© American Flat Track

American Flat Track racing nears end of record season

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Most race fans are accustomed to seeing cars on race tracks. Paved or dirt – oval, road course, or off-road – in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Motorcycle racing also has a long history in America, with its origins in the early 1900s.

Due in no small part to a partnership with NBC, flat track motorcycle racing is making headway in capturing modern America’s attention with a premier division known as the American Flat Track Series.

According to the American Flat Track web site, viewership for the series this season will exceed 3 million with more than 100,000 tickets sold at event sites. That is an average of about 6,000 tickets per event – a sizeable crowd for a dirt short track.

Many of the tracks on which the series competes will be familiar: So far in 2018, races were held at Daytona International Speedway, the dirt track at Texas Motor Speedway, Calistoga Speedway in California, Illinois State Fairgrounds Speedway and the legendary Williams Grove Speedway in Pennsylvania.

The names may not yet be as familiar. Jared Mees leads the top division points on the strength of 10 wins. No one else has more than two. The singles division is tighter with Dan Bromley posting four wins and a female racer Shayna Texter becoming the first woman to win a major race in flat track history. In fact, she has two (at Allen County Fairgrounds in Lima, Ohio and Black Hills Speedway in Rapid City, South Dakota).

The broadcasting partnership with NBC that began in 2016, is responsible for nearly 2.4 million of the 3 million viewers – an increase of more than 50 percent over last year’s numbers.

“American Flat Track has reached over 3 million fans so far this year and it is testament to the thrilling action our athletes and participating manufacturers are serving up, week in and week out,” said Michael Lock, CEO of American Flat Track on the series Web site. “With two live race events and four NBCSN broadcasts still to come, AFT 2018 will end up reaching more people than in any year in the modern era. We are extremely proud and look forward to scaling new heights in 2019.”

NBCSN broadcasts are shown one week following the live event. The penultimate race was on a one-mile, modified horse track in Shakopee, MN outside of Minneapolis. That race can be seen on NBCSN October 14, a 5 pm ET.

The season wraps up today at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, NJ and can be seen October, 21 at 2 pm ET on NBCSN.

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Cooper Webb leaps from obscurity to Supercross lead

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Cooper Webb could not even locate the radar tower before the 2019 season began – let alone expect to see his number dead center in the radar screen.

His ascent to 450 competition came with little fanfare. Finishing 13th in Supercross in 2017 and then eighth in Motocross, Webb did not turn many heads as a rookie. Last year was more of the same.

Through Round 7 at Arlington, Webb failed to record a single top five. That elusive result would come the following week at Tampa with a fourth-place finish. Two weeks later, he stood on the podium at Daytona for the only the second time in his Supercross 450s career. But at season’s end, Webb was only ninth in the standings in both Supercross and Motocross.

No one expected much from him when Anaheim rolled around this year.

Webb started the season much the same as he ended 2018. A fifth-place finish in Anaheim I in muddy and equalizing conditions was followed by a modest 10th at Glendale, but the rider from North Carolina believed in himself.

In professional racing, nothing is more difficult than winning the first race. Webb’s first taste of victory came in Heat 1 of the Triple Crown at Anaheim II. Everyone remained skeptical – it was only one heat race after all. The skepticism turned to interest when he won Heat 2. Then Webb finished third in Heat 3 to take the overall victory. It was his first win in the 450 class.

That was all it took to unleash his potential. Webb won the following week in Oakland and then again two weeks later in Minneapolis.

The Supercross riders left Minnesota and headed straight down Interstate 35 to Arlington with four of them separated by two points. All eyes were focused on Ken Roczen, Eli Tomac, Marvin Musquin – and, oh yeah Webb who sat in second.

Someone was likely to stumble in Arlington and the odds on favorite to do so was Webb. That seemed to be confirmed once the feature started. While the three more experienced riders led by Tomac scooted away from the field, Webb was mired outside the top five for the first six lap.

It was Tomac who tripped and fell, however. Webb passed the stricken rider and surged to fifth on Lap 7. He was in fourth by Lap 10 and third on Lap 16.  As Webb and teammate Musquin battled for the second, they slowly reeled in the leader Roczen. Once Webb broke free on the conflict with the runner-up position firmly his, he could see the red plate on Roczen’s Honda like a cape being waved in front of a bull.

Webb charged through the final six laps getting closer and closer until he edged Roczen for the closest finish in Supercross history. It was Webb’s fourth victory of the season, coming only four weeks after he scored his first career win.

Relive the final laps in the video posted above.

As incredible as Webb’s rise to the points lead is, it has been done before.

Last year Jason Anderson seemingly came out of nowhere to lead the standings after Round 2. Anderson held the advantage for the remainder of the year, while Webb has been part of a game of hot potato in which no one seems to want to don the red plate for more than a week.

The pressure continues to mount. Webb now has a two-point advantage over Roczen, who is the only rider to sweep the top five this season.

Webb’s advantage over third is a mere four points, while Musquin has a current five-race streak of podium finishes to his credit.

Tomac’s trouble in Texas serves as a cautionary tale that a single loss of focus can be devastating and Webb still lacks the seat time of his three principal rivals, but last week’s incredible come-from-behind victory is showing that Webb is riding above experience level.

Follow the complete Supercross and Motocross seasons on NBC Sports, Gold.