Briar Bauman, James Rispoli And Dallas Daniels Were The Best Flat Trackers In 2020
Super Twins Champion
Briar Bauman had the jitters. No, he wasn’t thinking about his American Flat Track SuperTwins showdown with Jared Mees. He was thinking about his impending marriage to Shayna Texter.
A year that ended on such a high couldn’t have had a worse beginning. After a global pandemic put his title defense in question, Bauman arrived in Florida for the 2020 season opener to prove 2019 was not a fluke.
But the day before the event, Bauman learned one of his closest friends, Jess Garcia, had died.
Bauman mustered the focus and speed for two second-place finishes. Mees, meanwhile, jumped out to an early lead in the championship with career wins 49 and 50.
“Volusia was a tough weekend for me,” Bauman said. “I wasn’t there at all. All I wanted to do was fly to California, which I did after the races, and see his [Garcia’s] family and all my friends and just be with them.
“After I got home, I was like, ‘Alright, this season is for Jess.’”
Bauman came back swinging, completing the Grand Slam with a victory at the Indy Mile. He doubled up the following day, and the fight was on.
Bauman and Mees traded the points lead through four doubleheaders, neither gaining an upper hand.
“It is not going to always be your perfect weekend,” Bauman said. “But I had to be as good as I could be on those weekends where Jared was perfect.
“Two times, he had a double-digit points lead going into a weekend, and in two days of racing, I was able to erase it. Then, I was all the way up to a 25-point lead, but he came back with three really good races in a row.”
Those three races pulled Mees within 10 points of Bauman heading into October’s doubleheader series finale at the Daytona short track.
“I was stressed out,” Bauman admitted.
That first night, Bauman racked up 20 points, while Mees lost ground in fourth. The champ was in position to repeat with an eighth-place finish.
“The second day was even more stressful than the first,” Bauman said. “I have only been in a championship-winning scenario twice in my career. In one, I went through the Air Fence. I think the rain [at Daytona] was more nerve wracking than going through the Air Fence.
“We were watching it rain and watching them work on the track. My heart rate was pegged the whole time.”
Setting aside all the overtakes and race wins, Bauman’s signature 2020 moment may have been easing up, allowing hard-charging Sammy Halbert to finish third, and collecting his second consecutive title from fourth place.
“I made some cool passes this year, but the best move was rolling out of it,” Bauman said. “I wish we could have gotten sporty and made a really good show for the fans, but it was in my best interest to let him go.”
Bauman didn’t want to celebrate.
“I just wanted to breathe,” he said. ‘OK, it’s over.”
And his wedding to Texter?
“I got to celebrate really, really big with everyone I love—my family and friends,” Bauman said. “It was great.”
Production Twins Champion
James Rispoli made headlines when he returned to flat track two years ago after more than a decade chasing road-racing glory.
Old rivals recognized Rispoli’s trademark grin and bigger-than-life personality, but infectious enthusiasm masked a relentless challenger hardened by overseas competition.
“Everybody remembered the happy-go-lucky kid,” Rispoli said. “Yeah, I won some amateur titles, but I was always, like, second best. Everybody thought that was who I am. But when the visor goes down, I’m a killer.”
Rispoli racked up seven wins and four runner-up finishes in 15 starts on a Latus Motors Racing Harley-Davidson XG750R to win the 2020 AFT Production Twins No. 1 plate.
That title elevated New Hampshire-born Rispoli into rarefied air, joining Kenny Roberts, Bubba Shobert and Eric Bostrom with AMA national championships on dirt and pavement.
“A lot of people start in one series and end their careers in the other,” Rispoli said. “I don’t know how many have gone from dirt track to road racing and then came back to win a championship.
“I hadn’t raced dirt track in 10 years and won a championship in my second season back. I’m still pretty young at it, and we’re racing a lot of fast guys. That’s got to be the coolest thing about it.”
Rispoli likened the experience to his 2012 AMA Pro SuperSport title run.
“Everything is full circle,” he said. “The number of wins, podiums, the way the season went, the way I prepared for it—all mimicked my second SuperSport title. They were nearly identical, just in different series.
“I didn’t think I was going to win eight SuperSport races. We were sometimes not in a place to win, but somehow we did it, and they kept coming and coming.
“The same thing happened this year. All the races I won were at places I thought we were going to do the worst. Williams Grove, Atlanta … We were up the creek, and we came out with a win. We just kept coming and coming.”
When he finally caught a winning wave, Rispoli followed his own advice.
“You have to slow down and stay on top of it as long as possible, because you will fall off eventually,” he said. “And then, you build up and wait to grab the next one.”
The past year has been a wild ride for the entire planet, but it is one Rispoli, especially, won’t forget soon.
“The crazy thing is, 2020 has been so horrible, and it’s been the best year of my life,” he said. “I went back to school and got my high school diploma. I got my real estate license. And I won a championship with seven wins and 11 podiums.”
Now, Rispoli is eyeing a new challenge: AFT’s premier SuperTwins class.
“I’m excited to stay with Latus Motors Racing for 2021,” he said. “We know racing in SuperTwins is going to be a huge challenge, but I feel we can be competitive if we keep our foot on the gas.
“We need to go to work.”
Those who follow American Flat Track know that the decisive moment of Dallas Daniels’ successful 2020 Singles campaign came early in the season.
What they may not appreciate is how early.
Daniels’ final-lap pass at October’s Charlotte Half-Mile that extended his win streak to six did, in fact, lock up the class crown with three races remaining on the calendar. But the most critical main event of the season was the very first one—the Volusia Half-Mile I in Barberville, Fla.—for which Daniels failed to qualify.
After winning the Peoria TT and earning two additional podium finishes in 2019, the teenaged sensation arrived in Florida heavily hyped for the season opener.
And the Estenson Racing prodigy promptly had the wind knocked out of his sails.
While Daniels’ title rivals finished inside the Top 5, Daniels watched from the fence after suffering a crushing defeat in the semi-final.
Others might brush off a poor performance. Daniels spent that Friday night soul-searching.
“I had too much confidence [coming into the season],” Daniels admitted. “The team was like, ‘Was there anything wrong with the bike?’ There was nothing wrong with the motorcycle. There was nothing wrong with me as a rider. I was training hard, and I was in good shape. We were all scratching our heads.
“That night I was like, ‘Man, should I even be out here doing this? Am I meant to be a racer? Was last year just a fluke?’
“My mindset was just wrong.”
Saturday night, Daniels returned to challenge the rider who had the potential to be his biggest threat for the championship, himself, and he won, beating Shayna Texter, the winningest rider in AFT Singles history, by a fraction of a second.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us now,” Daniels said at the time. “But we’re going to make a fight for this championship. I think we showed that tonight.”
That race was important for Daniels.
“I wanted to prove to everybody that I didn’t get lucky last year, winning a race and getting rookie of the year,” he said. “I wanted to prove that I can be one of the frontrunners.
“So, to prove to everybody that I still have the speed and to prove that it doesn’t matter what happens in prior races—I can put it behind me and win—was a huge deal.”
As the season turned out, Daniels didn’t make a fight of the championship. In boxing parlance, it was a technical knockout.
Singles is celebrated for its depth, parity and unpredictability. Since 2017, there have been eight to 10 different winners each season, with the champion taking as many as four, or as few as zero, victories.
Daniels racked up eight wins, including six in a row.
This season, the 17-year-old from Illinois will contest Production Twins on an Estenson Racing Yamaha MT-07. Daniels is already thinking about the premier class, SuperTwins.
“I want to win a SuperTwins championship,” he said. “I want to win multiple SuperTwins championships. I want to break records. I want to be the best rider in the sport.”