Sturgis, S.D., Aug. 6—The racing at the inaugural Buffalo Chip TT presented by Indian Motorcycle was a wild one, befitting the massive crowd of Sturgis Rally goers who provided a remarkable atmosphere for Round 13 of the 2017 American Flat Track Championship.
The AFT Twins presented by Vance & Hines Main event was a most unpredictable affair, featuring three red flags, an all-but certain winner who didn’t win, and a crasher who did. Ultimately, the checkered flag went to Briar Bauman (No. 14 Zanotti Racing Kawasaki Ninja 650), who secured his second victory of the season in most impressive—albeit unusual—fashion. But even Bauman was forced to admit that the evening seemed destined to fall in the favor of American Flat Track’s all-time TT king, Henry Wiles (No. 17 DPC Racing Kawasaki Ninja 650). Wiles started the Main from pole and looked to be well on his way to a record-extending 18th career TT win, even through a pair of red flags that twice reset rapidly expanding advantages to nil.
However, on the race’s third start, it was Wiles himself who forced the next appearance of the red flag. The TT-specialist’s steed started leaking oil and second-placed Bauman was the first to fall in Wiles’ wake, bringing about an immediate stoppage to the action. Wiles’ bike was too extensively damaged to repair in time to make the subsequent restart. Meanwhile, Bauman was promoted to the front of the field despite his crash as a result of not having caused the incident. Bauman took full advantage of this final twist, breaking away from the pack to back up his Lima Half-Mile victory in style.
Bauman said, “Dave Zanotti and the entire team deserve so much credit. The bike was incredible, and we worked at it all night. It’s unfortunate for Henry—that was his National to win.
“He did whatever he did, oil went everywhere, and all of the sudden I was in the air fence… Luckily we were able to go back to the front, do our deal, and bring it home. To win two of these this year is a dream come true.”
“Easy come, easy go,” Wiles said. “I hit the jump hard, got a little sideways, and landed pretty hard too. It was a real bummer. I guess I’m going to have to learn to ride these bikes not quite so hard.”
The Buffalo Chip TT proved equally eventful in terms of its championship implications. Title leader Jared Mees (No. 9 Indian Motorcycle Rogers Racing Scout FTR750) finished a strong second in sharp contrast to chief rival Bryan Smith (No. 1 Indian Motorcycle Racing backed by Allstate Scout FTR750), who crashed in the early-going and could only salvage 12th place after remounting. As a result, Mees now boasts an imposing 31-point advantage with seven races remaining to decide the championship. Mees said, “Huge thanks to Indian Motorcycle, not just for being the greatest motorcycle for me and a big sponsor of mine, but for bringing us to the Buffalo Chip. It was awesome.
“It’s very unfortunate for Henry Wiles. He was going really good before he had that engine problem. But congratulations to Briar—he was tailing Wiles every time by about 10 bike lengths, and he was the best guy tonight besides Wiles. He deserves this win.”
Jake Johnson (No. 5 Harley-Davidson Factory Flat Track Team XG750R) came up big to score the first podium finish of the 2017 season for the works Harley-Davidson outfit. That success came much to the delight of the raucous Harley-Davidson fans who flooded the Buffalo Chip Campgrounds. “It’s been a rough year,” Johnson admitted. “I was looking forward to coming here. I knew this race was going to be tough, but I also knew that TTs are my strong point. I’ve just got to thank the whole team—Harley-Davison and Vance & Hines and everybody behind the effort. They’ve been working so hard all year, and we’ve just been getting beat up. To do this for those guys… I don’t even know what to say. It’s been a long time coming, and hopefully, this means good things are ahead.”
There were amazing stories even outside the top three on this night. Sammy Halbert (No. 69 Estenson Logistics Yamaha FZ-07) very nearly missed the Main Event after suffering a mechanical problem while leading on the last lap of Semi 2. He refused to accept that fate and scrambled to push his bike for the final half lap. Halbert narrowly secured the final spot in the Main with Chad Cose (No. 49 Weirbach Racing Kawasaki Ninja 650) bearing down on him as he crossed the stripe. Despite starting the Main from the last pick on the grid at a circuit that presented no easy overtaking opportunities, Halbert somehow blasted his way up through the field to an eventual fourth-place finish.
The final spot in the top-five went to winner Briar Bauman’s younger brother, Bronson Bauman (No. 37 Bill Werner Racing Kawasaki Ninja 650), who equaled his career-best finish.