Race Park’s thousands of fans this Sunday for Round 14 of the 21-race series. The massive crowd that traditionally fills the shaded hillsides around “Thunder Valley” will be treated not merely to the biggest and baddest TT race on the AMA Pro schedule, but to race action heightened by close championship battles raging in each class.
The Peoria Motorcycle Club has been hosting fans since 1947, and this weekend’s August 21 event will mark the venue’s 82nd Grand National, the early years featuring both “Heavyweight” and “Lightweight” nationals on the same day. Current machinery has since changed the way riders approach the half-mile-long track, and the 100-mph front straight and monstrous back-straight jump are not for the faint of heart.
The Chris Carr “Farewell Tour” has been a big attraction all season long, but Peoria will surely be the most emotional stop for the seven-time Grand National Champion, as Carr has proudly worn the “Prince of Peoria” title for many years. He won his first Grand National main in Peoria in 1985 — his first of thirteen victories there, twelve of them consecutive — and has contended twenty-four Peoria mains in all, picking up five podium finishes in addition to his thirteen wins.
While Carr will certainly be a sentimental favorite, however, it appears the heir to the Peoria throne may have already arrived: Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Henry Wiles has reeled off the last six straight wins at the TT. Thus far, the only entity able to stop Wiles at Peoria has been Mother Nature herself, as the 2007 event was rained out.
Thanks to thin margins in the 2011 Grand National Championship battle, Wiles will have some hot-blooded competitors to deal with on Sunday, starting with Woody Kyle Racing/Fredericktown Yamaha’s Sammy Halbert, who’s led the title hunt since the opening round. Behind Halbert are the ever-relentless Jared Mees (Montgomeryville Cycle Center/Lucas Oil) and defending Grand National Champion Jake Johnson (Zanotti Racing) — but neither intends to stay behind much longer.
All three contenders have had some success on the brutal TT in years past. Mees and Halbert went second and third, respectively, in the 2010 event, while Johnson — the most experienced Peoria rider of the three — has racked up his own second and third. The trio will have company, however, as there will be several young-guns looking to make their mark.
JD Beach — who won four of the eight Motorcycle-Superstore.com Pro Singles races he entered last year, even while picking up AMA Pro Road Racing’s Motorcycle-Superstore.com SuperSport East Division Championship — will be returning from the road race wars to take his shot at the national. Beach, who earned a podium finish in his first Expert main, is no stranger to Peoria, having won its 2009 and 2010 Pro Singles races. A pair of Rookie of the Year contenders, Brad Baker and Jeff Carver, also helped to fill the Pro Singles podium both years, and the three young riders will give a fresh look to the 2011 field while giving more-veteran riders some likely trouble.
Carr’s final Peoria stop won’t be the only emotional event on Sunday, as many riders will be paying tribute to flat track and road race legend Gary Nixon, who passed away in early August. Those riders will wear Nixon replica jerseys for the day, paying tribute to the popular, beloved rider who won back-to-back Grand National titles before beginning his road race career. Between celebrations of flat track’s proud history and the intensity of its present-day action, this year’s Peoria TT promises to be a can’t-miss event.
For Peoria TT tickets and information, visit www.peoriatt.net or call (309) 697-4981 or (309) 635-1662. To be a part of the AMA Pro Harley-Davidson Insurance Flat Track Championship, visit www.amaproracing.com and join us on facebook.com/AMAProFlatTrackSeries and twitter.com/AMAProFlatTrack.