DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – With all eyes trained on the Progressive American Flat Track Grand National Championship points leaders, Brandon Robinson stole the show in Friday night’s Progressive AFT Finale DAYTONA I at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
AFT SuperTwins presented by Vance & Hines title rivals Briar Bauman and Jared Mees opened the main event from first and second on the line. As they went elbow to elbow in an attempt to gain an early advantage over one another, their melee opened the door for Jarod Vanderkooi, Robinson and Robert Pearson to rush past.
Vanderkooi enjoyed a short-lived spell out front before giving way to Robinson, who then proved utterly dominant over the race’s final nine minutes despite racing with a broken right foot.
“I’m absolutely ecstatic right now — I can’t believe this,” Robinson said. “My Roof Systems team gave me an awesome motorcycle. All my guys stuck behind me through all the injuries. They believed in me and told me to go have fun, and here we are. This is unbelievable. I couldn’t be happier; these guys deserve it, and all I wanted to do was get a win for my team.”
With Robinson long gone, Bauman and Mees frantically fought their way forward to collect as many points as possible ahead of tomorrow’s decisive race.
Reigning champ Bauman ultimately proved more successful in those efforts. He dispatched Pearson for third with six laps remaining, and then spent the remainder of his race chasing down Vanderkooi. That relentless pursuit paid dividends with less than a minute remaining on the clock when he worked his way through to earn second place and the 20 points that came with it.
Despite being passed by Bauman late, Vanderkooi equaled his best ever premier-class finish in third.
Mees shook free from Davis Fisher to reel in and sail past Pearson, moving into fourth position with four minutes remaining. However, Bauman and Vanderkooi were too far out in front, leaving him one spot off the box at the flag and with a considerably deeper hole to climb out of heading into Saturday’s rematch.
With one race to go, Bauman leads Mees 294-280. That means even if Mees wins tomorrow, Bauman needs only to finish eighth or better to repeat as AFT SuperTwins Champion.
Chad Cose finally broke through in the season’s finale weekend to claim his first victory of the year in a hard-fought AFT Singles presented by Russ Brown Motorcycle Attorneys main event.
Cose twice beat Max Whale for the holeshot in the once red-flagged and restarted main and never once gave up the position. Cose was pushed throughout with Whale and Henry Wiles both showing him a wheel at different times, including a final-lap attempt to steal away the win on the part of Wiles.
“I’m just so pumped,” Cose said. “Last year and the year before, it was a black eye just to be on this bike, and that’s credit to my team giving me a good motorcycle. I’m just overwhelmed with emotion. It is so awesome to get my win here in Daytona. This is like my second home here, and I’m so happy for everybody who supports me. I know there’s been some down days for us, but as long as I have these guys on my side, we’re going to keep fighting, we’re going to keep grinding, and we’re not going to give up.”
Wiles’ runner-up result tightens the battle for second in the championship. Despite missing the previous round, he now trails Friday’s third-place finisher, Whale, by 12 points (195-183) heading into Saturday’s season finale.
Also in the mix throughout was already crowned AFT Singles champion Dallas Daniels. Daniels was fighting an uphill battle starting from row three as a result of a crash in the Semi, but he still managed to join the battle for the win. He ultimately finished fourth, falling .749 seconds short of extending his six-race win streak to seven.
Meanwhile, Daniels’ teammate, Mikey Rush was forced to start from the back of the pack due to an opening-lap incident that saw him go down while running third. He somehow managed to slash his way up from last place to take an impressive fifth on the little bullring circuit.
As a result, Rush retains a slim mathematical shot at a second consecutive championship runner-up finish; he now trails second-ranked Whale by 25 points with tomorrow’s race left to decide the final order.
An historic AFT Production Twins main event saw Johnny Lewis claim Royal Enfield’s first AFT victory and season-long dominator James Rispoli crowned the class’ champion.
Despite his underdog status on the upstart Royal Enfield effort, Daytona Short Track genius Lewis controlled the evening in the AFT Production Twins. He escaped to an easy win in his Semi, qualified on pole and finished things off by going wire-to-wire in the main event.
Lewis fought back an early challenge from Ben Lowe, asserted at the front himself mid-race, and then successfully held off a desperate charge from Cory Texter in the race’s waning moments to secure the win.
“I was skeptical coming here riding twins on this track, but it’s actually a lot of fun,” Lewis said. “It’s a little bit more work than riding a 450, but it was a lot of fun to ride this Royal Enfield around here.
“Everybody’s support for this program has been awesome. We’ve been busting our butts all season, and it feels good to not only get to the podium, but win a race. I’m excited to continue this effort with Royal Enfield, and I’m excited to come back out tomorrow.”
Rispoli, meanwhile, sat a safe-yet-close fourth behind Lewis, Texter, and Lowe for most of the race. Even if Texter had beaten Lewis to the checkered flag, all he needed was a seventh to end the title fight early. Fourth was more than enough.
With Saturday’s race still to go, Rispoli has racked up seven wins, four runner-ups, two fourths, and a fifth en route to the AFT Production Twins throne. This championship marks the first for Harley-Davidson since the introduction of the XG750R, a pivotal moment for one of the most iconic manufacturers in the history of the sport.
“I’m so fired up — thank you to my HogSpoli nation out there,” Rispoli said. “Tonight I thought we had a shot at the win, but these guys were riding so good. To be honest, I didn’t want to throw it away. Tomorrow, we’ll come back and go for the win, and then we’ll let the celebrations begin.”