Nicky Hayden, who was just 19 at the time, came out on top in a dramatic AMA Chevy Trucks U.S. Superbike Championship race in 2001 at Brainerd (Minn.) International Raceway. Hayden took his second victory of the season, while series leader Mat Mladin crashed his Suzuki out of the race on the first lap and finished with no points. Second-ranked Eric Bostrom wasn’t able to fully capitalize on Mladin’s mistake however. The Kawasaki rider finished fifth and went from 45-points down to Mladin in the standings to 20 points with just three races remaining in the 2001 series.
The victory marked an early birthday gift for Hayden – he turned 20 the day after the race.
In one of the best finishes of the year, Kurtis Roberts, of Modesto, Calif., pulled alongside Hayden as the riders rounded the last turn. The two actually made contact as they came out of the turn and Hayden was able to hold off Roberts by a bike length. The official margin of victory was 0.005 seconds.
Canadian Miguel Duhamel had an even closer finish over Jamie Hacking, of Greer, S.C., for third. The duo finished side-by-side and the position wasn’t decided until race officials reviewed videotape of the finish.
The top three riders were on Honda RC51s, giving the manufacturer a rare sweep of the Superbike podium.
The race began with last year’s winner Duhamel leading the first lap. Mladin, the two-time defending AMA Superbike champ, never made it around. He crashed his Yoshimura Suzuki GSXR750 in Turn Eight. Even though Mladin was uninjured in the accident, his machine was too badly damaged to continue.
“I made a mistake, that’s all I can say. I don’t know what happened,” said Mladin as he walked back to his motor home in street clothes shortly after the crash.
Mladin, while obviously disappointed, realized that not all was lost in the crash. “That’s the good thing about having a big points lead,” he said. “If you make a mistake you can still have the lead.”
It was the first time that Mladin had crashed out of an AMA Superbike race since a rainy Mid-Ohio race in 1996.
The race came down to a battle between the top six riders – Nicky Hayden, Roberts, Duhamel, Hacking, Bostrom and Steve Rapp. On the final lap Hayden and Roberts swapped the lead four times. Hayden’s narrow win over Roberts was the closest finish of the season.
“It feels good to win two in a row,” said a jubilant Hayden, who now has six-career AMA Superbike wins – 13th on the all-time list. “It’s especially nice with the way it came down on the last lap. I thought I might be able to break away early, but it seemed like these guys were able to hang on no matter how hard I pushed it. It’s incredible to have Hondas 1-2-3.”
Mladin rallied and finished strong enough in the final couple of rounds to win the 2001 champion, his third straight, by 15 points over Eric Bostrom.
AMA Chevy Trucks U.S. Superbike Championships
At Brainerd International Raceway
Lap length: three miles
1. Nicky Hayden, Honda RC51, 109.727 mph, 21 laps.
2. Kurtis Roberts, Honda RC51, 21.
3. Miguel Duhamel, Honda RC51, 21.
4. Jamie Hacking, Suzuki GSXR750, 21.
5. Eric Bostrom, Kawasaki ZX7, 21.
6. Steve Rapp, Ducati 996, 21.
7. Doug Chandler, Kawasaki ZX7, 21.
8. Andreas Meklau, Ducati 996, 21.
9. Larry Pegram, Ducati 996, 21.
10. Tommy Hayden, Yamaha R7, 21.
11. Pascal Picotte, Harley-Davidson VR1000, 21.
12. Michael Smith, Harley-Davidson VR1000, 21.
13. Andrew Deatherage, Suzuki GSXR750, 21.
14. Greg Fryer, Yamaha R7, 21.
15. Tony Meiring, Suzuki GSXR750, 20.
16. Vincent Haskovec, Suzuki GSXR750, 20.
17. Mauro Cereda, Suzuki GSXR750, 20.
18. Dean Mizdal, Suzuki GSXR750, 20.
19. Randall Mennenga, Suzuki GSXR750, 20.
20. Anthony Lupo, Suzuki GSXR750, 20.
21. Steve Johnson, Aprilia RSV1000, 20.
22. Eric Erling Haugo, Suzuki GSXR750, 20.
23. Ken Krebs, Suzuki GSXR750, 20.
24. Roger Hendricks, Suzuki GSXR750, 20.
25. Scott Hermersmann, Suzuki GSXR750, 20.
26. Eric Dooyema, Suzuki GSXR750, 10.
27. Jordan Szoke, Harley-Davidson VR1000, 9.
28. Mike Walsh, Yamaha R7, 9.
29. Robert Jensen, Suzuki GSXR750, 3.
30. Mat Mladin, Suzuki GSXR750, 0.
Time of race: 34 minutes, 26.962 seconds.
Margin of victory: 0.005 seconds.
Lap leaders: Duhamel 1. Nicky Hayden 2-9, 13, 19, 21. Roberts 10-12, 14-18, 20.
Point standings (after 11 of 14 rounds):
1. Mat Mladin (332).
2. Eric Bostrom (312).
3. Nicky Hayden (265).
4. Doug Chandler (263).
5. Miguel Duhamel (251).
(Note: I want to thank Brian J. Nelson for allowing me to use some of his archived photos on the website. Brian, along with his fellow photographer and business partner Tom Riles, have the definitive collection of AMA Superbike Championship photos dating back the beginning of the series. Brian J’s photography can also be seen in this excellent BMW book.)