In what turned out to be a typical rough-and-tumble short track on the indoor arena circuit, Johnson got the holeshot and then was shuffled as far back as fourth while the 16-rider pack clicked off 10-second lap times, led by Pro Honda Oils-backed Nicky Hayden. But when Hayden got sideways in turn three and was inadvertently bumped over the high side by Coziahr Harley-Davidson/Country Motors’ Johnny Murphree, the red flag came out. Hayden was sent to the rear of the field, Murphree assumed the lead and Johnson was back to second. Johnson finally moved up high on Murphree and then squared up and knifed his way under the leader in turns three and four on lap 18, assuming the point and then pulling away to a safe two-length margin for the final seven laps. Johnson’s win marked the first by a Grand National rookie since Hayden won the Hagerstown Half Mile victory in 1999.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” a dazed Johnson said after the race. “This is awesome. With three races left, I didn’t think that I had a shot at winning one, but if I was going to do it, then it was going to be here because this is the kind of track that we race on back home. I can’t believe it. I’ve been dreaming about this day since I first started racing when I was 5 years old.”
And what of America’s newest potential GP hero, Nicky Hayden? Typical Hayden, after falling while leading, Hayden started at the rear of the field and absolutely tore his way through the pack, running the high line for several laps and then dropping in underneath some of his tiring rivals for a few more to wind up an incredible third at the finish. It was the kind of ride that many say they will miss by the Kentuckian as he will be unavailable for dirt track duty while he is abroad in 2003.
Finally, credit the battle to Johnson, but the war belonged to Quality Checked Certified Pre-owned Ford Racing/David Liles Fuels-backed Chris Carr, who ran competitively in the main event and did what he had to do to clinch the 2002 AMA/Progressive Insurance U.S. Flat Track Championship. Carr needed only to finish no more than five places behind Murphree in the main event to lock the door on the Californian in the battle for number one, and a fifth-place run in the final was more than good enough. It marked his first time as a back-to-back AMA titlist, and Carr also became only the third rider in AMA history to win a four Grand National championships, joining Carroll Resweber and Scott Parker in that category.
“I’m glad that’s over,” Carr said. “Now maybe I can sleep better at night.”
GRAND NATIONAL (25 laps; 16 riders): 1. Jake Johnson (Hon); 2. Johnny Murphree (Rot); 3. Nicky Hayden (Hon); 4. Kevin Varnes (CCM); 5. Chris Carr (ATK); 6. Kenny Coolbeth (KTM); 7. Donnie Mullen II (Hon); 8. Paul Lynch (Rot); 9. Shaun Russell (Rot); 10. Ken Yoder Jr. (Suz); 11. Steve Beattie (Hon); 12. Tom McGrane Jr. (Hon); 13. Henry Wiles (Hon); 14. John Raun Wood (Rot); 15. Garth Bastian (W-R); 16. Greg Teague (Rot).
Time: None, due to red flag.
AMA/PROGRESSIVE INSURANCE U.S. FLAT TRACK CHAMPIONSHIPS SERIES POINTS STANDINGS (After 18 of 20 rounds): 1. Chris Carr (270/3 wins); 2. Johnny Murphree (221/1 win); 3. Kevin Varnes (201/1 win); 4. Bryan Bigelow (199/1 win); 5. Kenny Coolbeth (194); 6. Joe Kopp (152); 7. Nicky Hayden (144/4 wins); 8. Jake Johnson (143/1 win); 9. Jay Springsteen (142); 10. Shaun Russell (130); 11. Kevin Atherton (128/1 win); 12. J.R. Schnabel (123); 13. Rich King (117/2 wins); 14. Geo Roeder II (104); 15. Terry Poovey (101); 16. Paul Lynch (83); 17. Steve Beattie (78); 18. Shawn Clark (72); 19. Chris Hart (69/1); 20. Willie McCoy (64).
Round 19 – Columbus, Ohio, September 21
Round 20 – Du Quoin, Illinois, September 28