Before the start of the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) Flat Track Grand Championships in DuQuoin on July 15, the Saathoff family were at peace with whatever happened over the next five days.
Mike and Bobbi Saathoff knew that their son Chase would do well at the event, but even with success, it was hard to tell if the 15-year-old racer would bring home the ultimate prize, the Nicky Hayden Horizon Award, which is presented to the most promising amateur rider aiming for success in the professional ranks.
“Winning plays a part in it, but it’s also about how you handle yourself on and off the track, how you interact with other riders and what kind of person you are,” said Dallas Daniels, the 2018 Horizon winner who was helping in Saathoff’s pits at DuQuoin. “If you win a Horizon Award, it’s a pretty good indicator of your success at the pro level.”
Ultimately, Saathoff made the decision on the Horizon Award a simple one as he walked away from DuQuoin with four national championships and the prestigious honor named after Hayden, who was the first Horizon winner in 1997 and an accomplished racer before his death in 2017.
“This is probably the worst kept secret of the entire day,” said Mike Burkeen of the American Motorcyclist Association before announcing Saathoff as the winner.
“We had some fast competition, but there is always one that stands out,” AMA Track Racing Manager said before the presentation. “Being a parent, I know how much hard work goes into this thing. Congrats to both the winner and his parents.”
Hard work is right, but Saathoff made the week look impossibly easy somehow. Racing in four different classes, with 16 total finals through the four days of racing, Saathoff won 12 times, never finishing worse than second.
Each day called for something different at the Grand Championships, with Saathoff hitting the mile track at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds on July 15, followed by TT racing on July 16, the indoor short track on July 18 and the half-mile on July 19.
Saathoff went into the final day with a comfortable lead in three of the four classes, but in the 450cc Production class, he held just a five point edge over Tyler Scott going into the final race.
The two riders would be shoulder to shoulder for much of the race, but Saathoff held a slight lead coming off the back straightaway on the final lap. Needing to finish first to win the class, Scott drove deep into turn three to try and make up the gap, but laid down his bike between turn three and turn four, allowing Saathoff to pick up the win and the championship in the class.
Leading up to the 450cc Production finale, which was the last race of the day, Saathoff polished off the championships in the other three classes.
Scott edged him in the final race of the 450cc Modified, but Saathoff’s second place finish gave him 115 points, a 14-point cushion over Scott in the points standings.
Scott would also take first in the Open Heavyweight class on Monday, but Saathoff had won the previous three days and came away with another title, 115 points to Scott’s 105.
The 250cc-Open Singles rounded out the perfect day for Saathoff as he picked up his third win and finished off his fourth championship of the week with 115 points, 18 more than second place Gage Smith.
The championship sweep was a fitting end to the weekend, which isn’t the official end of Saathoff’s amateur career, but did serve as an announcement that he is ready to go pro.
Until he turns 16 and can go pro, Saathoff will weigh his options, finding out which team is the best fit for next year and honing his skills with a few final amateur events.
Regardless of where he goes from here, Saathoff’s final amateur Grand Championships proved that his future in the sport is a bright one.
AMA Flat Track
July 15-19 at DuQuoin
Class Mile TT Short 1/2
250-Open 2nd 1st 1st 1st
Open Hvy 1st 1st 1st 2nd
450-Mod 1st 1st 1st 2nd
450-Prod 2nd 1st 1st 1st
*Four National Championships, 2021 Nicky Hayden Horizon Award Winner.