It took four years of hard work for Jared Mees to win the AMA Grand National Twins Championship. It took him just over a month to lose his dream ride.
At 7 p.m. on Monday night, Mees found out that Harley-Davidson was pulling the plug on the Wrecking Crew, a decision that also affects Bryan Smith and Joe Kopp. Harley, however, is keeping Kenny Coolbeth, who will be the lone factory rider for the Motor Company in 2010.
On October 24, Mees finished fifth in the season finale at the Fairplex in Pomona, California, and it was enough to earn him the title he'd been chasing in earnest for four years. Thirty nine days later he got the news that his deal was done.
"I had no clue and I would have never thought in a million years that they'd do that to me," Mees said this morning from his home in Michigan. "In this tough economy, I guess the only thing I can say is that I have the best bargaining power that anybody can have because I'm holding the number-one plate, but in this economy it's tough. I already started getting on the horn and I've got a couple of people interested, but it's definitely won't be what the Harley deal was going to be. It's a bum deal. I don't want to say anything bad about Harley because they gave me a pretty good ride for the last four years and I was able to make some pretty good money and had a lot of fun with them. But you sit there and you want to win the championship for them and they tell you how much they want you to win - and a Wrecking Crew dealer rider wins it and all of a sudden they send me down the road. There was no negotiation... nothing. There was no ‘times are tough Jared we can't do what we did before.' They told us at the award's banquet they said they'd let us know at the end of November and they let us know on November 30 at 7 o'clock at night. ‘See you later guys.'
"Times are tough, but I don't understand. It's just a bum deal all the way around. I feel for [Bryan] Smith and [Joe] Kopp, but to hold the number-one plate and to not even get some sort of a kick back at all bums me out. I'd like to thank them for everything they've done for the past four years, but I am disappointed. It would have been nice for them to give me a heads up somehow. We're in December and I have nothing."
Fortunately for the 23-year-old Mees, while the factory's support came in the way of funding, the team will stay intact as Harley didn't provide the motorcycles to the Blue Springs Harley-Davidsoni/Screamin' Eagle team.
"The bikes and everything are mine - mine and Craig Rogers of Rogers/Lake Racing," Mees said. "As far as the truck, the bikes, the mechanics, the team owner and Blue Springs Harley, we're all sticking together. It was a matter of the money they [Harley-Davidson] were putting in, the contingency... there was just so much that went along with it. I thought they were more of a loyal company than that, but they kept me last year when I was ninth in the country and gave me the same deal I had the year before after I finished ninth, so I thought they'd really do something for me this year with the number-one plate. Why would they throw a number-one plate out with as much exposure as I can give them?"
While Harley's withdrawal is a blow to youngsters like Mees and Smith, it may just mean the end of the road for the veteran Kopp.
"It's kind of a weird deal," Kopp said when reached at his home this morning. "I'm kind of looking at it that this might be my year to retire. There was a lot of money that was being put into my program and my sponsor [Latus Harley-Davidson] is a Harley-Davidson dealer also so he's affected by it and just with the sale of bikes you know. It's a huge deal and I need to scrounge up a ton of money to get going next year and if not I guess I'll park it. It's a big shock. I can't retire and I'd have to keep working to do something to make some extra money here and there, but I've done good with racing. I've been at it a lot of years and it's been good for me. I've been going back and forth with whether to retire this year or next year and next year was going to be my last year for sure if I did it. I will still be around the scene doing something and if I can scrounge up some money I'll be racing, but if not... I told Jared Mees this summer that I was glad I wasn't 20 years old and trying to make a living in this sport right now. We've had our good times. It hits someone like him harder than it does me. Luckily I've got a house and a family that's pretty much taken care of and I'll just keep on rolling down the road if it happens."
Moroney's Harley-Davidson's Bryan Smith went into the final race of the season with a chance of taking the title, but a mechanical failure derailed his chances in the finale. He's in the same boat as Mees, though there may be a Kawasaki option on the table.
"It's a bummer for all of us for sure," Smith said. "I had a feeling that with Harley struggling... I've been looking around a little bit. I've got a real good relationship with Bill Werner and we did the Kawasaki singles together. He's got a Kawasaki twin that he's been trying to develop the last couple of years so he's going to see what he can put together on that. Not sure that's where I will be going, but he's going to see what he can put together there and I'll see what I can put together to continue with my Harleys and we'll see what the best option is here in a couple of more weeks.Harley covered pretty much all our expenses before and we have all the equipment, but it's a matter of funding. They are the most expensive bike to run so you have to find quite a bit of funding to make it work so you're not just racing for a couple of bucks at the end of the year."