Flat Track's First Couple: Mr. and Mrs. Jared Mees

AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Championship power couple.

Jared and Nichole Mees wedding day

When it comes to race paddocks, amateur or professional, the scene playing out today is not unusual. It’s a couple of weeks since the previous race, so wives and girlfriends are standing in groups of three and four making small talk before the action starts. What is different today, under another perfect blue sky in Pomona, California, is the fact that one of the wives, Nichole Mees, is waiting to race herself. Her husband, Jared Mees, goes into this last day of a 16-round AMA Pro Flat Track season leading the championship. It’ll be his second if he’s successful.

Let's put this into a globally mainstream context. It's the eve of the Valencia MotoGP race and Jorge Lorenzo is looking to tie up the title after moving into the lead at the previous round. Meanwhile, Mrs. Lorenzo—go with me on this—is racing for a top satellite squad on another fire-breathing Yamaha YZR-M1. She's expected to beat a couple of other satellite riders and even give Nicky Hayden, on the customer Honda, a run for his money. That is the level at which Nichole and Jared are operating.

“I first met Nichole at the amateur nationals in Springfield,” Jared says. “I was probably 12 or 13.” At that time, Nichole had her family name, Cheza, stitched to the back of her leathers. “I was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and she is from Michigan, so we’d only see each other at the amateur races. She was fast, ran up front, and was more like a tomboy when I first noticed her.”

The pair grew closer, and when it became clear Jared was going to become a professional racer, he’d stay with Nichole and her family in Clio, Michigan. “Right away, there was a connection,” Nichole remembers. “I had a feeling like, ‘He’s the one.’ We had so many things in common. We like going for nice meals and to comedy shows too. It’s not all racing.”

Jared Mees portrait

Jared looks like a Marine—short hair, muscular physique, no nonsense. Today, race day, he is a different beast than yesterday when we spoke at his nearby hotel. He’s monosyllabic, pacing like a lion in a circus cage. He’s clearly pondering the three-way battle for the title. Bryan Smith and Jake Johnson can both win the number-one plate, depending how the day pans out. Consistent all season, Jared retook the point lead when Smith was black-flagged two weeks prior in Calistoga; his bike was blowing oil, the result of a cracked sight glass on one of the best-prepped bikes in the sport.

Nichole is farther down the standings, 20th out of 49 points-scorers. She crashed heavily in June, injuring her left leg. Her overall standings are always dealt a blow because she is so much better on the miles and half miles racing her Black Hills Harley-Davidson XR750 than short tracking or TT racing on an MX-based 450 single.

“I lost touch with the 450,” she admits. “You have to ride them differently. The Harley weighs between 300 and 350 pounds, but when you’re going at those speeds, it doesn’t feel like you’re holding up that weight. I train very hard to stay in good shape.”

“Those speeds” are about 115 mph at the end of the straight of this half-mile oval that is rougher than a bear turd rolled in fishhooks.

When I met up with Jared yesterday, Nichole was still in Michigan at her day job, teaching special-education classes. Oh, yeah, I forget to say during all that Mr. and Mrs. Lorenzo stuff that Mrs. Lorenzo is also a schoolteacher, having swapped careers from being a pediatric nurse.

flat track bikes getting prepped for race day

“On Friday, I get done with school at 2:30, and I’m normally driving to the airport straight after,” Nichole says. “Fly home Sunday night and make it to work on Monday. It’s a busy lifestyle, but I love every minute of it.”

Four almost identical XR750s are parked under E-Z Ups as close as possible to the track entrance. All are privately owned, supported by two Harley dealers and other sponsors. Two heavy leather jackets, “MEES” stitched on their backs, are hanging up. One of them looks like it would fit an 11-year-old boy. Nichole is petite, with shiny chestnut hair pulled back and held with a simple elastic band. She is clearly fit but not exceptionally muscular.

There isn’t a paddock in the world that has the variety of characters of the Grand National Championship. Virtually every hairstyle, from Venice Beach bum semi-dreadlock to Caucasian ’fro, is represented. There are riders as PR polished as anyone in MotoGP and others who could start a fight in an empty room. There are buzz cuts, baldies, and Coke-bottle glasses. There is also an open hostility between many of the riders, and while there is grudging respect, few spout the tedious diplomacy or low-level whining found in roadracing.

This is a hard world where no one has a free ride. If you’re not excelling, your parents had better still be willing to feed you or you need a day job. Passions run high, riders get their clocks cleaned, and, going into the Pomona race, I heard seven riders tipped as winners by different paddock insiders. Another five probably thought they had a chance if the stars aligned.

Jared Mees action shot

Racers progress to the point-paying main event—first via timed practice then heat races. Those who don’t place in the top four in their 12-man heats are sent to one of the semis, from which only the top two will progress to the 18-rider main.

Riders take to the Pomona half-mile track in waves for the practice, delineated by their standings. Championship-leader Jared is out in the first group. Coming off turn four, the 100-hp Harleys, Kawasakis, and Triumphs spit big, old-fashioned rooster tails of heavy soil. The impact of these dirty little dum-dums on trailing riders leaves huge red welts on their biceps, even through the thick leather.

Now it’s Nichole’s session. She’s lining up with former champion Smokin’ Joe Kopp, Jeffrey Carver Jr., Shawn Baer, and a rider she must have influenced, Shayna Texter.

“When I started racing, it was weird to see females at the races,” Nichole says, “but I didn’t know anything different. Now when I go to amateur races I see 10, 15, 20 girls in different classes. I think it’s awesome.”

Nichole Mees action shot

Before the end of the four-lap session, Nichole slows and rolls into the pits. She caught her left foot in a hole on the track and aggra­vated that old injury. With no garages in which to hide, and all trucks moved out of the infield to allow a better view for spectators in the stands, onlookers gawk as the team pulls off Nichole’s leathers and her eyes fill with tears. Medics arrive and cut off her socks as the other racers line up for their next timed sessions.

Jared shows concern then returns, like a boxer, to his corner, fiddling with his phone. Johnson’s wife is comforting Nichole. Jared occasionally looks over but not very often. His wife is tougher than leather, and he is here to work. Still, it’s interesting how little obvious concern he’s showing. He becomes even more monosyllabic when I try to talk to him.

I bet he wanted a distraction on this high-pressure day but not one involving his wife in a crumpled, perspiring mess a few feet away while his own lifetime of racing and commitment is coming to a head.

A splint is put on Nichole’s leg, and she is taken away in an ambu­lance. As the doors slam, Jared prepares for qualifying.

It was all so different on the morning of race day at the Springfield Mile in September of 2013 when the pair was getting married. “Springfield was the place we met,” Jared explains. “It was where I proposed, so we thought we’d finish the job there.” After the ceremony, Jared came in sixth. Nichole was 13th.

Jared and Nichole Mees wedding victory lap

There are no updates from the hospital as qualifying, heats, and then the Dash for Cash—the four-lap precursor to the main for the top six qualifiers—progress. Jared is doing what he’s done all year, just what is required without making too many headlines. He is second in his heat, transferring to the main, while his closest rival, Smith, wins his own heat and the Dash from Jared, taking the bonus points that go with it. Smith appears visibly quicker, but the title is still Jared’s to lose.

Under the floodlights, the main gets under way. The view of the 18 best dirt-track racers howling through turn one, spitting a desert storm of damp dirt, is awe-inspiring. Jared and Smith are side by side for the first lap until Smith begins to pull away. Smith broke Harley’s stranglehold on GNC half miles, and, with four laps down, he’s looking unbeatable. But Jared doesn’t have to win. As the 25-lap race counts down, outgoing number one, Brad Baker, then Johnson, pass Jared.

Smith powers his way to his fifth win of the season, more than any other rider, but Jared’s fourth is enough to take the title by three points. Jared “only” won two races, but he scored points at every round, while Smith had two no scores.

As Jared celebrates with his team, Nichole stands apart on crutches. She got back to the track in time to watch the main. She’s invited onto the podium. The day didn’t work out exactly the way they hoped, but it could’ve been a whole lot worse for the most remarkable husband and wife in motorsport.

Wedding Mile: Jared and Nichole Mees take a victory lap after saying ?I do? at Springfield in 2013.

Wedding photo.

Wedding photo.

Wedding photo.

Wedding photo.

Jared Mees.

Nichole Mees.

All in the Family: Rogers Racing?s Kenny Tolbert builds Jared?s XR750s, while Nichole?s father and uncle prepare Nichole?s bikes.

Schoolmarm: Nichole, in Expert Twins, has a best finish of seventh at the Knoxville Half-Mile.

Nichole Mees #15

Power Down: Jared has 15 national victories to his credit, all earned on private Harleys.

Race action shot.

Race action shot.

Nichole Mees injured.

Congratulation kiss.

Team Mees: Nichole holds the number-one plate signed over to Jared by 2013 AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Champion Brad Baker.