SONOMA — Of the nearly 150 drivers competing in the weekend's seven major races at the West Coast Moto Jam, the unluckiest might've been Tyler O'Hara of Petaluma.
At Infineon Raceway on Sunday, the 25-year-old missed winning the only Moto event of the weekend for Harley Davidsons by the blink of an eye, or 0.149 of a second to be exact. To make the loss even more painful, he led for all but the final 100 feet of the 25.52 miles in the AMA Pro Vance & Hines XR1200. He was done in when his bike popped out of gear. Michael Barnes, who had been dogging O'Hara throughout, was the beneficiary of the malfunction.
Also unlucky on Sunday was Josh Hayes, king of the SuperBikes. The way his motorcycle had been performing throughout the weekend, the only way he was going to lose the 22-lap Pro National Guard was if he took a fall. Unfortunately, that's what happened on turn nine in the second lap while he was in front. However, instead of calling it a day and heading back to the pits, the Mississippian remounted his Yamaha R1 and set sights on the 16 racers in front of him.
Hayes, who easily won a similar race on Saturday, wound up finishing a remarkable seventh. Blake Young inherited the lead from Hayes and led the rest of the way. Roger Hayden was the runner-up.
The other two major races Sunday went to James Rispoli (Motorcycle-Superstore.com) and Jason DiSalvo (GoPro Daytona SportBike).
O'Hara's name is familiar to followers of Sonoma County League sports. In 2005, his senior year at Petaluma High, he was an All-Empire running back and also the league's wrestling champ at 160 pounds.
"I am indebted to coaches (Steve) Ellison and (Rick) Krist for teaching me discipline and how to train," O'Hara said. "I still keep up with Petaluma High sports."
O'Hara, who led by eight bike lengths with eight laps remaining, was philosophical about his bad luck. "If I had done something wrong and lost, I would be angry," he said. "What happened here was that I shifted into second and the gear slipped. It happens sometimes with these motorcycles."
O'Hara started racing when he was five, tagging along with his father Tim to Petaluma Speedway. He turned pro in 2005, the same year he graduated high school.
This year, he's the point leader in the XR1200 Series and picked up the winner's trophy last weekend in Atlanta. Despite losing Sunday, he padded his lead as he picked up points for leading 10 of 11 laps.
Barnes, the race winner, felt he was entitled to some good luck. The 43-year-old, who turned pro when O'Hara was three, hadn't won a race since 1996. The victory before that came in '89. The Floridian said coming to the final lap, he thought he was destined to be a runner-up again.
"Tyler made a mistake and I was there to capitalize on it," he said. "This ranks right up there in my career," he said.
Three Sonoma County residents competed in the SuperSport West race. Thomas G. Montano finished 16th, Shelina Moreda was 25th and Wyatt Farris wound up 39th among the 47 drivers. Montano and Moreda hail from Petaluma while Farris is from Calistoga. Farris took a spill in the race, but remounted and completed the race.