Jake Johnson (above) leads the points coming into the Flat Track finale, but Joe Kopp has a shot at the crown as well.
Saturday, as the sun sets on the high desert in Prescott Valley, Arizona, one man will watch the last rays of light dance across the mountains more intently than the rest. The waning light drags the final moments of a hard-fought racing season with it, but for one, the light shall never fade. In his hands he holds the most coveted trophy in American motorsports, Flat Track
's Grand National Champion #1 plate. With it, he is immortalized in the annals of motorcycle history.
No. 1 plates are not won, they are earned with sweaty, gut-it-out, teeth-grinding determination. Two riders have separated themselves from the pack, Zanotti Racing's Jake Johnson (#5) and Lloyd Bros/Latus Harley-Davidson's Joe Kopp (#3). Forty-one-year-old Kopp is a 16-year veteran of the sport. He has held the #1 plate before, winning the Grand National Championship in 2000 and is determined to carry it into retirement after the 2010 season. Johnson has tasted his own success, winning a pair of Expert Singles Championships in 2006 and 2008, stating, "This is what I've been working for my whole life! The Singles Championships are cool, but the overall Grand National Championship is what every Flat Tracker wants."
Kopp's bruised and battered Harley, after a suspension linkage failed at 90 mph. The veteran rider will need better luck for a title reversal on Saturday.
"Championships are won and lost on your bad days," Johnson remarked as he described his 2010 campaign and the events leading to his 10-point lead over Kopp (265-255). Both riders have been remarkably consistent, overcoming crashes and mechanical failures to score critical points. Johnson scored points in all 15 GNC races, finishing no worse than 13th, surviving crashes in Hagerstown and Springfield that mangled his machine and forced him to start from the back row.
Kopp crashed only once, when his Harley broke in half entering Turn One of the Calistoga 1/2 Mile. Joe shook off severely bruised ribs and whiplash to finish 7th on his backup bike. Joe was leading the Championship by 10 points at the Minnesota Mile, riding with no brakes after his foot and the rear brake pedal were ripped off the bike by an earthen berm on the edge of the track. In a final twist of fate, his "bad day" turned into his worst when the drive chain split, careening off the rear sprocket, hamstringing the Ducati and allowing a 20-point swing to put Johnson in his current lead.
Joe Kopp needs to win to snatch that #1 plate, which should make the Prescott Valley Flat Track race one of the best this season.
The stage is set for the final round at the Arizona Mile. Johnson was handed the lead in Minnesota, but it also came with the burden "this is your Championship to lose." Qualifying for the "Dash for Cash" and potentially earning 5 points will have a definite impact on race strategy entering the Main Event. Kopp's goal is simple, he must win. He welcomes the challenge and is eager to loosen the reins on his aggression at the race. Kopp's personal and emotional motivation were heightened last week when his five-year-old son, Cody, looked at him as they tinkered on bikes in the garage, "Dad, I can't wait to hold your #1 plate on the way home."
Winning arguments can be made for both men. They are model sportsmen, clean racers, respected by everyone in the paddock, but only one will wear the 2010 Grand National Champion #1 plate Saturday night. Only one will stand, shoulder to shoulder, with legends like Nixon, Shobert, Springsteen and Parker. Who will add their name to the list Jake Johnson or Joe Kopp?
Opening ceremonies begin at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 9th.