The weather for final day of the AMA Tornado Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka could hardly have been better. Sunny skies and temperatures mid-80s with a breeze from the south made for very comfortable conditions. The endurance class, MotoGT, had finished its business yesterday, but the Supersport class gave the spectators a third race to watch in addition to the second American Superbike and Daytona Sportbike races.
The Supersport class is a development class for riders age 16 to 21 running a variety of 600cc bikes. Usually in a development class, the riders/drivers tend to be overly enthusiastic and a bit reckless. Sunday’s race, however, was very clean. Congratulations to #4 Josh Day for the race win, and to #96 Ricky Parker for his Eastern Region Championship which he locked up with his fourth place finish.
Race 1 on Saturday saw a crazy and incident filled start, with many riders going down on the warmup lap! Race 2 turned out to be much more sane, at least on the part of the riders. On Lap 3, a rider went down in Turn 13 and needed to be taken to the infield medical center. Not for anything serious, he was treated and released in quick order, but it did mean that the ambulance was required on track to provide transportation. However, there was a communications breakdown and the ambulance was released onto the track directly in front of the field as they were coming around Turn 10 at speed. Fortunately, the lead riders saw the ambulance in time and were able to slow up enough, and warn those behind. Events could have turned out very different, and more tragically. Kudos to the riders, but the HPT safety crew need to review their procedures so that such an incident doesn’t happen in future events. Once racing resumed, Eslick rode his #9 Buell to the front in an effort to repeat his winning performance in Race 1. His nemesis from Saturday, #36 Martin Cardenes, stayed upright on his #36 Suzuki this day and took the win. Eslick would lose one more spot to the #8 Yamaha of Josh Herrin to finish third.
The weekend finished with Race 2 for the top class, American Superbike. Larry Pegram ran away with Race 1 on his #72 Ducati, but Sunday’s race turned out a bit different. Not so different that Pegram didn’t take the win again, making it a perfect weekend with two wins from pole, but Tommy Hayden didn’t make it easy for him. Hayden started from eighth and quickly advanced through the field to P2 and hounded Pegram for all 20 laps of the race. It was a bad day for team Jordan/Suzuki. Both team bikes, the #23 ridden by Aaron Yates and the #54 National Guard sponsored bike ridden by Goeff May both had off-road excursions that left them being classified at the tail end of the grid. The biggest disappointment of the weekend was not seeing Hayden’s teammate and Ben Spies’ former arch rival, Mat Meladin. Meladin withdrew from the event at Heartland Park claiming safety concerns. Although I do think that HPT could do some things to improve the safety of the course such as adding some sand or gravel traps on the outside of some of the turns, and moving some off the walls farther back, there was never any issues with the riders being in danger from the track itself for any of the classes. I was all set to be a Meladin fan, but not now. Either be a racer or don’t. Don’t give me this wishy-washy, “I don’t feel safe” crap.
In the end, it was a fantastic weekend of motorcycle road racing. Was it as good as a MotoGP event? No, but then it didn’t cost as much nor was it as crowded as a MotoGP event. If the AMA has an event in your area, I highly recommend taking a weekend to see the racing. Its good stuff and a good atmosphere. If the AMA returns to Topeka next year, we’ll definitely be back as well.