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Dean Wilson’s Cinderella story at Anaheim ends in fourth

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It will pay to remember that Cinderella’s slipper was made of glass.

In last week’s Monster Energy Supercross season opener at Angel Stadium of Anaheim, Dean Wilson grabbed the hole shot in his heat before eventually falling 2.78 seconds behind to Ken Roczen. His second-place finish gave him a great gate position that allowed him to get the hole shot again in the Main. On a heavy track that was rapidly rutting, he led the first 14 laps.

It appeared Wilson was on his way to winning.

Wilson never wanted to be Cinderella. By the fifth round of the 2017 season, he was offered a factory ride with Rockstar Energy Husqvarna. He immediately began scoring top 10s with the team.

He lost factory support at the end of last year and immediately switched gears toward once more becoming a privateer.

“It was non-stop all through December,” Wilson said on this week’s PulpMX Podcast. “Honestly, the hardest thing about being a privateer is the running about you’ve got to do. I’d be done riding and then I’d have to get wheels. I’d be ordering clutches and then writing emails. There’s a lot that goes into it. A lot more work. Stress. The one thing about factory teams is you ride, train, rest. That’s it.”

Then came January and Wilson’s replacement at Rockstar/Husqvarna Zach Osborne sustained a collarbone injury in a practice crash.

Speculation surrounded Wilson and whether he would become a fill-in driver. The offseason investment in his own team was too considerable to make that an appealing choice, but he and Rockstar/Husky settled on an agreement in which they provide assistance.

At Anaheim those two forces combined to almost give Wilson the victory.

“I think it was a great day,” Wilson said. “Qualified second, hole shotted my heat, led the heat for a bit and then hole shot in the Main.”

Remember that Cinderella’s slipper is made of glass. It didn’t shatter, but it developed some cracks with about five minutes remaining on the clock.

The muddy track obscured his goggles, which slowed him before he eventually discarded them partway through the event. The bigger obstacle was lapped riders he was forced to get around.

“I wish I had a remote where I could rewind and change a couple of things,” Wilson said. “It kind of hurts. I feel like I could have and should have won it. I was in the prefect position for it. I ran into some lappers and when I met that double, double in the middle I was committed to double – but the rut was getting really choppy. I made a mistake.”

When Just Barcia caught him on Lap 14, Wilson chose the wrong side of the lappers handing the lead to the eventual winner. Roczen and Eli Tomac also got around the No. 15 Husqvarna.

“We’ve got 16 more tries.” Wilson said as he searched for and found the silver lining.

Inside every silver lining is a black cloud, however.

“I almost feel like it’s a last shot kind of thing,” Wilson said about his privateer season. “Like this is my last shot, or I find something else. I’ve worked my butt off training a riding – and being a privateer for the rest of my career; it’s not really ideal.. Sure it’s run right now, but I want to be back on a factory team and I want to get results.”

Next race: January 12, State Farm Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.

Season passes can be purchased at NBC Sports Gold.

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American Flat Track puts emphasis on fans in building 2020 schedule

American Flat Track
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American Flat Track put an emphasis on fans and feedback from other series while also acknowledging everything is tentative while hammering out its schedule for the 2020 season.

The 18-race schedule over nine weekends will begin July 17-18 at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Florida, about 20 miles from AFT’s headquarters in Daytona Beach, Florida.

The dirt track motorcycle racing series, which is sanctioned by AMA Pro Racing, shares a campus with its sister company, NASCAR, and American Flat Track CEO Michael Lock said the series closely observed how it’s handled races in its return during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and also built AFT’s procedures from NASCAR’s post-pandemic playbook of more than 30 pages.

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“I speak personally to the committee within NASCAR that has been put together for the restart, regularly talking to the communications people, general counsel and other relevant operations departments,” Lock told NBCSports.com. “So we’ve derived for Flat Track from NASCAR’s protocols, which I think are entirely consistent with all the other pro sports leagues that are attempting to return.

“Obviously with NASCAR the scale of the business is completely different. There were some times more people involved in the paddock and the race operations for NASCAR than the numbers of people at flat track. Our scale is much smaller, and our venues are generally smaller. So we can get our hands around all of the logistics. I think we’re very confident on that.”

While NASCAR has had just under 1,000 on site for each of its races without fans, Lock said American Flat Track will have between 400 to 500 people, including racers, crews, officials and traveling staff.

But another important difference from NASCAR (which will run at least its first eight races without crowds) is that American Flat Track intends to have fans at its events, though it still is working with public health experts and government officials to determine how many will be allowed and the ways in which they will be positioned (e.g., buffer zones in the grandstands).

Lock said capacity could will be limited to 30-50 percent at some venues.

American Flat Track will suspend its fan track walk, rider autograph sessions for the rest of the season, distribute masks at the gates and also ban paper tickets and cash for concessions and merchandise. Some of the best practices were built with input from a “Safe to Race Task Force” that includes members from various motorcycle racing sanctioning bodies (including Supercross and motocross).

There also will be limitations on corporate hospitality and VIP access and movement.

“I think everything the fans will see will be unusual,” Lock said. “Everything at the moment is unusual. We will roll out processes that are entirely consistent with the social distancing guidelines that will be in place at the time of the event. So we’re planning for a worst-case scenario. And if things are easier or better by the time we go to a venue, it’s a bonus.”

Lock said the restrictions are worth it because (unlike other racing series) AFT must have fans (even a limited number) for financial viability.

“We took a decision fairly early on in this process that it was neither desirable nor economically viable to run events without fans,” Lock said. “I can think of some big sports like NFL or like NASCAR where a huge chunk of that revenue is derived from broadcast, which means that your decision making as to how you run an event, where you can run an event has a different view than a sport like ours, or even like baseball, for example, that needs fans. Because the business model is so different.”

Broadcast coverage is important to American Flat Track, which added seven annual races over the past five years and can draw as many as 15,000 to its biggest events.

Lock said AFT ended the 2019 season with more than 50,000 viewers for each live event, making it the No. 1 property on FansChoice.TV. This year, the series has moved to TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold. “We’re expecting a really strong audience from Day 1, particularly with all this pent-up demand,” Lock said.

NBCSN also will broadcast a one-hour wrap-up of each race (covering heat races and main events).

Because the season is starting three months late, the doubleheader weekends will allow AFT to maintain its schedule length despite losing several venues. And there could be more, Lock said, noting that there still are three TBA tracks.

“There may still be some surprises to come from one venue or another of delay or cancellation,” he said. “But we are intending to run as full a season as possible.”

Here is the American Flat Track schedule for 2020:

July 17-18 (Friday-Saturday): Volusia Speedway Park, Barberville, Florida

July 31-Aug. 1 (Friday-Saturday):  Allen County Fairgrounds, Lima, Ohio

Aug. 28-29 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, Northeast United States

Sept. 5-6 (Saturday-Sunday): Illinois State Fairgrounds, Springfield, Illinois

Sept. 11-12 (Friday-Saturday): Williams Grove Speedway, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania

Sept. 25-26 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, Texas

Oct. 2-3 (Friday-Saturday): Dixie Speedway, Woodstock, Georgia

Oct. 9-10 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, North Carolina

Oct. 15-16 (Thursday-Friday): AFT season finale, Daytona Beach, Florida