And while others may have grabbed a little R&R while admiring the collection of championship trophies on their mantle, Mees has been accumulating stamps on his passport, racing against two-time MotoGP champion Marc Marquez in Spain in December before jetting down to Australia to compete against former three-time World Superbike champion Troy Bayliss in January. Not bad for a small town boy from Honey Brook, Pennsylvania.
Prior to his trip to Barcelona for Superprestigio, Mees had never traveled abroad, so he quizzed fellow flat tracker Brad Baker about Baker’s trip to Spain last year where he won the event. It was an exciting time for the 2014 Grand National Champion, as almost all of Mees’ team – mechanics, team owners, and a couple of sponsors, all got to attend. Honda of Spain stepped up to provide him with a 2015 Honda 450 to compete on, the bike basically stock except for the exhaust. Landing in Spain was a whirlwind of activity for Mees. No sooner did he land before he was whisked away to a press conference.
“Then I went right from there to work on my bike and pretty much rolled right up and went to the practice track and practiced. Friday we had a little bit of an easier day and then Saturday was the race,” said Mees.
Superprestigio was quite the spectacle, thousands of screaming, banner-waving fans packed into Palau Sant Jordi arena, lights flashing, music blaring, the scene more like an American Supercross race than the generic flat track event.
“Yeah, no doubt, they definitely know how to put on a show and hype it up. That was cool to feel like the star and they definitely did a good job of making the American riders feel very welcome and gave us a lot of good press. Couldn’t ask for anything better,” said Mees.
The American flat track champion rode strong as he stormed through the Open class, winning all his heat and open races. In the Superfinal match-up with Marquez, a rider went down in front of them in the first turn, and Kenny Noyes was able to shoot out to the early lead. Both riders would hunt him down, with Marquez holding a tight line to hold off Mees for the victory.
“The race format was a lot different than what we’re accustomed to. It was very busy and you rode a lot, so that was cool.
“Of course, going over there winning was the goal. I’m sure everybody thought I was a favorite to win because I was a dirt tracker. Brad was going really good until he fell off, and then, not saying the pressure was more on me to win, but I wanted to do very well, of course. I think in the main event if I could have got the start I think we would have been better off but a little 12-lap sprint race there’s hardly any time.
“A guy went down right in front of me and Marquez and when I set the bike up to try and miss him, I stalled it. I bumped it off really quick and was able to make up some ground but like I said, I just kind of ran out of time.”
Mees said he had a great experience in Spain and was honored to have been invited to Superprestigio. He’s looking forward to going back next year as he’s already been asked to compete once again. Mees added Marquez is very nice and was a gracious host.
Mees’ trip to Superprestigio also opened the door for his Australian adventure. One of his competitors in Spain was Troy Bayliss, an Australian native who holds his own little race back home, the Motul Pirelli Troy Bayliss Classic (TBC). Since retiring from World Superbike racing with three championship titles, the road racer has formed his own event company and continues to advocate for motorcycling through events like his dirt track classic. Last year Sammy Halbert and Henry Wiles competed in the TBC. After meeting Bayliss in Spain, Mees got an invite to join Halbert and Wiles to compete in Australia this year, too.
Compared to the frenetic pace of Superprestigio, Mees said “Australia was like way more of a vacation.”
Compared to the hustle and bustle of Spain, Australia was like a vacation according to Mees. He fished, road bicycles, wakeboarded and even tried his hand at surfing.
Sure, there was racing to be done. But there were also bicycle rides to take, fishing to be done, wakeboards to be ridden, and he even took a shot at surfing.
“I hung out with Bayliss pretty much the whole time and we hit it off really good. Of course, it’s their summertime so I spent most of my time in flip-flops and shorts. I got to be pretty tight with a guy named Josh Hook, we hung out and had a great time,” said Mees.
When race day came, Mees didn’t power through the early brackets like he did in Spain. He went 3-2-7 in the Americana knock-out section and one race suffered a flat tire. But when chips were on the line, Mees stepped up big, winning the 21-lap Troy Bayliss Classic finale and bringing the Troy Bayliss Cup back to the States. But it wasn’t easy. Australian flat track legend Paul Caslick, with 22 Australian Dirt and Long Track Championships on his resume, shot out to the early lead and led for half the race. Once Mees got past though, there was no catching the Grand National Champion, AMA Pro Flat Tracker Wiles finishing second with Caslick grabbing the final spot on the podium.
After the race, Mees and Bayliss swapped helmets and jerseys from the race to commemorate the 2015 Troy Bayliss Classic.
“I can’t say enough positive things about him,” said Mees. He also thanked Kim Bayliss profusely for hosting him as well as Brisbane Motorcycles for supplying him with the race-winning Honda.
After spending the offseason as an international ambassador for AMA Pro Flat Track racing, it’s back to the business at hand, GNC title number four. When we caught up with Mees, he was tearing into the engine of his Honda 450 in preparation for the 2015 season opener in Daytona. We wondered how his latest championship compared to the others, which he said “It was cool because it was my third championship, and to win three it’s hard to do. You remember them all, but of course the first one they say is always the sweetest.”
With three titles under his belt, we were curious what keeps him hungry to keep competing for the title.
“I have a really good team and so they make it a lot easier on me. I enjoy competing and I enjoy working hard to compete, and though there’s not a whole lot of money in flat track, I enjoy making a living at something I love doing. That always helps.”
When asked about how he’s able to compete at a consistently high level year-in and year-out, Mees again defers to his team.
“I gotta give it up to George and the team. I think it’s my seventh year of riding for Craig Rogers (of Rogers-Lake Racing) and I’ve been blessed to have him on my side. I work very hard at this, working out, and being on the business side, so I put a lot of time and effort into my program myself. A buddy of mine, Craig Pickett, he helps out a lot with my success and does a lot of stuff for me. I guess the people around me that are in my program are really what makes it work for me.”
There will be plenty of work to do in order to claim a fourth GNC title. Last year saw an epic battle with Bryan Smith and Kawasaki for the title. Smith actually led heading into penultimate race at Calistoga’s half-mile, but was black flagged for a smoking motorcycle. The race worked in Mees’ favor as he left the round with a 13-point advantage.
“They’re tough on the miles. For sure this year, I predict Bryan is going to be very strong at the end of the year for the championship because you look at the schedule and the majority of it’s miles.”
In addition to Smith, Mees foresees Kenny Coolbeth, Jr., as being a strong competitor for the title this year, and predicts Brad Baker will be a threat as well if he gets healthy.
When asked if Mees could single out any up-and-comers in the flat track scene, he said ”there’s some kids coming up for sure that appear to be pretty tough,” mentioning Dalton Gauthier and 2014 AMA Pro Singles Champion Kyle Johnson, who is moving up to the GNC Expert class this year. Of the tracks on the schedule this year, Mees said without hesitation Peoria is his favorite. Hagerstown and Lima also rate high in his ranks.
Like most, we were curious what it’s like for Mees to have to compete against his wife, pro flat track racer Nichole Mees (formerly Nichole Cheza). Admittedly, as a husband, there’s always concern for her, but “It’s just really second nature. She’s raced since she was a little girl and having her on the racetrack isn’t something different really. I met her up through the amateur ranks and started dating her about when she turned pro. It’s just the way it is. We met through racing so it’s really nothing new.”
Mees not only makes a living doing something he loves, he gets to share it with the one he loves as well, adding an even deeper dimension to what flat track racing means to him. Both Jared and Nichole were on Harley-Davidson’s Wrecking Crew last year. In addition to getting a bit of extra factory support as they raced the Harley XR750 in GNC Twins events, the duo also did promotional duties with an ice racing demonstration for Harley-Davidson who lobbied to get ice racing in the Winter X Games.
While it’d be hard for Mees to top the events of last year, if anybody can surpass those achievements, it’s Mees. He knows what it takes to be the best and is willing to make the sacrifices to get there. He races with the heart of a champion and fearlessly puts it all on the line of the blue groove. Off the bike, he’s a class act, a driven man with strong character, traits that have served him well as he’s been spreading his love of American flat track racing to an international audience.