Harley factory rider Kenny Coolbeth, Jr. is the only current full-time AMA Pro rider with experience racing at Knoxville.
In a quick turnaround from Springfield, Illinois’ big Labor Day weekend doubleheader, the AMA Pro Harley-Davidson Insurance Flat Track Championship now heads west for Iowa’s September 10 Knoxville Raceway half-mile. Knoxville’s oval is sacred ground in the Sprint Car world — the Sprint Car Hall of Fame sits outside Turn 2 — but the venue is no stranger to national flat track racing, which has visited periodically since 1995.
While last year’s Knoxville event was rained out, the hiatus has only upped the excitement for the series’ 2011 return, which brings with it a heated, three-rider battle for the coveted number-one combined plate. As teams roll through the Iowa corn fields and into the hallowed venue, they’ll deliver a championship chase in which the top three riders are separated by a mere ten points.
Kings Kustoms/White’s Harley-Davidson’s Sammy Halbert has maintained his stranglehold on the overall lead, which he’s owned since the series’ Daytona Beach season-opener. Seventeen rounds later, Jared Mees (Rogers Lake Racing/Blue Springs Harley-Davidson) is Halbert’s biggest threat at five points back, while Zanotti Racing Harley-Davidson’s defending Grand National Champion, Jake Johnson, lurks only another five behind in third.
Knoxville presents a special challenge to the paddock, as it represents an unknown for nearly all participating racers. While most riders keep a “book” on the racetracks they visit, the only current full-time AMA Pro rider with experience at Knoxville is Harley-Davidson Motor Company’s Kenny Coolbeth, who logged a pair of race finishes at the venue in his early Expert years.
With four half-mile events left on the 2011 schedule, Mees could be considered the frontrunner thanks to a 30-point advantage in the Expert Twins Championship. The ultra-competitive class features a multitude of riders capable of pulling off a win, however, which could easily serve to scramble the points race yet further.
AMA Pro Motorcycle-Superstore.com Pro Singles points leader, Californian Mikey Martin, rolls into Knoxville with a 16-point lead. Both of his main challengers had major problems at the Springfield Mile-Gerit Callies suffering a scary front-straight get-off, Mikey Avila getting caught up in a last-lap crash-and with Martin’s Weirbach Racing team based nearby in Iowa, hometown advantage at Knoxville has to go to the Weirbach crew.
Both Callies and Avila have declared their intention to rebound at Knoxville, but another Pro Singles riders to watch is Briar Bauman, who’s quickly making his mark in the class. After turning 16 and earning his Pro license just weeks ago, Bauman has consistently run up front, climbing all the way to a tie for eleventh in just five races.