SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Monday’s Springfield Mile II at the Illinois State Fairgrounds proved worth the wait, delivering a thrilling finish in the AFT Twins presented by Vance & Hines main event.
Following an epic 25 miles that saw 10 riders in contention for the victory as they dove into the race’s final corner, multi-time defending AFT Twins Champion Jared Mees worked his magic yet again to win out in the last-lap dash to the checkered flag.
Making the achievement all the more impressive, Mees did so after starting in last position from row four.
The champ turned in his one provisional start card of the season to advance to the Main after encountering bike issues in his Semi. However, he managed to slipstream his way forward over the race’s opening third, joining the mammoth front group by lap 10. He was dueling for the lead a lap later — a duel that wouldn’t end until the final stripe.
In the end, Mees outlasted title rival Briar Bauman by a scant 0.083 seconds.
The triumph was the 14th Mile win of Mees’ illustrious career, tying him with the legendary Jay Springsteen for sixth all-time on the big tracks. It also brought him within a single race of Bauman in the evolving AFT Twins championship race, as he’s now 25 points back (280-255) heading into the season’s final three races.
“It was good to come off the back row and put my name on the list with the guys who have done that,” Mees said. “It’s more emotional doing it this way on the back-up bike and working my way up. The Indian Motorcycle ran so phenomenal for me. My whole crew worked so hard; when that bike broke we were switching wheels, and shocks, and offsets to try to duplicate what we were running on the main bike. We got it done, and it feels amazing.”
Bronson Bauman came through in third to lock out the podium for the Indian Wrecking Crew for the first time this year.
While the day ultimately belonged to Mees and Indian, a huge number of riders played starring roles with the entire top ten finishing within .653 seconds of the win.
Rookie Brandon Price made a late-bid for the victory, and was one of five riders who slid into turn three on lap 25, side-by-side, vying for the lead. He ended up an impressive fourth, fractionally ahead of Brandon Robinson.
Factory Harley-Davidson teammates Sammy Halbert and Jarod Vanderkooi factored heavily all day, with Vanderkooi winning a heat and Halbert starting from pole after winning his semi.
Halbert led in the late stages of the race, but was shuffled down to sixth at the flag. Vanderkooi ended up eighth with Henry Wiles sandwiched between the Harley runners.
Davis Fisher and Saturday’s runner-up Jeffrey Carver Jr. rounded out the top ten.
In the AFT Production Twins feature, Kolby Carlile materialized from the pack late to claim his first AFT Production Twins victory in dramatic fashion.
All eyes had been on Dalton Gauthier, who was chasing a unique dual-class triple win on the weekend.
Like Mees in the premier class, Gauthier had to start on the back row, being forced to use a provisional start when his bike expired in his Semi. However, his form and momentum still made him feel all but unstoppable, as he powered from dead last to first place by the time the pack dove into turn one for the second time.
He didn’t slow from there, opening up a 1.5-second advantage by the time the race was red flagged while working lap 10 of 15. On the restart, Gauthier went right back to work, steadily building another advantage on the pack.
The only difference this time around was that teammate James Rispoli managed to hang onto the slipstream and use it to escape along with Gauthier.
With a 1-2 Black Hills Harley-Davidson seeming nearly assured, Gauthier raised his hand in disappointment with three laps to go, signaling another mechanical issue that spoiled his bid for the triple Springfield victory.
Without the benefit of Gauthier’s draft, Rispoli found himself reeled back to the pack. Carlile caught him just in time to thunder by as they drove down the back straight for the final time.
Carlile tucked his head down and outpaced any potential counter moves, beating Rispoli to the line by 0.111 seconds.
“I was confident the whole race; there was just so much traffic and I got sucked into it a little bit,” Carlile said. “I was letting those guys shake it out, but I knew I had the bike to win this thing. Dalton and James took off after the restart and I fell back again, but I knew my bike was strong enough to catch them. And that’s what we did.
“I just can’t thank my Estenson Racing crew enough… I broke my leg early in the year and I lost a round. I’m at a huge points deficit, but we’re trying to make it back. I’m finally feeling like myself again.”
Cody Johncox was next in line in a pack of riders that saw five men take the checkered flag within .554 seconds of the win. He finished 0.082 seconds back of Rispoli to complete the podium.