While Schnabel dominated the main event, leading every one of the 25 laps to earn his second Grand National victory – and third of his career – Carr went about his business of clinching the title one round early by beating the man that he had to beat in order to get the job done, Johnny Murphree.
Carr had a harder time of it than he would have liked, earning his transfer to the main event through a semi and thus starting on the back row, but he proved worthy by storming through the field. He was 10th at the completion of the first lap, but caught Murphree, who appeared to struggle on the narrow, rutted, rain-moistened short track while attempting to work his way to the front after a sixth-place start. Carr stalked Murphree for a little over a lap and then shot past his title rival going into turn three on lap five, also passing young star of the future Jake Johnson on his way to a solid fifth-place finish. The title battle was over, with Carr now holding a 24-point cushion over Murphree, 267-243 heading into tomorrow’s season finale Springfield Mile. Carr now claims not only second on the all-time GNC win list, but also surpasses Carroll Resweber for second on the all-time AMA Grand National Champions list. Carr’s old nemesis, Scott Parker, leads the list with nine titles.
The normally stone-tough Carr had to fight to keep his emotions in check when he was awarded the number one plate on the podium after the race.
“You know, when J.B. [Norris] said that I was champion again on the podium, it kind of caught me off guard a little bit,” Carr said. “I guess I didn’t fully realize the magnitude of the accomplishment. To be for sure number two all-time now… and I know that if Carroll Resweber hadn’t gotten hurt when he did, he might have won more championships… but to be a step above what he accomplished is pretty special. It never gets any easier. If it had, then I wouldn’t appreciate it as much. My guys worked hard and I worked hard in the off-season, and it paid in results all year long. And we’re going to work hard again and go after number six next year.”
Murphree trailed Carr and Saddlemen Racing/Lancaster Harley-Davidson’s Jared Mees and Fasthog.com/Moroney’s Harley-Davidson-backed Johnson to finish eighth – his best career Springfield Short Track result.
“I’m disappointed,” the Coziahr Harley-Davidson-backed Murphree said. “So the championship thing is over, okay, but I’m just more disappointed in the fact that I should have won this race. I could give you a million excuses as to why that didn’t happen, but what it comes down to is that I just didn’t get the job done and at least put myself into a position to maybe win the championship if Chris broke down on the mile tomorrow. I’m just going to have to come back and be tougher next year than I was this year. Right now, it’s just on to tomorrow.”
It was all wine and roses for Schnabel, however, as he jumped from his spot in the middle of row one, pulled clear of Team KTM/Jones Powersports’ Joe Kopp and 19-year-old privateer Henry Wiles down the back straightaway on the opening lap and flat checked out on the field. Schnabel was as far ahead as a full straightaway ahead of Kopp for much of the race, though he did back off and allow Kopp to eat into that advantage with about five laps to go.
“I feel really good right now,” Schnabel said. “I knew that the first 10 laps were going to be critical, so I just went for it as hard as I could. After a while, I started looking around to see who was there, and I probably shouldn’t have because I started making mistakes. I just backed off a little bit and smoothed out, and we won it. Winning at Springfield is great.”
Schnabel’s win vaulted him from 11th to seventh in the series standings with one round remaining. He is hoping for a solid finish on the Springfield Mile tomorrow to keep him there.
“I just hope we can do the same thing on the mile tomorrow,” Schnabel said. “We can ride these little bikes pretty good, everyone knows that, but I want to get on the podium on the Mile tomorrow too. One day I’d like to be recognized as much for riding the big bikes because I want to be able to challenge for the championship. I want to congratulate Chris and Johnny on a great season. Those guys, when they finish outside the top 10, that’s a bad day for them. We need to get ourselves more like that.”
Kopp went on to finish second, with Wiles finishing third to land his first career GNC podium result. Kawasaki/Wkr/Pro Circuit’s Tommy Hayden made his appearance at the short track worthwhile by finishing a solid fourth, just ahead of Carr. Mees, Johnson, Murphree, Saddlemen Racing/Lancaster Harley-Davidson’s Steve Beattie and Team KTM/Jones Powersports’ Kenny Coolbeth rounded out the top 10.
Illinois State Fairgrounds
Results: September 27, 2003 (Round 16 of 17)
GRAND NATIONAL (25 laps; 16 riders): 1. J.R. Schnabel (Yam); 2. Joe Kopp (KTM); 3. Henry Wiles (Hon); 4. Tommy Hayden (Yam); 5. Chris Carr (Rot); 6. Jared Mees (Rot); 7. Jake Johnson (Hon); 8. Johnny Murphree (Rot); 9. Steve Beattie (Rot); 10. Kenny Coolbeth (KTM); 11. Bryan Bigelow (Rot); 12. R.J. Overholt (Yam); 13. Danny Eslick (Suz); 14. Jason Tyer (Hon); 15. Garth Brow (Yam); 16. Nick Williams (Rot).
Time: 5 min., 55.532 sec.
AMA PROGRESSIVE INSURANCE U.S. FLAT TRACK CHAMPIONSHIPS SERIES POINTS STANDINGS (After 16 of 17 rounds): 1. Chris Carr (267/5 wins); 2. Johnny Murphree (243/1 win); 3. Joe Kopp (223/2 wins); 4. Kenny Coolbeth (207/2 wins); 5. Rich King (163/1 win); 6. Jake Johnson (147/1 win); 7. J.R. Schnabel (116/2 wins); 8. Bryan Bigelow (106); 9. Jay Springsteen (100); 10. Kevin Atherton (99); 11. Mike Hacker (97); 12. Steve Beattie (89); 13. Geo Roeder II (77); 14. (TIE) Jared Mees (66)/Shaun Russell (66); 16. Willie McCoy (63); 17. Paul Lynch (51); 18. John Raun Wood (45); 19. Brett Landes (43/1 win); 20. (TIE) Bryan Smith/Terry Poovey (42).