After J&P Cycles inked its sponsorship deal with the factory Indian Racing team last winter I had a chance to spend some time with the team at the American Flat Track season opener in Daytona at the beginning of the year.  We had all witnessed Briar's strong finish to the previous season on the Kawasaki and after he went on to win the Daytona opener  you could tell something special was brewing around the Indian Factory team. All season long the team stayed in that rarefied air. Heading into the Minnesota Mile, Bronson Bauman had ridden his way to 3rd in the standings while Briar had managed a stunning 14 podiums (5 wins) out of 16 races and was locked in a close battle with two-time defending champ Jared Mees.

Coming into Saturday's race Mees would have to win the last two races of the year to win the championship, so his goal was set for the race. Briar however just had to stay within a few positions of the reigning champ to lock up the AFT Twins championship for 2019. To a casual fan it would seem easy enough for a guy who had been so dominant all year, but in reality any "Top 5" finish at an AFT Twins race is no easy feat as there's no givens in dirt track racing. Early on, Briar continued his stellar year by qualifying second and solidifying a front row start for the main event. The loose cushion track had provided amazing racing all night, but just before the Twins main race officials decided to add water to the track. Since the Minnesota sun had set, the wind had also died down so the newly wet track wasn't really drying out and as a result the mile track was more mud than tacky cushion. All night long tear-off management and staying out of  roost was key to making it around the track safely and the wet conditions were going to compound those problems. After a short delay waiting for the track to dry up a bit they decided to start the race in the seemingly muddy conditions.

Covered in Minnesota mud, newly crowned AFT Twins champion Briar Bauman holds up the No. 1 plate!

The race lights went green and Briar got a decent start but the group of riders hadn't even made a lap yet when the overly wet track claimed its first victims. The Bauman brothers were running around the 3-4 spots when the slick track took Bronson's front end from underneath him and left Briar with nowhere to go as he T-boned his brother and crashed head first into the air fence, his bike helicoptering through the air. As the dust...er, mud settled, the multi-rider incident had also collected Harley factory rider Sammy Halbert, rookie of the year Brandon Price as well as Stephen Vanderkuur. Luckily the riders were up and moving around, but other than if it had been a race-ending injury, this was the worst case scenario for Briar and team. The bike was absolutely trashed and per AFT rules you can't use a backup bike and can only work on the bike on-track, you can't take it to the pits. In a nutshell the Indian team had about eight minutes to "fix" the bike. The damage was significant and the Indian team leapt into action showing why they are the best in the business. In the span of a few minutes they had replaced the front end, radiator, fixed the handlebars and controls as well as a few other things, all while on the race track.

Even though Briar had his trusty FTR750 back in action it was by no means as functional as when it rolled onto the track moments earlier. To make matters worse, he would go from a front row position to a back row starting spot on the restart, somewhere around 17th or 18th position. With the bikes fired up they once again turned the premier class loose on the sub-par track. And once again within a few laps tragedy struck, another pile-up collecting James Monaco and Jay Maloney, resulting in Monaco leaving in an ambulance. With yet another crash it was getting late and the track's curfew was looming so race officials cut the main event to 15 laps, once again adding to the pile of obstacles Bauman needed to overcome to wrap up the championship. Briar was sitting in the back row on a broken motorcycle (heroically put back together by his team) needing a 4th place or better finish on a shit track with only 15 laps to do it.

I'm not sure what his mindset was going into the second restart - was he thinking about all the bad luck he'd had at this track, was he questioning his motorcycle's ability, thinking of the slick track or the laundry list of obstacles to clinch the championship? Was he contemplating just making a safe 15 laps, getting some points and taking a small points lead into the final race next weekend? I honestly don't think any of that crossed his mind or if it did it was quickly shelved for thoughts of putting that mud-covered FTR750 on the podium because that's how champions think.

The lights banged green, Briar dropped the hammer and started his march to the front. In what seemed like only a lap he had moved from 17th to 7th place and began to stalk the bikes in front of him. Eventual winner Jared Mees had set sail but Briar was on the move, passing for 6th, 5th and then 4th! That's it I thought, he's done it! But racers race and Briar was doing just that, hammer down he passed for 3rd and wasn't done. As he closed in on Bryan Smith the two went to war. Mile master Bryan was having none of Briar's attempt to take second. An epic battle ensued as Bryan ran a lower line through the corners and Briar ran the high line, coming together at the end of each corner and as the entire crowd held their collective breaths they changed spots back and forth. Finally the last lap, last corner Briar tried to fire the Indian around Bryan's Kawi one last time and the two came together, banging bars as Smith held onto second, Briar crossing the line in 3rd. He had done the improbable if not the unthinkable from a few minutes earlier, rebounding from a gnarly crash, his team rebuilding the bike, front row to a back row start and a shortened race format to 2019 AFT Twins champion. Jared Mees looped back around and motioned to the new champ. The former champion and race winner loaded the exhausted Bauman on the back of his bike for one of the coolest victory laps I have ever seen. An exhausted and very emotional Briar took the podium and once again his championship form showed as he thanked his family, team and ultimate love for the sport.

Watching defending champion Jared Mees give newly crowned champion Briar Bauman a victory ride around the Minnesota Mile was the perfect ending to a wild night of racing in Minnesota. 

Thank you Briar for doing what champions do, you had so many opportunities to throw in the towel and let circumstances get the better of you. Instead you put your head down and went to work, showing us why you are indeed the champ. Congrats to you and the Indian team for a phenomenal race and season, once again showing us why dirt track racing is the greatest sport on earth.