SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Sammy Halbert provided an undeniable reminder of his immense talent with a commanding performance in Saturday’s AFT SuperTwins presented by Vance & Hines Main Event at the Springfield Mile I presented by Memphis Shades.
Halbert has long been regarded as one of the elite riders on the American Flat Track scene, but his 14th Grand National Championship victory came as his first in more than four years. Over that span, he’d found himself on the wrong end of Indian Motorcycle’s recent series domination. Now that he’s got an FTR750 of his own, Halbert once again figures to be a significant factor in the ’20 AFT SuperTwins title fight.
That possibility seemed obvious in Saturday’s 14-minute plus two lap main at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, Illinois. Halbert and multi-time champ Jared Mees broke free from the pack as early as the race’s opening lap and settled in for what appeared likely to be a race-long shootout to the checkered flag.
After the two swapped the spot back and forth numerous times early, Mees seemed content to just sit on Halbert’s rear wheel and bide his time. However, with two minutes to go, Halbert proved that it was him, in fact, who was waiting to make his move.
At that point, Hablert threw down the fastest laps the track had seen all day. Mees had no answer and all he could do was watch Halbert sprint away to a near two-second margin of victory.
“Oh man, it’s so long overdue. It’s sort of surreal,” Halbert said. “Some days it just happens — like I didn’t even have to try too hard. I’m so stoked. It’s been such a pleasure to work with Kenny Coolbeth and John Weiss with the Coolbeth-Nila Racing team.
“I had a fun race there. For a while I didn’t think I could shake Jared, but I just started to put it together. I could tell he was struggling off of Turn 4, spinning a little bit. I just kept trying to break him and finally I did. It feels amazing — I’m going to try to make a habit of it.”
Mees was able to cruise to second with a multi-rider fight for the final spot on the box more than 10 seconds back of the win.
Jeffrey Carver Jr. took home third in the end, out-dueling fourth-placed Brandon Robinson and fifth-placed Davis Fisher.
Reigning Grand National champion Briar Bauman finished in seventh, .150 seconds behind Brandon Price.
As a result, Mees has reclaimed the points lead and remains the sole rider with a perfect podium record on the season. Bauman is now five points back (107-102), while the on-form Halbert is a strong third with 91.
Halbert will look to close in even further on Sunday.
“The guy that wins tomorrow is the one who gets to enjoy it all week, so we’re going to put our heads down and try to do that,” Halbert. “I think we’re ready and I’m feeling good.”
In AFT Production Twins, Ryan Varnes simply would not break despite being subjected to constant, intense pressure en route to his first Mile win.
Following an eventful opening two laps in which Danny Eslick, Jeremiah Duffy, James Rispoli and Ben Lowe all took a turn at the lead, Varnes powered into first with eight minutes remaining on the clock.
At that point it seemed likely to be just the next in a countless number of lead changes. However, as it turned out, the 2019 class runner-up wouldn’t relinquish the lead.
Varnes led a four-rider breakaway with Lowe, Rispoli and Chad Cose close behind in his wake. Cose maneuvered into second and then spent the next six minutes plus two laps looking for any way past Varnes to no avail.
Thanks to an ideal combination of precision, patience, and power, Varnes held on to claim the checkered flag .116 seconds ahead of Cose. Lowe, in turn, tried his best to overhaul Cose in turn three on the final lap, but came up just .027 seconds short in third.
“Springfield is definitely a legendary track – it’s pretty iconic,” Varnes said. “To get a win today feels pretty good. We had some issues earlier in the day, but we battled through them. The bike ran awful in the Semi. We tore our secondary bike apart just to get our primary bike back up and running for that Main Event and luckily it just ran flawlessly. It was so easy to ride and those couldn’t draft by me it didn’t seem like.”
Rispoli faded in the final minutes and reigning AFT Production Twins champ Cory Texter took full advantage. Texter dropped the ex-roadracing ace to fifth and clawed his way from some two seconds back to end up just over a half-second off the win in fourth.