FT: Kenny Coolberth Columbus preview

SCREAMIN' EAGLE AMA FLAT TRACK RIDER KENNY COOLBETH IN THE DRIVER'S SEAT FOR CHAMPIONSHIP WEEKEND Wrecking Crew Ready to Battle for Win, Title, at Season Finale MILWAUKEE (Sept. 18, 2006) -- Hopefully Kenny Coolbeth was the kind of kid who...


Wrecking Crew Ready to Battle for Win, Title, at Season Finale

MILWAUKEE (Sept. 18, 2006) -- Hopefully Kenny Coolbeth was the kind of kid who spent some time dreaming of being the clutch player. That fantasy practice could come in handy at this weekend's AMA Flat Track championship season finale at Scioto Downs in Columbus.

Right now Coolbeth's situation is the racing equivalent of being at the plate, down by three runs, with a full count and two outs. The bases are loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning of the World Series. A grand slam could win it all.

Coolbeth took over the points lead at the previous event held at the Springfield (Ill.) mile on Sept. 5. The Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson factory rider now leads fellow Wrecking Crew teammate Jared Mees and the Texter HD team by nine points and Chris Carr and the Pre-Owned Ford Harley-Davidson team by 10 points.

This weekend's event at Scioto Downs is the season finale. This weekend is Coolbeth's chance to earn his first AMA Flat Track Championship. It would also be the first for Harley-Davidson in nine years.

But Coolbeth, more than anyone else, knows that anything can happen in one race.

"I just want it over with because the waiting is so difficult," Coolbeth, a Warren, Conn., native said. "I wish we were racing right now. It's nerve-wracking to wait but all I can do is go through the time off the way I would any other race. I'm just training and preparing to go in there and win a race."

Coolbeth said he is doing everything he can to avoid thinking about the 'what-ifs' of this race. He is going to approach it as if it were the season opening event -- fresh and mentally prepared to win.

"As much as this race means in the points chase, I don't need to put any added pressure on myself," Coolbeth said. "I'm going to train the same and approach the race with one goal in mind and that's to win it. If I look at it any other way, I won't be keeping my normal routine and that's what has helped me get into this situation. My team has done everything they can to constantly improve the bike and that's helped me be a more consistent rider. I'm surrounded by a great crew."

Coolbeth has climbed his way up to be in the position to win a championship over the past few years. He finished in fourth place in the standings in 2003, third place in 2004 and second last season.

Harley-Davidson Racing Manager Anne Paluso said this was exactly what the Screamin' Eagle team was looking for when they added a second bike prior to the start of the season.

"We've been so happy with Rich King leading the way on our factory team for all these years so we knew that if we were going to add a second bike and rider, the person had to be dynamic and competitive," Paluso said. "Kenny is both of those things and I can't say enough about how well the team has worked to put him at the top of the standings.

"This race is going to be almost too exciting to watch. It's going to mean a lot for all of the Wrecking Crew riders."

Coolbeth earned his first national event victory at Scioto Downs in 2002.

"Winning my first national there was amazing," Coolbeth said. "It's a pretty fast track and it's going to be a great race because everyone will be thinking the same thing. You have just one race left to put it all out there."

Only Carr separates the Wrecking Crew in the standings. Coolbeth and Mees are first and second, respectively, while Bryan Smith and the Pat Moroney's Harley-Davidson squad and King are fourth and fifth, respectively.

Don't count Mees or Carr out either. Being so close in the standings has Mees dreaming of what could happen too.

"I know exactly what needs to happen for me to win the championship," Mees said. "I've played the points scenario out in my head a few times and I don't know if that's a good thing or bad thing.

"I do know that the track is wide open and that means you need some horsepower. We have horsepower and that gives me some added confidence going into the biggest race of the season. It's still going to be a battle. We had Springfield, which is a big event and takes a lot out of you, then we have two weeks off to just sit and think about this one last event. I'm anxious to get to the track."

Smith won the event in Springfield two weeks ago for his first win of the season.

"It's amazing how easy winning can be when everything is clicking and working," Smith said. "It was like that in Springfield but now we're moving on to a completely different kind of track. I like the way Scioto Downs is set up. It's the kind of track where you can make stuff happen. You don't have to just follow the leader like we do on some narrow tracks."

Smith said the track will allow for late-race moves -- something he's counting on.

"The team has dialed in this bike more each weekend," Smith said. "The two weeks off can make a rider anxious to get back on the track but it has given my guys time to make sure everything is ready and working. I think this track is going to be good for me because I can hang in there for most of the race and then go for it at the end. We're going to have the room to move around and I think it's going to make for a very fast and exciting finish."

King is a veteran. He has spent nearly 30 years racing on two wheels. He did what any veteran would do during the time off -- he went on vacation (motorcycle riding, no less). The veteran knows that a relaxed rider is a more competitive rider.

A veteran can also separate fantasy from reality.

"Something very drastic would have to happen in front of me or behind me (to the riders in the standings) for me to move out of fifth place," King said. "I think it would be unlikely that I can move up, so I have to go in there and compete for the race win. It's a nice venue, one that this team has struggled with in the past, but anything can happen."

With 19 AMA national event wins to his credit, King said the preparation done by all four riders and teams should give the Wrecking Crew a mental advantage going into the race.

"This team has come up with some very competitive setups on the clay surfaces so I think being mentally prepared for Scioto's pea-gravel is absolutely necessary," King said. "This is going to be such a dramatic weekend with the championship on the line. Three guys, Kenny, Jared and Carr, have a real shot at it and I think Kenny is in the driver's seat for the title. We'll just have to make sure the team is prepared and see what happens."

All the action takes place Saturday, starting at 7:30 p.m. at Scioto Downs.

-credit: se

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Series AMA
Drivers Pat Moro , Chris Carr