Reigning GNC champ Jake Johnson took victory at Saturday's Salinas TT. Photo by Dave Hoeni
SALINAS, CA (March 24, 2011) -- Defending Grand National Champion Jake Johnson (Zanotti Racing) roared to victory at the inaugural AMA Pro Racing Harley-Davidson Insurance Salinas TT on Saturday afternoon, but that triumph didn't come easily. Despite leading twenty-four laps of the twenty-five-lap National, Johnson's win was at times very much in doubt, as series rookie Brad Baker had his ENI USA-backed Honda parked on the champ's rear wheel for much of the contest.
Johnson's early lead slipped away after Baker disposed of Rogers Lake Racing's Jared Mees on Lap 8 and set out after the lead. Baker appeared to be faster almost everywhere; everywhere, perhaps, save the all-important last turn to the finish line.
"I looked back and saw Brad," said Johnson. "Not that I was less worried, but when I was young, I was kind of a hammer head. It was dry slick and you had to be careful not to spin the tire, but I was the one doing that and he was the one making up ground on me. He caught me and started poking a wheel in on me here and there. I kind of threw out the defense a little bit."
Every time Baker looked to have a chance, the veteran Johnson would squirt away. The battle raged until Lap 23, when Baker took the lead at the line. Disaster hit Baker almost immediately, however, as he lost the front wheel in the tight, left-hand turn leading into the infield. Baker's first win was not to be, but he was able to get the clutch pulled, remount, and forge on.
"I almost had it," said Baker. "I almost kept it up down there, but it was the hardest corner of the race. That's where I was making up the time on Jake for the whole race, [but it] was harder to lead in there than it was in second. The front-end got away from me. Fortunately, I pulled in the clutch and kept it going, [and] I almost held on to second. Winning the race would have been awesome."
Baker lost first and second, but he was able to hold on to third and earn his second podium finish of 2011. Monster Energy Kawasaki's Henry Wiles overcame a near-disastrous first lap to climb all the way from tenth to a solid second-place finish.
Mees, who had appeared to be in position to get his first podium finish of the year, ultimately lost ground to both Wiles and current points-leader Sammy Halbert (Woody Kyle Racing/Fredericktown Yamaha). Mees was able to salvage fourth with a last-lap pass of Halbert.
Farewell Tour or not, American Motorcyclist Association/Dallas Fort Worth Honda's Chris Carr continued his string of impressive showings, as he moved from fourteenth on the first lap to a closing sixth at the end. Southland Racing's Jimmy Wood had won the Fastenal Dash for Cash (and the $1,000 and five points that went with it) earlier in the afternoon, but that proved the high point of Wood's day, as he would limp home in the National itself, finishing two laps down in eighteenth.
Johnson's win and Halbert's fifth-place finish have tightened up the championship hunt considerably, as the top two are now separated by a single point, Halbert with 85 and Johnson holding 84. Brad Baker and Kenny Coolbeth sit nineteen and twenty points behind Halbert, respectively.
Earlier in the day, the Motorcycle-Superstore.com Pro Singles main was won by California's Mikey Avila. "This is really great," said Avila afterward. "I'm not really much of a TT rider." The Boughner Racing/M.E.H. Corp-backed Avila had been pressed early in the race by points-leader Gerit Callies (Full Throttle/Gillespie Small Engines), but a late-race mistake cost Callies second, as Rod Lake/Hooper Motorsports' Rod Spencer Jr. slipped by and earned his first podium appearance of 2011.
The Callies-Avila points race is once again tight. After the pair split Daytona wins at the opening round, Avila turned in a disappointing finish at last weekend's DuQuoin round. That was nearly negated, however, by yesterday's performance, and Avila currently sits just six points behind class-leader Callies.
The AMA Pro Harley-Davidson Insurance Flat Track Championship launches immediately into Round 5 of the series with a short track event today, Sunday April 24, at Salinas, California's, Salinas Sports Complex. For tickets to the event, visit www.salinasflattrack.com/tickets.php, and to follow today's on-track action via live timing, visit www.amaproracing.com and click the green bar at the top of your screen.
Wishing you a very joyful Easter, from everyone at AMA Pro Racing.