Mees Means Business
Jared Mees continues to raise the bar in the sport of American Flat Track racing, both on the track and off.
There are moments in every sport when an athlete sets a new benchmark. Last year, Jared Mees had a landmark season in American Flat Track. This year, Mees clinched the championship two rounds early in a sport that traditionally goes down to the wire when it comes to the title. Although he might’ve made the 2018 championship run look “easy,” going into 2018, the question on everyone’s mind, including Mees, was could he repeat his performance of 2017?
Well, it didn’t take long for the 34-year-old Mees to answer that. The Pennsylvanian started the new season how he finished off the previous one—with absolute domination. The end result was the same, with yet another Grand National Championship—his sixth major championship of his 14 years on the GNC circuit—while amassing 10 wins along the way.
The numbers, while impressive, don’t really tell the story, though. It was quite a rollercoaster ride of a season for Mees and his Indian Motorcycle/Rogers Racing team, and by no means was it easy. With the number-one-plate, comes a target on your back, but that doesn’t bother Mees. And then there is the business side of Mees’ life. He’s as equally as fierce of a racer as he is a businessman and he thrives on the challenges of both. So here’s a look at both the Sportsman and the businessman, and his 2018 season.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANDREA WILSON
Although the numbers were pretty much on par, it was a different season for Mees. A season where he pretty much steam rolled his way through the first half, but had some controversy early on and some misfortune at the end. Still, at the end of it all, Mees was happy with 2018.
“I would say that year for year they were pretty on par,” Mees said. “Obviously, last year I missed one podium due to jumping the start at Lima. This year I missed a couple podiums—Peoria, and the bike breaking at Minnesota—and then the whole Atlanta thing. So I guess podium-wise it was a little bit better last year, but I think honestly this year I was more dominant. I was straight out of the gate this year and was able to clinch the championship earlier than last year. So I was very happy with the season for the most part.”
He did make a big statement in his title defense with another win at the Daytona TT, the series’ season opener, but then was mired in controversy at round two in Atlanta. His race win at the Atlanta Short Track was taken away after getting disqualified for “tire doping.” It was a big blow to take early on and if he let it mess with his head, it could have easily derailed his forward march on the season. But not Mees. He took the punch, put his head down and went back to winning. First at Texas and then went on to win nine of the next 11 races.
Mees is more about looking forward, but the tire scandal still hangs over his head. “It still bums me out,” he says. “I still would like to know more about it, honestly. Obviously, no one’s going to sit here and believe me, so it’s like, ‘Yeah, okay, whatever, here we go.’ But the thing is, whatever they found on the tire that day wasn’t something that my team or myself put in there. We got accused of that years ago and obviously the season we had last year and the season we had this year—why would we jeopardize that for what we had going with Indian and everything? So really that one there bothers me more in that we don’t know how or why it happened other than they found something in [the tire].”
Mees was also unhappy that only one sample of the tire was taken at the time instead of the usual four. But at the end of the day, Mees and his crew felt that the tire in question didn’t influence his results. They still carried on winning.
“I won the race and I know there wasn’t anything that we put in that tire on our side of things,” he said. “So it sucks not to be able to claim 11 wins this year, but it is what it is. It definitely fired me up to go out there and show everybody that it didn’t matter.”
And if you’re Mees’ competitor, that’s the one thing you don’t want to have happen—get Mees fired up. “Sometimes I eat that, I’ll admit,” he says. “Sometimes it’s like, ‘Man, I’m glad somebody talked that crap on me the other day. Sometimes I’m glad—I’m not glad that the tire thing happened, obviously, I would never want that to have to fire me up—I do get a little fired every once in a while. It keeps me young. Keeps me aggressive. Keeps me motivated.”
With more Indians in the field in 2018, the other question mark was whether Mees would be able to stay as dominant? The Scout FTR750 was looked at as the magic bullet and the reason why the factory guys were mopping the field in 2017. Ultimately, though, more FTRs weren’t enough to curtail Mees.
“Yeah, I would say that one there is probably one of the biggest things that kind of puffs the chest out a little bit,” Mees says. “Everybody was saying last year, the Indians; well, put everybody on Indians and it’s basically the same result. So that was awesome. I’m not trying to be cocky about it, but that was definitely cool to see. It’s like, ‘Okay, see, you still got to ride the thing.’
“On the same note though, I think everybody that got on the Indian definitely took their results to the next level. The beginning of the year there were guys that you didn’t normally see run up front that were running up front. Then more guys that got on Indians, those same guys kind of started falling back where they usually finished when everybody was on Kawasakis and Yamahas. So definitely the Indian was, I think, a big step in the right direction for a lot of people’s program, but it was definitely warming to see that we were able to still work hard and still keep the same results.”
So, does being the top rider in the sport ever wear on him? Perhaps kill the fun? For a fierce competitor like Mees, he says it has at least changed things a bit.
“It’s tough to say after what we’ve done in the sport for two-straight years, is getting fourths and fifths still considered having fun? It’s awesome what we’ve done in the sport, but it’s also benchmarked us; that this is what we do. So it’s a great thing to be a part of right now, that’s for sure. It’s definitely going to be hard to keep it going.”
Although a back-to-back title and another 10-win season is a great achievement, Mees was still hoping for more.
“At the end of the year this year, I’ll admit we were still consistent, we were still up there, we were still basically the guy to beat at most races at the end of the year, but we didn’t come up with the amount of wins that I thought we should have,” he said. “It’s like, damn, we had the championship wrapped up with a few races to go. We got a second at Springfield II and I was like, here we are at dinner kind of bummed out a little bit about it.”
At the end of the day, Mees, his tuner Kenny Tolbert, mechanics Bubba Bentley and Jimmy Woods, and team principals, Craig Rogers and Steve Delorenzi, are still enjoying it.
“We have fun, don’t get me wrong, It’s just we all expect to win,” Mees said. “It’s a hard balance. We definitely come back the next weekend no matter what and have at it. We have a great time and that definitely keeps us all going. I try to enjoy it as much as I can. I don’t want to lose what I got. I work hard for it, and I’ll work as hard as I can to keep it, but I try to take the time to enjoy it as best as I can. It’s where I’ve wanted to be, where everybody would love to be.”
Most racers look at handling the business side of the sport as a necessary evil. And if they can, they pay someone else to handle it so they can just focus on the important job at hand—racing. But Mees finds a way to enjoy it.
“It’s definitely a pain in the butt, but where I find the fun factor in it is to try to make it as successful as I can,” he says. “Yeah, it is stressful and a little bit of a struggle and I know that there are a lot of bigger athletes out there that have someone do it for them or handle it for them. Some days I’m right there wanting to be that guy to just hand it all over and say, ‘Here you go.’ But I think the OCD [Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder] in me would come in to where if I felt like somebody else was doing it, somebody else couldn’t do as good a job as me. Of course, I make some mistakes here and there, but that’s just part of doing business. No one goes through a business and doesn’t make one mistake. For me and my business, I’m the best at running it. I know all the ins and outs of Jared Mees Racing and Mees Promotions and Mees Real Estate holdings. So of course, I’m going to be the one to run it.”
Mees started at it at a young age, too. He was riding for Johnny Goad. He was splitting his purse 50/50 with the team and wanted to know what it would take to keep all of it. Goad and his wife, said pay us and pay the bills. They may not have expected him to be able to do it, but he did.
“I don’t really think at the time that they thought that this was going to work,” he said. “They were like, did this kid break off more than he could chew? We went on and on and on for a few years just like that, until basically we left him and I put it together. I think I was like 19 years old, maybe 20 years old or something like that.”
Also, it wasn’t like there was a lot of money lying around the sport back then. So if Mees wanted to carry on what he was doing with his own team, he had to go out there and get the funding for it.
“I’ve always kind of took the reigns and ran my own race team and made the decisions on sponsors and tried to put things together,” he says. “Basically, I just went out there and found the money to pay all the bills to go racing. Then what I was making at the racetrack was basically what I made. I think that’s what started my involvement with the whole business side of things, it was just taking the bull by the horns myself and going and making it happen. Then from there it just kind of escalated.”
If you ask anyone in the paddock, they will all say Mees is as fierce and relentless in business as he is on the track.
“I think the biggest thing on the business side of things is to be definitely persistent and a little bit relentless there, as well,” he says. “Then the older and older I got, I got my first rental house and started doing some things with some rentals. Then we had the opportunity to buy Lima [Half-Mile]. I always kind of look at things to do and to make money and how to maybe buy a house and flip it. One of these days I feel like I want to open up a coffee shop or something.”
Let’s face it. Racers can’t race forever. Mees is well aware of that and is looking ahead. Getting into the race promotion business is a part of that.
“That’s the biggest thing, why I started getting into the rentals and the promotional side of things, because I can’t race forever,” he said. “When I started, Mees Promotions with running Lima, it was kind of like a trial and error to see what it was all about. I took a race that was already pretty successful. I feel like I definitely face-lifted it a lot. Honestly, since we’ve been promoting the race, it’s been valuable and we’ve made a little bit of money. So it’s good that we started off making a little bit right away and got our feet wet and got a lot of experience. Whether we promote Lima five or 10 years from now, at least I know the ins and outs of the promotional side.”
There will be more changes ahead in 2019. His longtime rival Bryan Smith and former teammate will be back on a Howerton-built Kawasaki, a combo that beat Mees in 2016. There will also be an expanded effort from Estenson Racing on Yamahas, as well as JD Beach returning to the championship. Basically, it’s not going to be all Indians next season and Mees looks forward to it.
“I think it’s going to be good for the sport that Bryan gets back on the Kawasaki,” he says. “It definitely was a lot of Indians there towards the end of the year. I think Indian admits it, too; of course they want to go and race against other manufacturers and beat other manufacturers besides themselves.”
What he doesn’t look forward to is the rule change that allows other OEMs with production engines an additional 150cc’s and 40mm throttle bodies, while the FTR is limited to 38mm. It doesn’t sit well with the champ, or Indian.
“The rule changes are the rule changes,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that the rules are on the negative side of things for the Indian. I get it. Indian came in and won almost every race and has been the most dominant bike. But you’re also taking the best riders on the circuit and putting them on the bike as well.
“So it’s unfortunate that because of one OEM’s struggles year after year, that they feel like they need to have an altercation in the rules that benefits them and doesn’t benefit Indian. That right there is kind of like, man, that’s the political side of things. Indian came in, built a bike, [and] knew ahead of time that this was what needed to be done. We’re going to spend the money. They did everything right. The other OEMs out there, especially the one that’s been struggling the most with everything, it’s not really Indian’s fault. It’s not my fault. It’s not the riders’ fault that they took a different approach that they feel like now they need to have a change in the rules that hopefully can give them more horsepower or a better advantage. That right there is in my opinion not the right way to go, whether I’m on an Indian or on a different OEM.”
Rule changes or no rule changes, different bikes, or more Indians, Mees’ objective is still the same—keep that number-one plate.
“At the end of the day for me it’s about keeping the number-one plate. Whether I win it by a point or win it by 98 points, or whatever I won it by this year, it’s still getting the job done. Like this year, we go to every race and try to win it and go to the next one. I’m going to do the same next year. Whether some of these wins that I had this year turn into seconds and thirds this coming year and 2020, at the end of the year, as long as we got that number-one plate on the bike, I’m going to say, ‘Hell, it was a great year.’” CN