined four top fives.
Several other gifted pilots will look to end their seasons on a high note, including regular frontrunners Morgen Mischler (No. 13 American Honda/Mission Foods CRF450R), Chad Cose (No. 49 1st Impressions Race Team/Husqvarna Racing FC450) and James Ott (No. 19 1st Impressions Race Team/Husqvarna Racing FC450).