Flat-Track Racing At Peoria TT: A Sort Of Homecoming

Henry Wiles won his 12th-straight Peoria TT at this year’s 68th running of the historic event, but for Wiles it’s more than just the wins or the records…

Henry Wiles at Peoria TT
Henry Wiles (17) scored another dominant victory at this year's 68th running of the Peoria TT, making it 12-straight wins at the historic venue.Photo: Andrea Wilson

It may be a six-hour drive for the Michigan native, but Henry Wiles is quite at home at the Peoria Motorcycle Club Race Park. Wiles has 12-straight wins to his resume at the Peoria TT, the longest win streak at the oldest running race currently on schedule in the Grand National Championship. For Wiles though, it’s more than the wins that make Peoria special; it’s the warm welcome he receives from the fans.

“I really just feel the energy from the people. That is the coolest feeling,” Wiles said. “I really feel like I’m coming home to a great big family when I come here with how cool everybody is to me. I really appreciate that because it could be totally the opposite and this would be not even close to as fun as what it is for me.”

Race fans at Peoria TT
The reception Wiles gets from the fans makes Wiles feel right at home at the Peoria Motorcycle Club.Photo: Andrea Wilson

If you think about it, a lot has happened since the last time anyone not named Wiles has won the Peoria TT. There was no Facebook or Gmail, the iPhone was a long ways off (Wiles had three-straight wins under his belt by then) and Ray Charles was still alive. So maybe fans would get tired of seeing one guy win it all the time? That may be Wiles worry, but the fans seem to enjoy the victory as much as he does.

It’s an impressive streak. The longest streak at any one venue in the Grand National Championship, and Wiles is very appreciative of it. He very well understands how difficult it is to achieve that longevity, how easy outside forces can play their hand.

“I truly do feel blessed because honestly, how can you not have a mechanical or some little thing?” Wiles pointed out. “I know I have a torn ACL and a hernia right now. I’m a little beat up. So for my knee not to blow out on a jump, when there’s a big kicker on it, and just all these little things… You’ve got to look at that and say, ‘Wow, you’re just blessed.’ That’s how I truly feel.”

Henry Wiles win streak
Wiles streak at Peoria is the longest running win streak at any one venue in the Grand National Championship.Photo: Andrea Wilson

You’d think he was nervous. After all there’s a lot to live up to with a streak like that, but Wiles was surprisingly relaxed going into the race and it showed on the track. If it was your first ever Peoria TT, there was one guy that stood out head and shoulders above the rest – Wiles. And he finished head and shoulders above the rest, nearly a 9.5 second gap on the reigning GNC1 champ Jared Mees.

“I was able to stay relaxed a lot more than I have been in the past,” he said. “I wasn’t on edge. I was able to really just enjoy it. To enjoy it, to be kind of joking around all day and having fun, it’s not typical for me here at Peoria.”

Wiles also enjoyed reaching that streak on his old trusty machine: “I did it on my old Kawi. It’s funny, here we are in 2016 and nothing newer than a 2008 has won here, because I never rode anything newer here. I don’t know if that means anything, but it’s definitely an interesting statistic, with as good as everything runs. I’m so happy that I was able to do it with that bike, with my team.”

Difficult conditions at Peoria TT
Wiles makes it look so easy, excelling in the difficult conditions at this year's Peoria TT.Photo: Andrea Wilson

In addition to Wiles win streak at Peoria, he also surpassed seven-time Grand National Champion Chris Carr’s all-time TT win record last year a total 16-TT wins, extended by this year’s win to 17. But you can’t call the Peoria Motorcycle Club “Wiles house” yet as Carr still has more wins at Peoria – 13. The modern-day TT specialist is well aware of this.

“Chris Carr he technically didn’t do it ‘straight’… Technically, records are records and whatever, but nobody’s fooling me,” Wiles said. “I know what’s going on and Chris is still the man here.

“I’m a little closer to Chris’ record here - 13 wins. That’s neat. You definitely don’t want skip a year. You want to just do it right the first time. I’ve been able to do that. When I started winning this it was never really on my mind and to be honest it’s still not, but it’d be cool to tie or beat his record.”

Henry Wiles at Peoria TT
It's a numbers thing... National number 17's win at Peoria was his 17th-career TT win.Photo: Andrea Wilson

When he won it the first time, it was also his first Grand National Championship win. The youngster shocked the flat track world by smoking the veteran competition with nearly a seven-second lead over Joe Kopp. He then backed it up with another win in 2015, becoming one of four riders (Carr, Scott Pearson and Ricky Graham) in GNC history with back-to-back wins at the Peoria TT. Wiles didn’t stop there. He kept backing it up, year after year at Peoria even when he’s struggled in the Grand National Championship.

He’s maintained a top-10 status in the championship over the last six seasons, but it’s been a hard road. There’s been a lot of negativity, a lot of doubters. But not at Peoria - the site of his first GNC-career win, his first of many to help cement his legacy as a TT rider in the sport. A legacy that Wiles also doesn’t overlook, and carries more weight to him personally because of the people that have helped get him there, and the overwhelming support from the fans at Peoria.

“I don’t think of the twelve wins in a row - I think of all the people that helped me out that were a part of this,” he said. “I think of my son. If I die in a car wreck tomorrow, there’s going to be thousands of people that will be able to tell stories of me to him. Just the people here, and how welcoming they are to me… When you mentioned that word legacy, that’s what I think about.”