For many GNC fans, from the time Indian announced their 'Wrecking Crew' team, it was a question of who, not if. Last night, we got our answer: Jared Mees.
The Pennsylvanian won the title at the Williams Grove Half-Mile in Pennsylvania, with two rounds of the 18-round AFT season still to go. Mees has won nine of the 16 races so far, and in a red flag strewn race, his only rival, Bryan Smith, crashed out, being awarded a 14th place finish.
It's Mees fifth GNC title (four combined, one twin title, when the series was split between twins and singles) and surely marks him as one of the all-time greats. As he said himself, he dominated the series, and this was against two other champions on the same bike. Interestingly, Mees was in his own one-man Rogers Racing satellite squad under the Indian umbrella, that enabled him to keep his old sponsors. He also retained the services of super tuner Kenny Tolbert, a big part of Chris Carr's many titles.
Indian rider, Brad Baker came in second, with Briar Bauman having another great race on the Zanotti Kawasaki in 3rd.
Just like many people predicted a Indian win, a similar number also believed Harley would have a tough year, and except for a few glimpses, that came to pass too. But for Mo Co fans, one of those glints of light came last night with another Pennsylvania rider, Jake Johnson, clinching fourth on the half-mile, ahead of Sammy Halbert, in fifth. Halbert looks safe as best of the rest, sitting in fourth place in the championship.
But what are H-D, and perhaps more importantly, Vance & Hines, the team trusted to run H-D's AFT effort, going to do now? Johnson was fourth, less than 3 seconds off Mees at the flag, but it had been a disrupted race, remember, and his fastest lap was over 7/10th slower than Mees quickest lap. That's on a half-mile. More incremental improvements are not what's needed, or at least that's how it looks from the outside. Harley aren't going to pull out of flat track, but I wouldn't be surprised if they have an XG-powered street tracker in development and it would be a much easier sell if the race bike were winning. There are so many things that could be stopping the Harley team from winning, but the main thing is simply Indian have the best riders on the best bikes. And that isn't going to change for next season.
The Harley factory rider highest in the standings is Brandon Robinson, in seventh, while Kenny Coolbeth is 11th and Johnson is 13th. No one involved in the team can be happy with those results.
On a related matter, we interviewed American Flat Track chief, Michael Lock, at length before the season, and he was convinced he could attract more manufacturers into the series, starting with Indian. AFT bent over backwards to get Indian into the races, and most teams turned a blind eye, at least publicly, to Indian's use of a prototype engine with cutting edge intakes, not a modified road bike motor, but their dominance is going to frighten away any other manufacturer from competing in the twins class. It's already happened with Triumph, so there are actually fewer manufacturers in the 2017 series than there were in the final round of the 2016 season. And that's another conundrum I don't have the answer to. Do you?