The King of the Baggers event made its debut on Saturday at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Photo by Brian J. Nelson

The debut of the Drag Specialties King of the Baggers event didn’t disappoint at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on Saturday as those in attendance won’t soon forget the sight of the big V-twins scratching and clawing their way around the iconic racetrack on the Monterey Peninsula in a manner that most couldn’t have predicted.

The victory went to S&S Indian’s Tyler O’Hara, the pre-race favorite. But it was not without drama as the Challenger-mounted Californian battled back from an off-track excursion in turn two to beat Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson’s Hayden Gillim by 1.9 seconds in the eight-lap introduction to the class at Laguna. Third place went to Indian-mounted Frankie Garcia with the Roland Sands Design-backed rider bouncing back from a painful crash during practice on Friday.

“Three or four laps in, I was going into (turn) two and I didn’t have any moments going into turn two the whole weekend and just ended up tucking the front,” O’Hara said of the off-track excursion that allowed Gillim to take the lead. “I saved it and then actually went all the way off into turn two. Actually, at the start Frankie (Garcia) was telling me my bike was smoking and I was like, ‘You’re full of it. What are you trying to psych me out?’ But he was serious. I looked at the bike and looked down and I saw a little brake fluid on the pipe. I said, ‘Okay, well we can figure this out. Don’t pull me out of here. We’re just going to figure it out.’ We didn’t have any rear brakes at all either, so that was a little interesting. We just did our homework and I was very fortunate that I was able to keep it on two wheels in the sand. Hayden was riding really good, and same with Frankie. It’s just so fun, like you said, being able to be part of this whole King of the Baggers. I haven’t seen people that excited about motorcycle racing in a long time. People were jumping up and down and hooting and hollering. It was just fun to put on a show with these guys. My hats off to everybody who rode a bagger this weekend because some of the bikes out there didn’t look too fun to be on. So hats off to the team.”

With the exception of Richie Escalante, those who have won the most in 2020 won again at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on the opening day of the GEICO Motorcycle Superbike Speedfest at Monterey.

Supersport – Kelly Gets It Done

Supersport race one had a somewhat familiar start and a surprise conclusion as 2020 class champion Richie Escalante survived some early skirmishes with M4 ECSTAR Suzuki’s Sean Dylan Kelly and Celtic HSBK Racing Yamaha’s last-round replacement rider JD Beach, who got the holeshot in the race, but later crashed out of second place.

Escalante got into the lead on lap two and held onto it till lap eight when Kelly took the point and Escalante was shuffled back to second. And then, disaster struck for Escalante when his HONOS Kawasaki experienced a technical problem, which ended his day.

CV28 Racing’s Cory Ventura, competing in Supersport for the first time this season, moved up to second and battled for position with Escalante’s new-for-this-weekend HONOS teammate Brandon Paasch, who switched from a Yamaha to a Kawasaki for the final round of the season.

At the checkers, it was Kelly taking the win, with Paasch finishing second over Ventura in third.

“Every race weekend for me, I’m 100% determined to go out there and give it everything,” Kelly said. “I was especially determined this weekend to not leave this place without a win. Really happy to get a win today. Happy to have the opportunity to make it two wins tomorrow because of this. In general, the race was really good. It started with a couple passes back and forth. I think JD (Beach) and I passed five times just the first lap alone. It was impressive to see how fast he is in his first weekend back on a race bike after I don’t know how long. So really nice to be fighting up there. I was a bit worried about him (Richie Escalante) doing the same as always and being able to gap us, but I saw that wasn’t the case this time. I was able to get by after a few laps and had a little bit of a gap to Richie. I gave it 100 percent. I told myself that it was either win or end up in the gravel. If I ended up in the gravel it was okay. I wasn’t going to accept a second place behind Richie again. So, I gave it all I had. I realized I was catching up. It wasn’t easy to catch up. I was already destroying my rear tire with twelve laps to go, but I really didn’t care. I just wanted to get by the guy. I got by with maybe 12 laps to go or 10 laps to go. After that he just maintained behind me. It’s weird when someone is so close to you, especially being Richie, because you expect him to fight back really quick or if he’s sitting there it’s because he’s comfortable, and he knows that he’ll have it the last four laps. I just stayed with my own rhythm, gave it 100 percent. I was really happy with my lap times throughout the last half of the race, until I saw +12 on my board and I knew that something had to be a little bit off. So, I double-checked and made sure there was some gap behind me. After that it was just the longest four laps of my life, probably. Just really happy to finish off the race with P1, finish off already a weekend with another victory. I do hope that tomorrow everyone stays on board and we can give a big fight to the last lap, last corner.”   

Liqui Moly Junior Cup – Landers’ 14th Win

Two-time Liqui Moly Junior Cup Champion Rocco Landers kept his momentous season going strong on Saturday, winning his 14th race of the season. It was not easy for the Norton Motorsports/Ninja400R/Dr.Farr//Wonder CBD Kawasaki rider, though. He was hounded throughout the 13-lap event by BARTCON Racing’s Dominic Doyle, who moved up quickly from his fourth place starting position on the first lap, got into second place, and maintained his position all the way to the checkers.

Third place went to Celtic HSBK Racing Kawasaki rider Sam Lochoff, who was in a race-long battle with Liam Grant for the final step on the podium. Lochoff got by Grant on the final lap and made it stick to secure third place.

“After the first two laps, I knew it was going to be a fight between me and (Dominic),” said Landers. “I saw Sam and, I think, Liam behind us. So, I was just trying to push the whole race and see what would happen, maybe capitalize on any mistakes made. I knew that Dominic was going to make no mistakes. So, when I saw it was seven more riders, I assumed possibly they would trip each other up maybe and I could pull away. Dom rode a great race, though, and so did Sam, so I had to push the entire way.”  

Stock 1000 – Petersen Rolls On

In Saturday’s Stock 1000 race, which was the season-concluding event for the class, Altus Motorsports Suzuki rider Cam Petersen, who clinched the 2020 class championship at Indianapolis Motor Speedway two weekends ago, added another victory to his resume with his eighth win of the season in another dominant performance for the South African rider.

Second place went to Ride HVMC Racing Kawasaki’s Corey Alexander, who recorded his 10th podium result on the year and completed what was a remarkably consistent season for the New Yorker. Procomps Racing BMW’s Danilo Lewis rounded out the top three, and the Brazilian was overjoyed to notch the first MotoAmerica podium of his career.

“I think every racer’s goal is to put their head down the first few laps and make a break for it,” Petersen said. “If you can make a break for it, it makes your life quite a lot easier. It was definitely part of my strategy to put my head down and give it everything I had for the first two laps. Then I just kind of let the race play out from there.

“What a season. I’m super, super happy. I’ve been wanting this my whole life. We made it happen. It means a lot to me and my family. We’ve sacrificed our lives pretty much to come to America. I think this means a lot to us. I’m going to cherish this one for a little bit. Now it’s time to go focus on the Superbike races. Hopefully, I’ve got something for them. For right now, I’m just doing everything I can. Let’s go have some more fun.”

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