A plethora of news, changes and rider and team changes and partings hit the followers, teams and fans of the AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Championship Series over the course of the last five days, which affected the falling of dominoes throughout what will be the new and updated paddock and team scene for the 2014 version of The Rolling Thunder Show.
One of the first changes to hit the airwaves was the parting of 3-Time AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Twins Series Champion Kenny Coolbeth, Jr. from the Harley-Davidson Motor Company factory team after the end of the regular season.
Actually announced before the final round at Pomona back on October 12, it was known that The King of Cool would be parting ways with the factory team after eight seasons riding the factory XR750s out of Milwaukee, but it wasn't known for sure until late Monday evening of this week for sure where he would land for the 2014 campaign, although the rumor mill had been at full throttle on what that distinct possibility would be.
After speaking with one of Zanotti Racing's pr reps late Monday evening, who held me to silence in making any announcement until after the official press release hit the airwaves by Kenny on Tuesday. It was then confirmed by Coolbeth on Tuesday that he would be joining forces with the 3-Time AMA Grand National Championship-winning team for the Twins Series part of the schedule for the upcoming year. Coolbeth made it 'official' when he released his press release to the masses announcing that move for next season, which will see him also return to riding Hondas under the Zanotti fold after campaigning Chaplin Kawasakis in the Singles Series since the beginning of the 2011 season.
Also making the move along with Coolbeth to the Zanotti Racing team will be 2013 AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Championship-winning tuner Dave Atherton, who will take over the wrenching duties for Coolbeth with the also-just announced parting of former Zanotti wrench Ted McDermitt (see more below on that move.)
In the shot above in one of his last rides for the H-D factory squad, Kenny Coolbeth, Jr. leads the team out during rider intros at the Springfield Mile I at round 10 of the 2013 AMA Pro Flat Track presented by J&P Cycles Grand National Championship on August 31. Rider/coach and former AMA Grand National #67 Mike Hacker rolls the #2 Harley-Davidson Motor Co/Screamin Eagle/Traxxas-sponsored factory XR750 out (in all it's 110th Anniversary livery splendor) while Kenny's Dad, Kenny, Sr. brings up the rear. Coolbeth went on to finish in the 6th-place spot on the day, and wrapped the doubleheader weekend at the Illinois State Fairgrounds with a 4th-place finish on Sunday at the Springfield Mile II event.
Earlier on Monday, the official announcement came out that 2013 AMA Grand National Champion Brad 'The Bullet' Baker would be filling that empty seat left vacant by Coolbeth's departure/release from the Milwaukee-based factory team.
Baker, hot off his third season as an Expert-ranked rider, and after winning the first two Grand National races of his career at Hagerstown and Pomona, clinched the 2013 AMA Grand National Championship at the end of the season after leading the overall point standings since his breakout first win of his career in early July.
Baker's worst finish of the season came at the Colonial Downs round the week before the Labor Day weekend doubleheader at Springfield when he lost a motor in the National main and finished a season and career-worst 19th. With his two wins on the year and his 12 top-5 finishes of the season, Baker took the championship over title rival Bryan Smith by 10 points at Pomona after railing back to the lead in what was considered one of the best races of the season.
In the shot above, Baker awaits the first round of practice at the Indy Mile on August 17 in round 8 of the 2013 AMA Pro Flat Track presented by J&P Cycles Grand National Championship at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Also seen next to Baker on the #12 Dodge Brothers Racing/Sefnco Communications/Specialty Fabrication Inc-backed XR750 is 2013 AMA Grand National Championship-winning tuner Dave Atherton, who as was announced above will be spinning the wrenches for Zanotti Racing's new signee Kenny Coolbeth, Jr. for the 2014 season.
While the official schedule has yet to be released for the 2014 season, the rumor mill runs rampant across the internet boards and throughout several postings over the course of the last 10 or so days on Facebook.
While we do know that Daytona will once again kick-off the 2014 season on March 13-14, and that the Basic Twins Series will return to the Springfield Mile I on May 25, those are the only 'confirmed' dates on the calendar for the upcoming season.
We have heard that Springfield will return, again (of course!) for it's annual Labor Day outing, and that Peoria and Indy are being swapped around in terms of dates to better accommodate the MotoGP schedule in Indianapolis for next summer. There is talk that Lima will be back on the schedule at the end of June in spite of the retirement of long time promoter Dean Gallup, there is rampant speculation that Grays Harbor in Elma, Washington will get another shot at running a half-mile in the Great Northwest in spite of their stinging pull-out from the schedule this season just nine days before the scheduled event, and Sacramento, Pomona, Colonial Downs, Santa Rosa, Castle Rock and Hagerstown will all return to the schedule again.
There is also talk of a return to Knoxville, Iowa, home of the National Sprint Car Museum, in spite of not being able to put any sizeable crowd in the stands for the two races run in the 2011-2012 seasons, and a round in Swartz Creek, MI. has been mentioned as well as a return to the Sturgis Half-Mile in August during the big Sturgis outing in South Dakota.
Of course, until the powers that be on Fentress Boulevard in Daytona make anything official, it's still purely conjecture for most of these events, but at least something to chew on until the hammer drops when the schedule does roll out.
We expect the official schedule to be released sometime in the next couple of weeks, as the 2011 schedule was released on December 17, 2010, the 2012 schedule on December 21, 2011 and the 2013 schedule on December 10, 2012.
And we're just as anxious as anyone to see what's on tap for 2014 and will have the announcement as soon as it hits our inbox!