After a one-year hiatus from VIRginia International Raceway due to the COVID-19 pandemic, MotoAmerica returns to VIR next weekend for round two of the 2021 HONOS Superbike Championship. It’s a favorite track for many current riders, as well as a fan favorite. After all, the 14-turn, 2.25-mile natural road course has served up some very memorable AMA road races over the years.
Perhaps the two most memorable AMA races at VIR occurred a little less than 19 years ago. Race one was a strangely attrition-filled contest and race two featured one of the closest photo finishes in AMA Superbike history.
Held on August 10 and 11, 2002, the two races were the final round of the 2002 AMA Superbike Championship, and Honda’s Nicky Hayden needed only one of the two races to clinch the Superbike title.
Hayden arrived at VIRginia International Raceway with a 35-point lead over Kawasaki’s Eric Bostrom, so he only had to finish 11th or better in each of the two races to claim the Championship.
As race one started, Hayden took an understandably conservative approach, while Bostrom got the holeshot and Yoshimura Suzuki teammates Aaron Yates and Mat Mladin slotted into second and third.
Hayden was in fourth place when, on lap 8, Yates tucked the front-end of his Suzuki and slid off the course, which moved Hayden up to third. Next up was Eric Bostrom, who crashed out of the race on lap 9 going into turn 4 after his engine locked up. Mladin then moved into the lead followed closely by Hayden. With Hayden applying pressure, Mladin took an off-course excursion on lap 13 that dropped him back to third. Hayden then took the lead.
Running second behind Hayden on lap 16, Jamie Hacking’s Yoshimura Suzuki broke, and he dropped out of the race. Mladin then took over second but only until lap 20 when his Suzuki also broke.
Hayden went on to win by over eight seconds, earning him the victory and the 2002 AMA Superbike Championship. HMC Ducati’s Doug Chandler finished second in the race, and Duhamel rounded out the podium in third.
Hayden won his ninth Superbike race of the season and took the title just a couple of weeks after his 21st birthday.
With the championship wrapped up, the fact that Hayden crashed out of race two was but a footnote. Running in third place, Hayden lost the front in turn 10 on lap 7 and skidded onto the grass where his bike caught fire and brought out what would be the first of three red flags that day.
In the end, Eric Bostrom barely nipped Mladin at the checkers by one ten-thousandth of a second to claim the final victory of the 2002 season.
The final point standings had Hayden taking the title by 37 points over Bostrom, with Hayden’s teammate Miguel Duhamel finishing another 70 points back in third.
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