DAYTONA BEACH, FL (March 20, 2011) -- When it comes to Memorial Day and American motorsports, open-wheel car racing has the Indy 500, stock cars have the Coca Cola 600, and the AMA Pro Harley-Davidson Insurance Flat Track Championship has the Springfield Mile, held May 28-29 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.
Long considered the most prestigious race on the series' schedule, the Sunday Springfield Mile (Round 7) also jumpstarts the 2011 Twins season, allowing the big-boy bikes to finally flex their muscles on a track that has historically provided some of the closest racing you'll find in all of motorsports. Kicking off the holiday weekend, however, the Illinois Motorcycle Dealers Association will start by once again turning the Illinois State Fairgrounds Rodeo Arena into an action-packed TT racecourse for Saturday's Round 6 event.
The biggest question leading into Round 6 of the AMA Pro Harley-Davidson Insurance Flat Track Championship is who will fill the void left by the absence of defending AMA Pro Motorcycle-Superstore.com Pro Singles Champion Henry Wiles. Wiles, who's currently recovering (post-surgery) from a leg injury incurred at Round 3, won the last three iterations of the Springfield TT and has been dominant on the 450cc machines. With his recovery process expected to sideline the reining champ through mid-season, however, the field is bristling with potential victors.
Defending Grand National Champion Jake Johnson will be looking for his second Springfield TT victory aboard his Zanotti Racing Honda. Having last won in 2007, Johnson was the last rider to do so before Wiles kicked off his streak. Monster Energy Werner Springsteen's JR Schnabel once had his own win-streak going, though, as he posted victories in 2004, '05, and '06. Then Yamaha-mounted, 2011 will mark Schnabel's first Springfield on a Kawasaki.
Despite those formidable former winners, however, rookie sensation Brad Baker (ENI USA REM) may be the man to beat. Baker had his first National win in hand at Salinas, but a last-lap spill left him with third, which has in turn left Baker more determined than ever. Even adding current points-leader and '09 TT third-place finisher Sammy Halbert (Woody Kyle Racing/Fredericktown Yamaha) to the mix doesn't sum up the depth of field at Springfield, as there are as many as ten other riders with a legitimate shot at the win.
On Sunday the action moves across the Fairgrounds to the big mile oval, a track that features 140 mph straights and 100 mph lap-times, and that has always favored calculating veterans. Chris Carr, for one, hopes this remains the case. Carr has dubbed 2011 his "Farewell Tour," and there couldn't be a sweeter way to go out than by taking his American Motorcyclist Association-backed Harley-Davidson to a thirteenth Springfield Mile victory.
In addition to Carr, there will be three other riders on track who've taken victories on the Springfield Mile: Werner Springsteen Kawasaki's Bryan Smith, who took victory at last year's Labor Day race; Harley-Davidson Motor Company's Kenny Coolbeth, who won the Springfield Mile in 2007 through 2009; and defending Grand National Champion Jake Johnson, who won last year's Spring race in dominant fashion on his Zanotti Racing Harley-Davidson, and took the Fall 2009 race as well.
Smith has since parted ways with his then-team and will field the Moroney's Harley-Davidson backed Harley. Smith, it should be noted, crossed the finish line first in 2009, but lost that race when his fuel failed a post-race test. (It is rumored Smith may have a personal Kawasaki sitting in the wings, just in case.) Also worth remembering is the very atypical manner in which Johnson won his 2010 event, pulling away from the pack and taking victory by a two-second margin, which constitutes an unusually large lead for Springfield.
The Monster Energy Werner Springsteen team will be trying to defend their win with two new riders: JR Schnabel and Shaun Russell. Schnabel's best Springfield finish thus far is a Suzuki-mounted fourth in 2007, while Russell finished second in 2005 aboard a Harley-Davidson. In other new-rider news, Rookie of the Year points-leader Brad Baker will be making his Mile debut on the ENI USA/Lloyd Brothers Racing Ducati. Joe Kopp showed the power of the team last year when he captured Ducati's first Grand National win (that victory coming at the Arizona Mile), but Baker's got serious work to do in Illinois, as no rookie has ever won the Springfield Mile.
With another doubleheader weekend on tap, the points-race could have a much different look after Memorial Day. A full 58 points are out there for anyone capable of sweeping everything ... another unheard-of occurrence in AMA Pro Flat Track history.
In current championship standings, Sammy Halbert holds an 8-point lead over Jake Johnson, with Kenny Coolbeth and Brad Baker another 21 and 22 points back, respectively. Jared Mees rounds out the top five in points.
For information and tickets to the May 28-29 Springfield TT and Mile, visit www.illinoismda.com or call either 217-753-8866 or 888-468-1622.
To learn more and to be a part of the AMA Pro Harley-Davidson Insurance Flat Track Championship, please visit www.amaproracing.com and join us via facebook.com/AMAProFlatTrackSeries and twitter.com/AMAProFlatTrack.
AMA Pro Racing is the premier professional motorcycle racing organization in North America, operating a full schedule of events and championships for a variety of motorcycle disciplines. Learn more about AMA Pro Racing at www.amaproracing.com.