The 40-year-old Iowan ran at or near the front of a 15-rider lead pack, taking the stripe first in 10 of the 25 laps, including the one that counted most, the last lap of both the race and the AMA Progressive Insurance U.S. Flat Track Championships season. In doing so, King laid claim to a sweep of this year’s Springfield Mile races, which account for both of his 2003 season victories as well as the 17th and 18th of his career.
In typical Springfield Mile fashion, King had a fierce battle with Atherton, Team KTM/Jones Powersports’ Joe Kopp, reigning AMA Progressive Insurance U.S. Flat Track Champion Chris Carr on the Quality Checked Certified Pre-owned Ford Racing entry and Coziahr Harley-Davidson’s Johnny Murphree. Despite having lost his brakes earlier in the race, Atherton pulled into the lead off the final corner, setting up for a classic Springfield finish. King followed him off turn four then blasted past to take a popular win in front of a good-sized Springfield crowd that included H-D first family Willie G. and Nancy Davidson, and their son Bill Davidson.
“You know, finishing out with the last race with the number 100, to be on top of the box at Springfield, that’s huge for me,” said King, who will return in 2004 with his more familiar number 80 on the plates of his factory ride. “What a feeling. When I came into the weekend, I thought that if I could be on the box with the number 100 in both of these races [Short Track and Mile], that would be great. If I could win again, that would be great, but mostly I just thought about winning the last time I wore the number 100. It all worked out.”
Despite losing his ability to stop and once again slipping into his infamous “Springfield wobble” headshake syndrome on the final run up the front straight, Atherton was able to stave off Kopp to grab second place.
“Second sucks,” the 32-year-old Atherton said. “It just means that I’m first loser. I paid a few bills anyway. I lost the brakes around lap for or six – it was real early. But I got the high side working, and once I got that to work, you don’t use brakes anyway, so it wasn’t that bad. What a class of guys we have in the field right now. We all can run right next to each other, and it’s not a problem at all.”
Kopp came home third at Springfield, just one spot short of his runner-up finish at the previous night’s Springfield Mile. If there had been a bonus for the best overall score, it would have gone to the former AMA Grand National Champion.
“The track was nowhere near as wide as it normally is,” Kopp said. “It was a spooky race. We were getting pretty sideways in the corners. I really had only one place where I could pass people. It was right in the middle of one and two. I could use the low line there and then just kind of drift up in front of them and block them on the exit. But it was a real spooky race, I think. But I think next year will be real good for us. We’ve got some good footwork down for next year already.”
Carr went on to finish fourth, with Murphree fifth. Kenny Coolbeth, Jay Springsteen, Mike Hacker, Terry Poovey and Steve Beattie rounded out the top 10.
Newly crowned AMA Harley-Davidson Sportster Performance Series Champion and Doc’s Harley-Davidson/Nallin Racing-backed Scott Scherb finished his year off with a special win in the 12-lap HDSP feature, as he led his son, Merle, across the stripe to make for the first father-son AMA National dirt track podium. Illinois rider Josh Toungett finished third. The win meant that Scott Scherb claimed five of the last six HDSP main events of the season.
Illinois State Fairgrounds
Results: September 28, 2003
GRAND NATIONAL (25 laps; 18 riders): 1. Rich King (H-D); 2. Kevin Atherton (H-D); 3. Joe Kopp (H-D); 4. Chris Carr (H-D); 5. Johnny Murphree (H-D); 6. Kenny Coolbeth (H-D); 7. Jay Springsteen (H-D); 8. Mike Hacker (H-D); 9. Terry Poovey (H-D); 10. Steve Beattie (H-D); 11. Bryan Smith (H-D); 12. Bryan Bigelow (H-D); 13. Willie McCoy (H-D); 14. Chris Hart (H-D); 15. Shaun Russell (H-D); 16. Geo Roeder II (H-D); 17. A.J. Eslick (Suz); 18. Kevin Varnes (Suz).
Time: 14 min., 51.641 sec.
AMA PROGRESSIVE INSURANCE U.S. FLAT TRACK CHAMPIONSHIPS SERIES (After 17 of 17 rounds): AMA PROGRESSIVE INSURANCE U.S. FLAT TRACK CHAMPIONSHIPS SERIES POINTS STANDINGS (After 16 of 17 rounds): 1. Chris Carr (282/5 wins); 2. Johnny Murphree (257/1 win); 3. Joe Kopp (239/2 wins); 4. Kenny Coolbeth (220/2 wins); 5. Rich King (186/1 win); 6. Jake Johnson (147/1 win); 7. Kevin Atherton (118); 8. J.R. Schnabel (116/2 wins); 9. Bryan Bigelow (113); 10. Jay Springsteen (112); 11. Mike Hacker (108); 12. Steve Beattie (98); 13. Geo Roeder II (80); 14. Shaun Russell (70); 15. Willie McCoy (69); 16. Jared Mees (66); 17. Terry Poovey (52); 18. Paul Lynch (51); 19. Bryan Smith (50); 20. John Raun Wood (45).
883 NATIONAL (12 laps; 17 riders): 1. Scott Scherb; 2. Merle Scherb; 3. Josh Toungett; 4. Cory McDermitt; 5. Danny Eslick; 6. Scott Stump; 7. Shawn Baer; 8. Brian Thomas; 9. Brian Kromroy; 10. Roy Miller; 11. Shane Vance; 12. John Faulkner; 13. Robert Lewis; 14. Bret Sowders; 15. Brandon Laursen; 16. Dan Stanley; 17. Jess Roeder.