Race number one of the AMA Superbike Big Kahuna Nationals at Road Atlanta this past April provided some of the most dramatic action that motorcycle roadracing fans witnessed in all of the 2012 season.
Monster Yamaha’s Josh Hayes and Yoshimura Suzuki’s Blake Young came into round two of the series after splitting wins at round one in Daytona a little over a month earlier. Hayes held a slim lead in the points as the race weekend began and padded that lead by taking the pole in qualifying despite two crashes in practice and qualifying on day one. Young ended up just a few tenths off in the second position after damp conditions prevented either rider from improving upon their time in the second qualifying session.
As the race got underway Hayes and Young immediately began to distance themselves from the rest of the field. Hayes led but just about every lap Young would stretch the legs of the Yosh Suzuki down the long back straight and draft pass Hayes up the inside entering turn 10. Hayes would give up the inside knowing Young’s heavy braking would cause him to run just a bit wide on corner exit as they powered up the hill towards the Suzuki bridge. Hayes would come back up the inside and the two would be side by side as they headed towards the final turn 12 which Hayes would have the preferred inside line for, holding the lead as they entered the front stretch. Then on lap 14, it happened.
As the two riders once again battled through turn 10 and then crested the hill, Young’s front wheel was off the ground, even with (on the outside of) Hayes rear wheel. Hayes bike drifted out just enough that contact occurred causing the front wheel to tuck on Young’s bike sending him sliding down the track towards turn 12. As he and his bike came to rest in the middle of the track, oncoming riders had to take evasive action to avoid collecting Young and his downed machine. Fortunately Young was able to limp away and as the red flag was displayed he actually remounted his bike and rode it back to his pit box where his crew went to work repairing Young’s bike for the restart.
During the red flag, Hayes went to check on the well-being of his fellow racer but obviously Young wasn’t in any mood for discussing the incident but was seemingly more irritated over having to start at the back of the pack while Hayes maintained the top spot.
As the race restarted, Hayes pulled out front as Young began blazing his way through the field. In just a matter of laps Young caught Hayes and made the familiar inside move into turn 10. As he had done throughout the first part of the race, Hayes powered back up the inside and maintained the lead showing that he wasn’t about to give Young any kind of free pass. This continued until the last lap when Young passed for the lead and made it stick to secure an incredible come from behind victory. In Race 2 on Sunday, Hayes scored a dominate victory which foretold the rest of the season as he went on to win a record 16 of 20 races for the year on his way to his third consecutive Superbike championship while Young won only once more when Hayes crashed out on lap one during one of the races at the following round.
I interviewed Josh Hayes after Sunday’s race and although very complimentary of Young’s performance, he told me that following race one; “Guys said, after the red flag you passed Blake again up the inside coming out of 10 going under the bridge, were you hesitant ? Well no, he put himself in that position you know. If he doesn’t want me coming under him he might want to try something a little different” (you can hear the full interview at: http://www.benchracersinternational.com/2012/05/rider-interviews-from-the-ama-big-kahuna-road-atlanta-weekend/ starting at 59:20 mark of the episode).
As we move into the new season Josh Hayes has signed on for two more years aboard the Monster Energy Graves Yamaha while Blake Young is looking for a ride after being released from the Yoshimura Suzuki Team (despite finishing second in the championship the last three years) supposedly to be replaced by two-time Daytona Sport Bike champion Martin Cardenas.