The 20-year-old Michigander dominated the race in much the same fashion that the Prince of Peoria himself, Chris Carr, has done numerous times. Liles was fast qualifer in the scratch heats, and he parlayed that into a win in the first heat, which was also the fastest, landing him on the pole for the 25-lap main event. Wiles was only briefly challenged by former Peoria TT winner Joe Kopp in the run toward the famous TT jump before he took the lead for good, amassing a huge, 6.711-second lead by the finish.
“Is that good?” Wiles quizzed genuinely after the race. “I tried to ride as hard as I could, and it really paid off. I got a decent start. I knew going into the main event that if I could get a good start and get out front, I really thought that my chances were good. I got around Joe quick and just checked out, I guess, from there.”
Wiles said that he couldn’t even describe the feeling of winning the Peoria TT.
“You work so hard to get to this point, and sometimes it doesn’t feel like it’s paying off,” Wiles said. “Then something like this happens, and you’re glad you kept putting your head down week in and week out. It starts to pay off. Hopefully I can start to do good on the big bikes, keep making main events and make everybody a believer.”
Another rider who perhaps saw a better payoff than he has been used to – at Peoria or anywhere else this season – was Coziahr Harley-Davidson/National Cycle’s Johnny Murphree, who beat his career-best finish at the TT by placing second. Murphree got off the line fourth after starting the race from the low pole, and he was able to pick off Carr on lap seven, then Kopp run down and pass on lap 19 to claim the runner-up spot. By then there was no way that Murphree could catch Wiles, who was about a straightaway ahead of him.
“Old ‘Hammerin’ Hank’ was just somewhere else today,” Murphree said. “I got into third, and I could still see him through the traffic. I figured if I could get by Joe quick enough, then I might have a chance, but he [Wiles] was still gapping us. He was the fastest guy on the track all day long.”
KTM/Jones Power Sports’ Kopp, who started from the middle of row one, would go on to finish third, holding off a determined challenge by defending Peoria TT Champion J.R. Schnabel on the Memphis Shades/Parts Unlimited Yamaha. Kopp held little more than a wheel on the late-charging Schnabel at the finish to land himself on the podium at the place where he earned his first career Grand National win, in 1997.
“I was glad to get the KTM up here,” Kopp said. “I had the holeshot free and clear. Then Henry came up alongside of me, and I thought, ‘He had better back off,’ but then I realized it was Henry. I thought, ‘This kid has a lot of guts,’ so I let him go. My hat’s off to him. This is his first Grand National win.”
Schnabel’s fourth was one spot better than the man he had to beat in 2003, Carr. The reigning AMA Progressive Insurance Flat Track Champion appeared to be fast all day aboard his Quality Checked Ceritifed Pre-owned Ford-backed KTM, but he could not match the pace of the others on the rough Peoria track. Carr’s fifth-place marked the first time that he has failed to make the podium since finishng third at the track in his 1985 debut at the track. His first Peoria TT win followed in 1986. Bartels’ Harley-Davidson/TNT Action Sports’ Shaun Russell was sixth, followed by SJS Racing/Parker Stores’ Rob Pearson, Saddlemen Racing/Montgomeryville Cycles’ Jared Mees and Gardner Racing/Walters Brothers Harley-Davidson’s Bryan Bigelow. Yoshimura Suzuki/Monster Energy Drink’s Kevin Varnes put in a strong performance to complete the top 10.
Peoria M.C. Race Park
Results: August 22, 2004 (Round 11)
GRAND NATIONAL (25 laps; 18 riders): 1. Henry Wiles (Hon); 2. Johnny Murphree (Hon); 3. Joe Kopp (KTM); 4. J.R. Schnabel (Yam); 5. Chris Carr (KTM); 6. Shaun Russell (Hon); 7. Rob Pearson (Hon); 8. Jared Mees (Hon); 9. Bryan Bigelow (Hon); 10. Kevin Varnes (Suz); 11. Willie McCoy (KTM); 12. Kenny Coolbeth (KTM); 13. Chris Hart (Hon); 14. R.J. Overholt (Yam); 15. Jake Johnson (Hon); 16. Kevin Atherton (Yam); 17. Dominic Beaulac (Yam); 18. Rich King (H-D). Time: 11 min., 06.734 sec.
Margin of victory: 6.711 sec.
AMA PROGRESSIVE INSURANCE U.S. FLAT TRACK CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES POINTS STANDINGS (After 11 of 17 rounds): 1. Chris Carr (198/4 wins); 2. Joe Kopp (175/2 wins); 3. Kenny Coolbeth (146/1 win); 4. Johnny Murphree (126); 5. Mike Hacker (104); 6. Willie McCoy (98); 7. Jake Johnson (97); 8. J.R. Schnabel (91/2 wins); 9. Jared Mees (89); 10. Shaun Russell (73); 11. Rob Pearson (70); 12. Geo Roeder II (63); 13. Bryan Smith (54); 14. Terry Poovey (51); 15. Rich King (49/1 win); 16. Bryan Bigelow (41); 17. Jay Springsteen (40); 18. (TIE) Henry Wiles (36/1 win)/Paul Lynch (36)/Kevin Atherton (36).