Jared Mees | 2017 Cycle News Rider Of The Year and 2017 American Flat Track Twins Champion
It was an amazing and history-making year for 31-year-old Jared Mees. From winning the 2017 AFT Twins title to giving Indian its first win in over 60 years, and everything in between—like earning the prestigious dirt track grand slam, winning 10 races, visiting the podium more times than any other rider in a single season and giving Indian its first championship, to name a few—the Pennsylvanian is our undisputed choice for this year’s—the 25th—Cycle News Rider of the Year.
Anyone who knows Jared Mees will tell you that he’s a fierce competitor. But you don’t have to know him to know that he’s at the top of his game in American Flat Track, just look at his stats—five premier class titles, and four Grand National Championships. It’s quite the accomplishment. Especially considering that the premier class of American Flat Track has been consistently one of the most hotly contested championships in motorcycle racing, with the title fights going down to the final race of the year; sometimes the final lap. But not this year.
Mees showed up in 2017 and raised the bar. He stepped into a new era of the sport—new rules, new tracks, and new, or shall we say, returning player with Indian Motorcycle—and made his mark. He clinched the title two rounds early at his home race in Williams Grove, Pennsylvania, and added a host of records to his name and Indian’s as well. It was a standout year for Mees, during a standout season for the sport itself. And it landed him another accolade in 2017—Cycle News Rider of the Year. Since Cycle News first started annually handing out the rider of the year award in 1992, Mees is just the third flat-track racer ever to receive it; he joins dirt track legends Ricky Graham (1993) and Scott Parker (1996).
Welcome to the club, Jared.
Click here to read this in the Cycle News Digital Edition Magazine.
By Andrea Wilson
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANDREA WILSON, FLAT TRAK FOTOS AND MITCH FRIEDMAN
Raising The Bar
You can’t really talk about 2017 season without beginning with last year’s season finale at the Santa Rosa Mile. Mees came from behind, hunting down championship rival Bryan Smith for the biggest prize—the Grand National Championship—but fell just short in the final corner. To say that stung a bit is an understatement.
“I hate to lose,” Mees said. “I’m not a sore loser, I just hate to lose. I was just bitter that I lost it.”
He had 167 days to think about that loss, 167 days until Daytona to wait for a chance to redeem himself.
“I ran Bryan down from a straightaway and passed him on the very, very last lap,” he said recounting the 2016 season finale. “That ran through my mind every day until we got to Daytona, every day. I can look back on it right now like it just happened. Me going into that last corner and passing Bryan and then coming off the corner and see that thing coming screaming by me and him beating me. No disrespect by any means to the other team. They won it. They got it done. I just was bitter.”
Adding fuel to the fire was the opportunity to be the guy to bring Indian Motorcycle its first win on the Scout FTR750 with the iconic American brand’s big return to American Flat Track after a 64-year absence.
“I wanted to go out and be the first guy to win the Daytona TT,” Mees said. “I wanted to be the first guy to win the first race on an Indian, to win the first Indian championship. Be the first guy to win the all-twins Grand National Championship, like it once was back in the day. A lot of first things happened this year, and I wanted to accomplish as much as I could.”
Safe to say mission accomplished for Mees. As the first-time stats with Indian Motorcycle kept racking up, so did the personal stats. In 18 races, Mees won 10 of them, scored six second-place finishes and one third. He only finished off the podium once—when he jumped the start twice in the semi and missed the main at the Lima Half-Mile, a race that he and his wife promote. So, what was the secret to his success? What separated him from the rest, including his rival Smith?
“Yeah, I think I raised my game, but I just don’t know where I raised it at,” he says. “But I can tell you this. I got off the [Harley-Davidson] XR750 and got on a better bike [the all-new Indian Scout FTR750]. I was always missing over the years that little extra edge in the miles. I was looking for that little bit. I always got beat by that little bit.”
The miles were always Mees’ and the XR750’s Achilles heel, but then Mees will readily admit that while Smith, being a mile guy on a good platform with the Ricky Howerton-prepped Kawasaki, he was the half-mile guy on a good platform with the Kenny Tolbert-prepped XR750.
“Bryan’s a great mile rider, and miles are his forte no matter what he’s on, but I don’t think it’s wrong to say that he had a really good motorcycle compared to what I had,” Mees says. “He had an advantage on the mile with his ability, and he had an advantage on the mile with his platform he was riding. He would probably say the opposite for the half-miles—that the XR sometimes was better. I’m going to agree with him, that the XR was better at some half-miles that we went to; there’s no doubt.”
Being on the same machinery this year, however, evened the playing field for Mees, and that was perhaps the X-factor.
“I feel like I got off of the XR and got on a better bike and we were on equal stuff. Instead of losing those races by inches we were beating him now. I think that was a big part of it. And we were able to still keep the success on the half-miles, if not have more of the success on the half-miles.”
The Fighting Mentality
At the end of the day, it still boils down to this for any champion in any sport—never give up. And Mees has shown that tenacity time and time again.
“You can’t have ‘quit’ in your vocabulary to be a champion, in my opinion,” Mees says. “Honestly, that mentality comes back to when I was in high school on the wrestling mat. I think if I had to dedicate success to anything that I’ve done, I’d have to say that a lot of it has come from me being a wrestler in high school. When you get out there on that mat, you don’t have any excuses. You can’t blame it on the team. You can’t blame it on anything. It’s you and the other guy and that’s all you got. Aside from racing, wrestling is probably the greatest sport out there because there’s no excuse.”
If his nickname “The Jammer” didn’t already give it away, Mees is a fierce competitor on the racetrack. Mees puts everything out there between the green and checkered flags, whether it’s bar-to-bar racing like the Atlanta Short Track or a thrilling come-from-behind victory on a big track, like at the OKC Mile.
But it’s not just on track. That competitive drive is a part of Mees’ ethos off the track too, whether it’s training or the business side of things, Mees puts in 100% effort to be the best there is.
“I think you can probably reach out to all my competitor buddies, even Bryan Smith, and ask, ‘is Jared Mees a competitive person outside of racing?’ I think they would all say, ‘dude, he’s so competitive that it’s annoying.’
“I don’t do Strava, to tell you the truth, but I look to kind of see where I stack up against other athletes. I’ll see stuff that Chad Reed posts with skiing or a row machine or something like that and I’m like, ‘man, I’m not that far off. I’m going to try to go beat that.’ Some of the Olympic rowers, I see they post some stuff on that, so I try to go beat the 5000-meter row. And when we go bicycling. I try to hammer hard with my big group.”
Although the competition is extra motivation, he also enjoys the training side of the job. “That’s what kind of keeps me motivated to train is trying to hit numbers and do the best I can in that respect. But I do enjoy it. It’s part of my life. I’ve trained so much over the years that it’s kind of just a way of living right now. I enjoy being healthy and enjoy being fit and enjoy pushing that extra level.”
Teamwork Makes The Dream Work
At the end of the day, racing is still a team sport and your relationship with your crew chief—or in the case of flat track, your tuner—is key to winning championships. For the past five seasons, Mees and tuner Kenny Tolbert have had their fair share of them—a total of four Grand National Championships.
“We’re all competitive [Mees’ team], and that’s why we get along so well. I think that he [Tolbert] knows that I’m putting in 110%, and I know he’s putting in 110%. It’s not a 40-hour workweek for any of us. It’s how many hours do we have between this time and that time, and that’s what we’re going to use. That’s what so awesome about Kenny—he never stops.”
Mees also points out that in spite of 11 Grand Nationals Championships to Tolbert’s resume, his world-famous tuner doesn’t have a big ego. If the Texan needs help, Tolbert’s not afraid to ask for it. With all of its dominance, it’s also easy to forget that the Indian Scout FTR750 was in its debut season. The reality is, there’s always a learning curve with a new machine, and for Tolbert going from years of experience with the XR to the modern liquid-cooled FTR, he could rest.
“I didn’t expect him to get this FTR Indian Scout and just magically know everything about it from the front to the back of it,” Mees says. “Yeah, it’s an engine. Yeah, it’s a motorcycle. But still to this day, you have questions on things when something’s dealt to you that’s so new. He adapted to it very, very well, but we had some people that helped us—the guys at S&S—and they deserve a big thank you, as well.”
In addition to S&S’s support, there’s the whole team behind Mees and Tolbert as well, a team that’s more like family.
“The cool thing about our team is—I really, really look forward to seeing them every weekend, every one of them: Craig [Rogers], Jimmy [Wood], Kenny [Tolbert], Bubba [Bently]. We really look forward to seeing each other every weekend and spending that time together, like family. It’s almost like family time for us when we go there. Steve Delorenzi, from SDI Racing, has been part of our program for a while, too.
“When Indian wanted to support us, they wanted to support our whole team, including myself, which was really beneficial for me to have the people around me that I wanted to have and to go forward with. I wouldn’t be anywhere and I wouldn’t be anyone right now without that team.”
The Team At Home
Besides a solid team at the track, the other thing champions have in common is a solid team at home. His wife Nichole, is a former racer herself—arguably the best female flat track racer in the twins class to date—and he gives her a lot of credit for their success.
“Nichole, obviously being an ex-racer, she gets it. She understands that what I do during the week is a big part of why we’re successful on the weekends. That’s awesome to have that kind of support. The last thing you want to do is going riding or going bicycling with your wife mad at you at home. She’s an awesome mom. She’s another one that deserves a big thank you because she works really hard at being a good mother.”
And that’s the other thing, Mees wasn’t just out there breaking records on the track, but he and Nichole were also expanding their family by one when they welcomed their daughter into the world earlier this spring.
“We had our very first child and we named her Hayden after Nicky Hayden,” he said. “Nicky Hayden lost his life May 22 and our daughter was born May 24. We had a name picked out, and then when everything happened, we just thought it would be a fitting and respectful thing to do. We reached out to the Hayden family and got their blessing on it to make sure that they were okay with it, and they were stoked. So we named her Hayden. She’ll always be named after Nicky.”
There’s that old saying that when a racer becomes a parent they lose some tenths on the track, but that wasn’t the case for Mees.
“Here I was all scared when I became a dad that my results were going to suffer,” he said. “They were definitely the opposite. So, I don’t know, maybe I’ll have another baby next year or something. She’s my good luck charm. Couldn’t have it any other way.”
Taking Care Of Business
Let’s face it; it’s not just all about riding the bike or putting in the training time to be a success motorcycle racer. Racers who understand the business side of things take their careers further. And that is especially true in flat track. For a long time, and pretty much Mees’ entire professional career, if you wanted a decent program, you had to find the money yourself.
Now, in addition to just racing, he and his wife have gotten into the race promotion business, promoting one of the sport’s fan-favorite events, the Lima Half-Mile. It’s a lot to juggle—racing, parenthood and being a promoter. Again, Mees credits his wife Nichole for her help in making it a success.
“People say, Mees promotes Lima, it’s really Mees’ Promotions, meaning plural with Nichole. I’d have to say that’s I how I jockey it and juggle it—is that Nicole does such a good job with the promotional side of things with Lima, as well.”
Not only does Mees’ future look bright but so does the future of the American Flat Track Championship after seeing a boost in attendance and viewership numbers on NBCSN and online with Fanschoice.
“I really think the sport is in a great place right now,” he said. “We seem to be going the right direction with things. Yes, of course, being a promoter and also a racer, sometimes I’m caught in the middle, but it seems in all areas in flat track right now we are moving in the right direction. I can’t really put my finger on exactly what it is, or maybe it’s just a ton of little things finally coming together as one. On the American Flat Track side of things there are a lot of people in there right now with lots of passion and heart.”
It was a dream year for Mees, the question now is: Can 2018 get any better?
“Topping 2017 isn’t going to be easy,” he says. “I set a benchmark that is going to be tough to beat. But it’s not impossible. We just need to show up prepared like we did this year. I feel with the same package the results will be there.” CN
Mees’ Top 3 of 2017
“Besides having my first daughter—my first child—Daytona was pretty special. Being the very first win for Indian, all the hype. Being that we were first time ever inside the big Daytona stadium, inside the speedway there for the first time ever. I would say that one is going to be pretty hard to beat, that very moment.”
“The atmosphere of Daytona was great, but the actual race itself—Oklahoma was pretty badass just because we were so far back. I think if there was anybody in the stands that was a gambler and if you were to say, ‘I got 100 bucks on Mees on lap five,’ the odds were probably going to be 100 to 1. So, I think that one was cool, just the way we did it.”
Springfield Mile II
“It’s always cool to win Springfield, but more than anything it was cool just to go and win it. Smith won the very first three miles and I won the last three miles. I think that win was probably the make-or-break point for the championship. I think going into Springfield, it was going to be pretty tough for me to lose it [the title], unless I broke or crashed. I think for Bryan, mentally, when we beat them at Springfield, that was it.”