2009 Lucas Oil Indy Mile

Coolbeth cruises after frightening first turn debacle

MotoGP weekend in Indianapolis means a number of things – lots of bikes on the streets, people camping in weird places, an inordinate number of “Pedrosa Sucks” T-shirts, and the AMA Lucas Oil Indy Mile Grand National race. On an eerily cool clear night, MotoGP’s distant relations arrived at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in their RV’s to watch their sons, brothers and dads slide around in the dirt, trying to win enough money to pay for the gas it took to get here. And after almost a dozen hard-fought heats and preliminaries, Kenny Coolbeth, Jr. left the field in his dust to take the lead in the 2009 AMA Flat Track championship.

In yet another blatant display of bad judgment, I invited my wife Nancy to accompany me tonight, starting with a reception hosted by the nice folks at Aprilia. (Despite my lofty status here at Motorcycle.com, she really couldn’t care less about motorcycle racing, or motorsports in general.) I had mentioned to her that prior to the main event there were “several” heats in both (Pro and Expert) classes.

Ahem. I apparently failed to sufficiently explain that these would include Pro Heat #1, Pro Heat #2, Expert Heat #1, Expert Heat #2, Expert Heat #3, Pro Dash, Expert Semi #1, Expert Semi #2, Pro Main and Expert Main. By the end of Expert Heat #3, she was irritated. After the Pro Dash, she was visibly unhappy. After everyone stood around for 45 minutes while track officials tended to, I swear to God, a fresh water spring that had appeared unannounced in the middle of the back straight, she was dangerously quiet.

This is how it is when I make these unforced errors in perception. You would think that after 34 years of marriage I would know better. You would be wrong.

Kenny Coolbeth, Jr., won the main event ahead of fellow Screamin' Eagles Harley-Davidson rider Bryan Smith.

Things didn’t get any better when the racing was interrupted by yet another “special treat”, this time in the form of Kenny “The King” Roberts appearing on his famous 1975 Yamaha TZ to turn a couple of laps for the home crowd. Although the AMA bikes are loud, the TZ is MotoGP loud, and the crowd loved it – LOVED it – Nancy however was tapping her foot and rolling her eyes.

The saving grace in all this was that the heats and preliminaries were ultra-competitive, with pretty much every one ending with a gaggle of three or four riders crossing the finish line in a bunch and the spectators having a great time. Most of the spectators, that is.

Kenny "The King" Roberts once said Yamaha didn't pay him enough to ride this TZ750 dirt tracker.
The Doctor pays the King a visit.
Even a cameo appearance by Valentino Rossi did little to lighten the mood in our little corner of the media center. (Note: The media center at the IMS is floor to ceiling glass with a couple of hundred TV monitors and WiFi. The media center at the Fairgrounds is a concrete slab with folding tables and chairs and an excellent view of the Hoosier standing in front of you.)

The main event, scheduled for 9:45 pm, finally rolled around at about 11:00. As soon as it started, there was a nasty pileup in Turn One, with several bikes and riders going airborne in a Wide World of Sports agony-of-defeat type horror. Four riders – Brandon Robinson, Jethro Halbert, Henry Wiles and Shaun Russell – stayed down as a hush settled over the crowd. Soon, Wiles and Russell got back up and returned to the pit area, shaken but uninjured. An ambulance took Halbert and Robinson to the hospital; they were described as conscious and alert and it did not seem that they were seriously hurt. The accident, of course, took some cleaning up and prompted a re-start of the race. By now, it was 11:30, and I was starting to feel like Cinderella.

At the restart, Coolbeth took off like he had been shot out of a cannon. The announcer, describing the ensuing battle between Bryan Smith and Jared Mees, referred to it as a “good old dirt track shootout”, which it was – Smith and Mees, Mees and Smith, Smith and Mees – but it was a battle for second place. That Coolbeth would win the race, barring yet another restart, was readily apparent in the first five laps. And so it went, with Smith eventually edging Mees by a thousandth of a second. Jake Johnson and Chris Carr rounded out the top five. Nancy and I headed to our car roughly a second and a half after Carr crossed the finish line, and by the time we reached it she had decided that none of this was really my fault and, surprisingly, she had actually enjoyed herself.

Not that she would ever want to go back again, of course.

Those who patiently sat through the delays saw a great race in the main event.

After Sunday’s race at the IMS, MotoGP crews will fill out their expense reports, secure their million dollar bikes, load up the 747’s and head for Rimini or San Marino or whatever it’s called for Round 13. The Flat Track folks will gas up the RV’s and point them toward central Illinois and the fabulous Springfield Mile, hoping to cover their expenses. Whoever said life is fair?

2009 AMA Pro Grand National Twins Top Five Standings
Pos. Rider Points
1st Kenny Coolbeth, Jr. 113
2nd Jared Mees 109
3rd Bryan Smith 96
4th Chris Carr 95
5th Sammy Halbert 88

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