AMA Pro Speed Athlete of the Year Nominees

PICKERINGTON, Ohio (November 12, 2007) – Five standout riders have been nominated to receive the prestigious AMA Pro Racing SPEED Athlete of the Year award which will be presented at the AMA Pro Racing Championship Awards Banquet this Sunday, Nov. 18. Dating back to 1976, the award is the highest honor bestowed to a professional motorcycle racer competing in AMA-sanctioned racing. Past recipients of the award include such legendary names as Bob Hannah, Scott Parker and Kenny Roberts, among others.

Mark Burkhart
AMA Supermoto Championship star Mark Burkhart has earned his first AMA Pro Racing SPEED Athlete of the Year nomination. Burkhart, the 27-year-old Graves Yamaha rider from Pataskala, Ohio, captured his first AMA Supermoto Championship premier class title at the season-ending finale this past weekend.

“It’s cool to be nominated for Athlete of the Year,” said Burkhart, the 2005 AMA Supermoto Lites Champion. “It’s a big deal, especially considering the quality of riders who are normally nominated. Winning the X-Games and now being nominated for Athlete of the Year, it’s definitely been a season to remember.”

While many of the other stars of Supermoto originally made their name in other AMA racing series’, Burkhart can be said to be one of the first stars to emerge from AMA Supermoto racing since the series began in 2003. He is ranked third on the all-time AMA Supermoto wins list and second in all-time AMA Supermoto Lites career wins.
“I don’t mind being known as exclusively a supermoto rider,” Burkhart said. “After racing in motocross and supercross for a lot of years, supermoto has really made racing fun for me again. I go out and enjoy it every time I ride.”

Ken Coolbeth
Ken Coolbeth, who won both the AMA Ford Quality Checked Flat Track Twins and Singles Championships this year, now adds his first AMA Pro Racing SPEED Athlete of the Year nomination.

The 30-year-old factory Harley-Davidson rider from Morris, Conn., defended his AMA GNC Twins title of 2006 and scored his first title in the AMA GNC Singles Championship, becoming the first rider to win both titles in a single year.

Coolbeth won six races this season and now has 15-career AMA Grand National wins. That moved him from 33rd to 19th on the all-time AMA Grand National wins list. 2007 was his 14th year on the Grand National circuit.

“It’s a nice to be nominated for Athlete of the Year,” Coolbeth said. “This is my first nomination and it feels great to get that honor. It’s nice that people recognize the type of season I had in 2007.”

Coolbeth was expected to be the leading contender in the Twins championship, but he surprised a lot of people with his performance in the Singles class. He rode a Bettencourt Honda-sponsored CRF450-based machine in that series.

“People never thought of me as much of a Singles rider,” Coolbeth said. “That was a real goal of mine to win both championships and to prove I was versatile enough of a rider to win both.”

Coolbeth showed remarkable consistency in GNC Singles with four podium finishes in the seven rounds. He never finished worse than sixth.

He is proud to become the first to win both the Twins and Singles Championships in the same season. “It’s sort of old school in a way that there’s just one champion,” he said. “That way there’s no question of who was the top rider this season. It’s a real honor and something I couldn’t have done without the help of Harley-Davidson, Bettencourt Honda, my crew and all the smaller sponsors who don’t get much recognition.”

Josh Hayes
Josh Hayes, who successfully defended his Lockhart Phillips USA Formula Xtreme Series title this season, earned his second consecutive AMA Pro Racing SPEED Athlete of the Year nomination.

For Hayes the championship marked his second in AMA Formula Xtreme, and his third overall. He also won the crown in the 2003 AMA Superstock Series. Seven wins in the series in 2007 moved Hayes from tenth to fourth on the all-time Formula Xtreme wins list. For Honda it marks the fourth straight Formula Xtreme Championship.

Hayes is the first Formula Xtreme rider to earn two straight AMA Pro Racing SPEED Athlete of the Year nominations.

“For me it’s just awesome to be nominated again,” Hayes said. “It shows that people recognized how hard you worked. My team has done a lot to make me look good. I try as hard as I can, but Rick Hobbs, Matt [Zurbuchen] and [Masahiro] Iizuka at the racetrack and Gina back at Competition Sports, make sure I have the tools I need to go out and do well.”

Hayes joked that he hopes he has a better shot of winning the coveted AMA Pro Racing SPEED Athlete of the Year Award this time around.

“It was tough last year,” he said with a smile. “You had a guy who went 350 miles per hour on a motorcycle [Chris Carr], a guy who’d won just about every moto in existence [Ricky Carmichael] and a rider who finally won his first Superbike championship [Ben Spies] and defeated the guy who’d won it six times in seven years.”

Hayes went on to say he might even be a little more proud of his performance in this year’s AMA Pro Honda Oils Supersport Championship presented by Shoei. In that series he won four rounds. That was more than any other rider, but a couple of crashes ultimately cost him the title.

“I had by far the best motorcycle on the track in Formula Xtreme,” Hayes explained. “In Supersport we had a great motorcycle as well, but it was much more evenly matched and the competition was really stiff. To be leading the championship at mid-season and then get knocked down and still be in the championship hunt going into the last race even though Mid-Ohio was canceled. I felt like it was an interesting season and a good story. I think I rode well in that series and showed people what I could do.”

Hayes will be a newlywed when he comes to the championship banquet this year. He married Melissa Paris on Oct. 27 in Monterey, California.

Ben Spies
This is the second straight AMA Pro Racing SPEED Athlete of the Year nomination for reigning AMA Superbike Champion Ben Spies. Spies was victorious in one of the most competitive AMA Superbike Championships in series history. The 23-year-old Yoshimura Suzuki rider from Longview, Texas, won the season finale over teammate and archrival Mat Mladin to clinch the 2007 AMA Superbike Championship presented by Parts Unlimited by one point.

Spies, joined six other riders – Reg Pridmore, Wes Cooley, Eddie Lawson, Fred Merkel, Doug Chandler and Mladin – in winning back-to-back AMA Superbike titles.
Spies tallied seven wins in 2007. That moved him up from 12th to fourth on the all-time AMA Superbike wins list with a total now of 18-career wins. It marked the 11th AMA Superbike title for Suzuki. Spies’ victory in the season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Sept. 16, tied Suzuki with Honda atop the all-time AMA Superbike wins by manufacturer. Both Suzuki and Honda now have a total of 116 wins apiece.

Spies has now tallied four AMA road racing championships. In addition to his pair of Superbike titles, he also won the AMA Superstock Championship this season and Formula Xtreme Series in 2003.

“I was nominated for Athlete of the Year for the first time last year, and I’m really excited to be nominated again,” said Ben Spies. “Out of all the racers in the AMA, only a handful are nominated. This year, I won the AMA Superstock title and I backed that up with my second AMA Superbike Championship, so I had about as good a season as I could have possibly had.  Even though I would definitely like to win the award, I’m also very proud just to be nominated.” 

Ryan Villopoto
Ryan Villopoto, the 19-year-old Kawasaki racing phenom from Poulsbo, Wash., has received his second AMA Pro Racing SPEED Athlete of the Year nomination.

In only his second full season as a pro Villopoto is coming off one of the most successful racing campaigns in AMA racing history. In February he clinched the 2007 AMA Supercross Lites West title. In that series Villopoto was nearly unstoppable. He won all but a single race en route to the championship and wrapped up the title with one round remaining.

Villopoto then faced the biggest test of his young career in a season-long one-on-one battle with Monster Energy Kawasaki teammate Ben Townley in AMA Toyota Motocross Lites this summer. In the end a three-race winning streak starting at Millville, Minn., gave Villopoto the cushion he needed to back up his 2006 Motocross Lites title with yet another No. 1 campaign. He became the first to win the Motocross Lites class back-to-back since Ricky Carmichael did it in 1998.

Villopoto closed 2007 by turning in a stunning performance at the Motocross of Nations held in Budds Creek, Md., in September.

Villopoto won both the combined MX1/MX2 moto and the combined MX2/Open moto. Lined up against the best in the world, including reigning World Champions Antonio Cairoli and Steve Ramon, current AMA Motocross Champion Grant Langston and past AMA Supercross Champion Chad Reed, Villopoto flat out dominated. He won his first moto by 15 seconds over Reed and his second moto by more than a minute over Belgium's Ken de Dycker.

“This year was really a great and one I’ll always remember,” Villopoto said. “Getting this nomination just adds to a nearly perfect 2007. Actually winning the award would be the icing on the cake, but I guess you have to be nominated first to have a chance to win it.” Villopoto said the Motocross of Nations was the highlight of the year for him.

“Winning the Motocross Lites Championship in a season-long battle with my teammate was awesome, but doing so well in the Motocross des Nations was just unbelievable. It was great winning the thing at home in front of such a huge crowd. It was a great day for American motocross.”