It was a dream come true for Will Davis, a nightmare for Kevin Atherton. That is perhaps the best way to describe the third annual running of the world's richest dirt track motorcycle race, the Springfield Hall of Fame Grand National, held today at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.
Davis earned more than $18,000 after narrowly beating Grand National title rival Joe Kopp to the wire in a tight 25-lap thriller, giving the North Carolinan his first career Grand National mile victory, something that was a long time in coming. Better yet, Davis' win also vaulted him into a first-place tie in the series points race at a time when the clash for the number-one plate is reaching critical mass.
But the race, punctuated by murderous heat and humidity, was less than a fairy tale - although no less a classic - for the 18 riders in the main event, and Atherton, who was making a heroic return to dirt track racing after nearly losing his leg in the tragic Du Quoin Mile accident that claimed the life of Davey Camlin some 14 months earlier, played a big part in that. Running in the middle of the pack with 10 laps in the books, Atherton slipped on oil that was laid down by Mike Hacker in turn three and crashed hard again, striking the third-turn wall while his TCR Harley-Davidson hooked the ground and nearly vaulted the fence. It was a tense moment that left the near-capacity crowd in a hush and fearing the worst as the ambulance that was carrying the popular Michigan rider left the scene of the crash and made its way down the front straightaway. It then stopped at the start/finish line and, as if playing out some sort of miracle, the doors opened and Atherton stepped out to a wild ovation from the fans. Despite the horrific-looking nature of the crash, Atherton was largely uninjured, favoring a rather nasty looking knot on one hand. He was through for the day, but is scheduled to be back in the lineup for tomorrow's Grand National race. Hacker also bowed out after appearing to be headed for a podium finish, the victim of serious mechanical problems that were the source of the oil.
Fasthog.com/Moroney's Harley-Davidson-backed Davis was an unknown quantity up until just before the accident, as he had just worked his way into a lead draft that had been occupied by Hacker, Kopp and Honda rider Terry Poovey. After the restart, Poovey, Kopp and Davis left the rest of the field behind to settle the matter themselves in the remaining 14 laps. On the last lap, Davis took the lead going into turn three and buried the throttle, emerging in the lead and holding it in a mad dash to the finish. Kopp wound up second, with Poovey third.
Despite his joy at scoring the cash and the points, the heat of the battle got to Davis, preventing him from really enjoying the victory. Clearly overcome by the sweltering conditions, Davis reaped the accolade of victory on the podium and then retreated from the fairgrounds to rest for tomorrow's event.
Despite finishing second in the Grand National, defending Supertrapp SuperTracker Champion Kopp did not go away without a win today, as he posted a convincing victory over J.R. Schnabel and Willie McCoy in the SuperTrapp SuperTracker main event, which was held after the Grand National final. Ditto for the Harley-Davidson Sportster Performance Series main event, which was won by Paul Morgan III. Roger Lee Hayden and James Hart finished second and third respectively in the Sportster main.
Here are the results and points standings for the Grand National class:
GRAND NATIONAL (25 laps; 18 riders): 1. Will Davis (H-D); 2. Joe Kopp (H-D); 3. Terry Poovey (H-D); 4. Rich King (H-D); 5. Chris Carr (H-D); 6. Kenny Coolbeth (H-D); 7. Larry Pegram (H-D); 8. Steve Beattie (H-D); 9. Jay Springsteen (H-D); 10. Willie McCoy (H-D); 11. Bryan Bigelow (H-D); 12. Scott Parker (H-D); 13. Nicky Hayden (H-D); 14. Geo Roeder II (H-D); 15. Michael Varnes (H-D); 16. J.R. Schnabel (H-D); 17. Mike Hacker (H-D); 18. Kevin Atherton (H-D).
Time: None, due to restart.
AMA/PROGRESSIVE INSURANCE U.S. FLAT TRACK CHAMPIONSHIPS SERIES POINTS STANDINGS (After 12 of 15 rounds): 1. (TIE) Will Davis (176/4 wins)/Joe Kopp (176/1); 3. Chris Carr (174/3); 4. Rich King (146); 5. Bryan Bigelow (145); 6. Mike Hacker (140/1); 7. Kenny Coolbeth (120); 8. Jay Springsteen (104/1); 9. Terry Poovey (99/1); 10. Dan Stanley (94); 11. J.R. Schnabel (73); 12. Nicky Hayden (72); 13. Geo Roeder II (69); 14. Johnny Murphree (66); 15. Kevin Varnes (65); 16. Paul Lynch (56); 17. Willie McCoy (51); 18. Brett Landes (33); 19. Chris Evans (32); 20. Scott Parker (30).
Round 13 - Springfield, Illinois, September 3
Round 14 - Vernon, New York, September 9