After finishing a disappointing 13th at the AMA season finale Du Quoin Mile, American Honda/White Brothers’ Nicky Hayden came to the Del Mar Fairgrounds in search of that one last dirt track victory with which he could wax nostalgic while battling for the MotoGP Championship in Europe next year. At the penultimate round of the Drag Specialties Formula USA National Dirt Track Series, Hayden got what he came for.
Hayden rode as flawless a race as he had anywhere all season, grabbing the lead from his pole starting position and pulling clear of a battle between two of his White Brothers teammates, brother Tommy Hayden and AMA Grand National runner-up Johnny Murphree, to win the 20-lap Del Mar Short Track. Hayden won the race by better than half a lap. It was his first career Formula USA victory, and one that he says will provide that much sought-after happy memory.
“I’m glad that it went like that,” Hayden said after pulling into victory lane. “I didn’t want to have to think about Du Quoin for the next couple of years. Today, when the sun was up, I didn’t feel that comfortable, but then the sun went down, and the track just kind of came to me. We made some gearing changes, and in the main event I felt real good, smooth and comfortable. I just put in the laps.”
Behind Hayden, there were some real barn-burner races going on. Murphree snuck past Tommy Hayden after Tommy bobbled in the middle stages of the race, and he held on to finish second, with Tommy third. The battle for fifth was a three-rider affair with championship implications, as Moroney’s-backed Jared Mees, Quality Checked Pre-owned Certified Ford-backed Chris Carr and Team WE Racing/West Bend H-D’s J.R. Schnabel mixed it up behind eventual fourth-place finisher Joe Kopp and his factory KTM. Carr wound up getting the spot after first Schnabel and then Mees nearly high-sided off turn four. Mees held off Schnabel, who is still alive in the series title race, for the sixth spot.
Schnabel’s finish puts him within 20 points of 2001 Del Mar Short Track winner and defending Formula USA National Dirt Track Champion Terry Poovey, who failed to make the Short Track main event. Poovey even tried to use his Formula USA provisional start card, but Dan Stanley’s name was drawn in the three-rider lotto to determine who would gain the event’s single provisional start.
With the season finale K&N Filters Del Mar Mile tomorrow, the title is still on the line, although Schnabel will have to win and hope that Poovey finishes around 11th in order to swipe the crown. Kopp trails Schnabel by just 10 points in a battle that could swing unfavorably against the Wisconsinite if Kopp has a good day. Stay tuned.
Del Mar Fairgrounds
Del Mar, California
Results: October 5, 2002 (Round 9 of 10)
PRO SINGLES NATIONAL (20 laps; 13 riders): 1. Nicky Hayden (Hon); 2. Johnny Murphree (Hon); 3. Tommy Hayden (Yam); 4. Joe Kopp (KTM); 5. Chris Carr (Vor); 6. Jared Mees (Hon); 7. J.R. Schnabel (Hon); 8. Brett Landes (Hon); 9. Steve Beattie (Hon); 10. Jake Zemke (Hon); 11. Dan Stanley (Hon); 12. Jake Johnson (Hon); 13. Kevin Varnes (CCM).
Time: 4 min., 12.420 sec.
DRAG SPECIALTIES FORMULA USA NATIONAL DIRT TRACK SERIES POINTS STANDINGS (After 9 of 10 rounds): 1. Terry Poovey (260/1 win); 2. J.R. Schnabel (240/1 win); 3. Joe Kopp (230/1 win); 4. Rich King (186/2 wins); 5. Dan Stanley (152); 6. Bryan Smith (128); 7. Chris Carr (114/2 wins); 8. Larry Pegram (106); 9. (TIE) Kenny Coolbeth (104)/Willie McCoy (104).