In AMA racing there are a quartet of events that originated in the 1940s or earlier – the Labor Day weekend Springfield Mile, the Daytona 200 the Muskegon Hillclimb and the Peoria TT – each true classics of American motorcycle racing. This Sunday, August 17, is the 59th running of the Peoria TT. The race originated in the 1930s and became a national in 1947.
Winners of Peoria read like a Who’s Who of Motorcycle Racing. Joe Leonard, Brad Andres, Dick Mann, Bart Markel, Kenny Roberts, Jay Springsteen, Ricky Graham, Bubba Shobert, Nicky Hayden and Chris Carr are just a few of the elite riders who have won this grand old race.
This will be the first Peoria TT National in two years. The 2007 edition was rained out during qualifying.
The headline at this year’s renewal of the Peoria TT is Henry Wiles gunning for his fourth-straight victory. Earlier in the season Wiles gave Kawasaki its first AMA Grand National Flat Track victory when he won the Springfield (Ill.) TT.
Peoria will also play an essential roll in this year’s AMA Grand National Singles Championship. Suzuki’s Jake Johnson and Ken Coolbeth, of Bettencourt Honda, are battling atop the standings coming into Peoria, the penultimate round of the series. Coolbeth narrowed the gap to leader Johnson by winning the most recent round of the AMA Grand National Singles in Billings, Montana. That moved him to within eight points of Johnson. Both riders are former champions of the series.
The championship chase could tighten up considerably at Peoria. Series leader Johnson has only scored a single podium in his four appearances in the TT, a third in 2005. Defending Grand National champ Coolbeth’s Peoria record is very spotty. He’s finished inside the top 10 at Peoria only once and that was 10 years ago. Meanwhile JR Schnabel, Wiles and Joe Kopp, who follow in the standings, all have excellent records at Peoria, including victories.
Wiles has been the rider to beat at Peoria over the last few years. He scored a surprise win in the race in 2004, but proved that first victory was no fluke when he back it up with a repeat win in 2005 and then scored his third straight in 2006. Wiles comes to the prestigious event poised to make it four straight. In the long history of the race only Joe Leonard, Bart Markel and Chris Carr have won the race four years running.
“Riding the Kawasaki will present a new challenge for me this year,” Wiles said. “The bikes I had in the past were dialed in for Peoria and we’ll see if we can get this bike going just as good. The same guys that always go good at Peoria like Chris, JR and Joe are going to be tough there again. Jared Mees won the Hotshoe race earlier this summer so he’s going to be right there too and Jake has a lot to race for this season since the championship is close.”
Wiles went on to say he’s not worried about the GNC Singles Championship at this point.
“My main focus is just to win at Peoria,” he said. “I sort of shot myself in the foot, as far as the championship is concern, with the race in Montana a few weeks ago. If I can go out and win Peoria again this year I’ll be happy. If by some chance that puts me back in the hunt for the title that will be icing on the cake.”
Chris Carr, known as the Prince of Peoria, is the all-time wins leader in the TT with 13 wins at the national dating back to 1986. Carr will be looking to earn his first win of 2008 at one of his best tracks. Joe Kopp, JR Schnabel and Henry Wiles join Carr as the four former winners in this weekend’s field.
The Peoria TT is one of the most unique races on the calendar. Its setting is in a natural amphitheater with shaded hillsides surrounding the track filled with enthusiastic fans. It’s demanding jump and following right-hand turn presents a challenge most flat track riders aren’t accustomed to.
Practice on Sunday at the Peoria Motorcycle Club Grounds starts at 11:45 am, the opening ceremonies at 1:30 pm. More information can be found at www.peoriatt.net.