After bagging his first two wins in the AMA Grand National Championship Series in dominant fashion, Pennsylvania’s Kevin Varnes was confident that win number three was right around the corner.
That was in 1995.
It may have taken seven years, but win number three finally turned up on the tacky-fast, red clay Dirt Track at Lowe’s Motor Speedway outside Charlotte, North Carolina, tonight.
Varnes grabbed the holeshot from his second-row starting position and rode away from the competition to card the victory aboard his Babe Demay-tuned, Memphis Shades/Drag Specialties-backed Harley-Davidson XR750. He rode a flawless race and led every lap of the 25-lap main event. And yet it sounds easier than it really was, as Corbin Racing/Samson Exhaust’s Kenny Coolbeth came calling in the last few corners, stalking his first career win just as he had done against the late Will Davis at the same facility one year ago. Once again, Coolbeth came up short, however, bagging another runner-up finish after charging all the way from the penalty line. In fact, it could be speculated that had Coolbeth not been forced to switch bikes after scorching the track in his heat race to land the pole position for the main, that he would have checked out on everyone. Instead, the Connecticut rider played catch-up for the entire race, running 14th on the opening lap but battling his way into second after a racetrack brawl with young sensation Jake Johnson in the middle laps. It was just too little too late.
Johnson finished third after starting sixth and punishing his Moroney’s Harley-Davidson on the bottom of the racetrack for most of the race. He may have been too hard on the equipment, as he slowed in the final laps after his engine began to tie up.
Despite battling his often-heralded “mystery illness”, Bartels’ Harley-Davidson/Corbin’s Jay Springsteen fought his way to fourth place after a poor start. Springsteen started 12th and made his way past several riders, including title contenders Chris Carr and Bryan Bigelow, during his run through the field.
The Gardner Racing/Lancaster Harley-Davidson-sponsored Bigelow started fifth and finished fifth, though he worked his way into third early before Johnson, and then later, Springsteen, got past him. Bigelow was followed home by Paul Lynch, who made good use of his guest ride aboard a Moroney’s Harley-Davidson to land sixth, ahead of Carr.
In related news, Carr’s team had a rough day before even turning a wheel on the racetrack, as its transporter was destroyed by an 18-wheeler in a highway accident just a mile away from the speedway. Miraculously, neither tuner Kenny Tolbert nor assistant mechanic Travis Smith were injured in the crash, which totaled the tractor portion of the tractor/trailer rig. The vehicle was towed to the track so that trailer could be dropped off before the tractor, which was so smashed that the engine block was broken, was hauled away.
Johnny Murphree passed three riders on the final lap to finish eighth, right behind Carr, thus minimizing the points damage in his championsip run. Shawn Clark and Shawn Russell rounded out the top 10.
In Harley-Davidson Sportster Performance Series action, A.J. Eslick rode his Frieze Harley-Davidson around championship leader Jared Mees on lap six of the 12-lap feature to score his first career HDSP win. Mees was second, followed by Robert Lewis Jr. Eslick capped off the best night of his AMA National career by also making the Grand National main in his first attempt on a Lynch Racing Harley-Davidson XR750. He finished 15th in the GNC main.
GRAND NATIONAL (25 laps; 18 riders): 1. Kevin Varnes (H-D); 2. Kenny Coolbeth (H-D); 3. Jake Johnson (H-D); 4. Jay Springsteen (H-D); 5. Bryan Bigelow (H-D); 6. Paul Lynch (H-D); 7. Chris Carr (H-D); 8. Johnny Murphree (H-D); 9. Shawn Clark (H-D); 10. Shawn Russell (H-D); 11. John Nickens III (H-D); 12. Chris Hart (H-D); 13. Geo Roeder II (H-D); 14. Brandon Cartwright (H-D); 15. A.J. Eslick (H-D); 16. Garth Bastian (H-D); 17. Kevin Atherton (H-D); 18. Mike Varnes (H-D).
Time: 7 min., 56.392 sec.
AMA PROGRESSIVE INSURANCE U.S. FLAT TRACK CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES STANDINGS (After 10 of 20 rounds): 1. Chris Carr (144/2 wins); 2. Kevin Varnes (129/1 win); 3. Kenny Coolbeth (126); 4. Bryan Bigelow (123/1 win); 5. Johnny Murphree (122/1 win); 6. Jay Springsteen (86); 7. Joe Kopp (76); 8. Shaun Russell (72); 9. Jake Johnson (69); 10. Terry Poovey (66); 11. (TIE) Kevin Atherton (65)/Geo Roeder II (65); 13. J.R. Schnabel (64); 14. Nicky Hayden (61/2 wins); 15. Paul Lynch (48); 16. Chris Hart (40); 17. Shawn Clark (38); 18. Willie McCoy (35); 19. Dan Stanley (29); 20. Mike Hacker (25/1 win).
HARLEY-DAVIDSON SPORSTER PERFORMANCE NATIONAL (12 laps; 17 riders): 1. A.J. Eslick; 2. Jared Mees; 3. Robert Lewis Jr.; 4. Brian Thomas; 5. Jess Roeder; 6. Yuhiko Hirao; 7. James Hart; 8. John Faulkner III; 9. Chris Boone; 10. Shane Fox; 11. K.C. Knodel; 12. Joel Henson; 13. Brian Kromroy; 14. Robert McClendon Jr.; 15. Ronnie Kemp; 16. Scott Scherb; 17. Josh Toungett.
Time: 4 min., 01.047 sec.
HARLEY-DAVIDSON SPORSTER PERFORMANCE SERIES POINTS STANDINGS (After 8 of 13 rounds): 1. Jared Mees (138/3 wins); 2. Scott Scherb (107); 3. James Hart (102); 4. Brian Thomas (93); 5. (TIE) John Faulkner III (81)/Yuhiko Hirao (81); 7. Rusty Rogers (78/1 win); 8. A.J. Eslick (73/1 win); 9. Josh Toungett (60); 10. Robert Lewis Jr. (50).
Round 11 – Harrington, Delaware, August 3
Round 12 – Hagerstown, Maryland, August 10