FT: 2006 champion Coolbeth spotlight

WRECKING CREW HAS SUCCESSFUL SEASON EN ROUTE TO COOLBETH'S FIRST CAREER AMA CHAMPIONSHIP First Screamin' Eagle Championship in Nine Years MILWAUKEE (Nov. 7, 2006) -- Almost exactly one year ago, Kenny Coolbeth sat down and wrote his two biggest...

First Screamin' Eagle Championship in Nine Years

MILWAUKEE (Nov. 7, 2006) -- Almost exactly one year ago, Kenny Coolbeth sat down and wrote his two biggest goals on a piece of paper. First, he wanted to become a factory rider for the Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson program.

Check. He was signed as a rider at the first of the year.

Second, he wanted to win the AMA Flat Track championship.

Check. He did it in style, no less, winning the season finale and the title all in one night.

Throughout the AMA Flat Track season, however, he knew he had one more goal that he wanted to see through. He wanted to be surrounded by his Screamin' Eagle Wrecking Crew teammates on the final podium.

Check. Check. Check. The four-rider Wrecking Crew team occupied all three spots on the podium in the last three events of the season and finished first through fourth in the final point standings.

"I think the season started out pretty well, but the communication by the team just got better and that really helped us accomplish all of our goals," Coolbeth said. "We all got along well, worked well together and had fun racing this season."

Coolbeth has steadily worked his way up to the No. 1 position over the past few years. He finished third in the final standings in 2004 and second in 2005. Earning the title and the race win on the same day is exactly what he had in mind when he signed a deal to be a factory rider with Harley-Davidson.

"The knowledge the Screamin' Eagle team has, the equipment we ride and knowing how badly I wanted to win all gave me confidence this season," Coolbeth said. "They gave me the best equipment and team and I have been getting closer and closer to the championship over the years. It was due to happen and I knew Harley would help that dream come true."

Harley-Davidson Racing Manager Anne Paluso said a championship was the goal when they added Coolbeth to the team -- but he still exceeded expectations when he became the first Harley-Davidson factory rider to win a title in nine years.

"We knew Kenny would do well and we always go into a season hoping that we are competing for a championship," Paluso said. "We set high expectations for Kenny when he joined the team but having him earn the championship in his first season with us was still better than we had expected. He did a great job."

His teammates weren't too shabby either. While Kenny earned three victories and three other podium finishes out of the 10-race season, his Wrecking Crew teammates took two other event wins as well as nine other podium finishes.

Coolbeth finished the season followed by Wrecking Crew member Jared Mees and the Texter Harley-Davidson team in second place. Wrecking Crew member Bryan Smith and the Pat Moroney's Harley-Davidson team finished third while veteran Screamin' Eagle factory rider Rich King tied for fourth with Chris Carr and the Quality Pre-Owned Ford Harley-Davidson team.

"I think the season had a storybook finish," Paluso said. "It's an amazing thing to have one of our factory riders earn the No. 1 plate and for him to be surrounded by Wrecking Crew teammates."

Mees earned one victory with three second-place finishes in his first season as a Wrecking Crew racer.

"The chemistry between my mechanic and I really made the difference this season," Mees said. "I think it especially paid off during the half-mile events. We won most of our heat races on the half-mile and in general, that was due to the way the team worked together."

Now that Mees has been so close to the championship he could taste the first-place dirt, he has higher goals for the 2007 season.

"I'm really happy with the way the season went," Mees said. "We came up just a little short, just 13 points out of first place. We just need to step up our game a little more and get those points back next season. The experience I gained this season is going to be invaluable next year. I'm going to spend every minute possible training and preparing for another championship run."

Smith earned one victory and two third place finishes. He said his victory was the season highlight, especially considering where it happened.

"Winning the Springfield (Ill.) Mile was amazing," Smith said. "That's the biggest race of the year and the guys gave me the best bike possible. Everything came together that day. That was the best day of my racing career so far."

Smith said he was very impressed with the way the team fought to earn a third place finish overall considering how they struggled during some points of the season.

"We had a couple of bad races because of engine failures," Smith said. "That's just a part of racing, but we want to do what we can to make sure we avoid that from happening next season. Our guys did a great job of coming back from those poor outings and taking those experiences and learning from them.

"We were right in the hunt for race wins and came close to being in the hunt for a championship. We just want to take everything from this year, build on it and be the team to beat next season."

King earned four podium finishes en route to the fourth place finish.

"As a team, we did a great job this year," King said. "But as an individual racer, it was a disappointing season. We had competitive bikes but we just made a couple of bad calls and had a few misfortunes and those hurt us in the long run.

"I think not qualifying for two races really hurt. That cost me the championship this year. Winning the title comes down to making the least amount of mistakes. There are a lot of guys capable of winning the championship at the beginning of the year but the winner is the most consistent one with the least DNF's and mistakes."

Coolbeth agreed that being consistent was one of the keys to his success.

"We just tried to worry about ourselves and what the bike was doing and nothing else," Coolbeth said. "We raced the conditions and the race track and we didn't look at the point standings or what other guys were doing. I went to every race wanting to win and thought about nothing else but that."

All four riders gave credit to the Wrecking Crew for each of their successes. During the 20s Harley-Davidson became known for conquering many records on two wheels including being the first powered vehicle to top California's Old Baldy hill. At 10,000 feet, it was quite an accomplishment. In 1921 a Harley-Davidson entry became the first bike to win a race at an average speed of more than 100 mph at a Fresno, Calif. event.

The "Wrecking Crew" was the name given to the group of men behind those and many other historical two-wheeled feats. Whether dirt racing or board racing, the Wrecking Crew was nearly unbeatable.

"The Wrecking Crew is based on some very talented people who raced decades ago," Mees said. "It gave us even more motivation because we all wanted to be competitive to keep the tradition of the Wrecking Crew success going. Not only did we want to beat other racers on the track, but we wanted to beat each other too. At least one or two Wrecking Crew guys were running up front every race and that was a great way to keep me motivated all season to do my best."

Paluso said the Wrecking Crew teams fought all season to uphold the name that was created so long ago.

"The success of the entire flat track program is a reflection of the quality people we have on the teams, the riders and the dealers who are a big part of the Wrecking Crew program," Paluso said. "Everyone has an incredible passion for racing and winning and together everyone worked to reach our goal of winning a championship."

But now the champion must start looking ahead to defending his title. If there is one thing Coolbeth wants to work on next season, it's the setup and performance at certain tracks.

"We struggled at the cushion tracks but I think the team made some great strides and I know we'll get it all figured out," Coolbeth said. "There is always something you have to work on in the offseason and that is going to be one thing we need to address."

Coolbeth will also take some time to train in his hometown of Warren, Conn. His methods, however, tend to make the neighbors shiver.

"As soon as possible, I am going to start training and getting ready for the 2007 season," Coolbeth said. "I'm already focused on how to win Daytona (Fla., the season opener). Living in Connecticut makes it a little difficult, but I ride as much as I can which means I ride on the ice. My neighbors look at me a little funny for riding in two-degree weather, but they all know me and they know what our team accomplished this season. They get into it and support me which is just another reason why I live here."

Sometime between riding on ice, Coolbeth will once again get out a pen and paper and start writing down a list of 2007 goals.

"I accomplished some big goals in one year and I'm still pretty pumped about it," Coolbeth said. "It feels good knowing that all of the team's hard work paid off in the end. It's still difficult to believe that not only did I win the championship, but I also did it as a factory rider for Harley-Davidson.

"I'm going to take the same goals into next season. I want to be more consistent and go to every race with the goal of winning. I want to win. That's all. That goal will never change."

-credit: se

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Series AMA
Drivers Pat Moro , Chris Carr