Saturday’s Big Kahuna Superbike race at Road Atlanta will go down as one of the all-time great duels in AMA Superbike racing history.
Blake Young crashing and then picking himself and his Rockstar/Makita Yoshimura Suzuki up off the tarmac and then on the restart charging from the back row to earn a thrilling victory over Monster Energy/Graves/Yamaha’s Josh Hayes will join races like Miguel Duhamel hobbling to his bike with the aid of a cane at Daytona in 1999 and taking a riveting win over Mat Mladin; Colin Edwards passing Troy Corser on the outside of turn one at Brainerd ’94; Scott Russell picking up his crashed Muzzy Kawasaki to win Daytona ’95; and Doug Polen drafting at the last possible second to barely nudge out Pascal Picotte and Russell at Phoenix in ’93, in a race that looked to the naked eye like a three-way tie.
Furthermore, the first lap after the restart by Young may just be the finest single-lap ever in the 37-year-old championship. Think of the superlatives and it won’t even come close to how good this race was. It ticks me off that I wasn’t there in person to watch the epic. At least we had excellent TV coverage by SPEED to be able to see every move of the race multiple times and in slow motion replay.
What we might have on our hands is another tremendous one on one Superbike battle harking back to Lawson vs. Spencer, Rainey vs. Schwantz and of course Spies vs. Mladin.
The contrast between the protagonists couldn’t be sharper. Josh Hayes is the ultra-smooth, unflappable, 37-year-old veteran and defending champ, while Blake Young is the up-and-coming 24-year-old champion in waiting, who wears his emotions on his sleeve and carries his passion onto the racetrack.
I’ve talked to a number of longtime observers about the looming rivalry and there is somewhat of a consensus.
It’s obvious that in spite of closing in on 40, Hayes has lost no speed and has the precision of a longtime racing veteran. Hayes turns lap after lap with scary consistent times and picture perfect lines that vary no more than an inch or two from one lap to the next. He is very comfortable controlling a race from the front, or is just as happy sitting back and applying relentless pressure to his opponents.
Young on the other hand is blazingly fast, but still rough around the edges. He seems more comfortable letting others set the pace and then striking when the time is right. His racecraft, in terms of passing cleanly and being consistent race to race, still needs work. He’s not a precise rider, rather a daring, seat of the pants, banzai pilot willing to take risks that make riders around him sweat bullets.
Other than their difference in age, the battle between Hayes and Young rather reminds me of Rainey/Schwantz. Rainey was the classical metronome, clicking in tidy lap after tidy lap. Schwantz meanwhile was jazz improvisation, trying new lines and brake markers (if he even observed those) each and every turn, which made for a thrill a minute.
The questions on everyone’s mind for 2012 is can Young make it through a 20-race schedule without busting his ass. If he does then this year’s series could really be one to watch.
If you’ve been on the sidelines not paying much attention to AMA Superbike for the last couple of years it might be a good time to come back and watch again.