Rookie Spies, 24, turning heads

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The remarkable Ben Spies broke an 18-year-old record in qualifying Saturday for the Superbike World Championship, winning his seventh straight pole at Miller Motorsports Park in Toole, Utah.

Five Americans -- Fred Merkel, Doug Polen, Scott Russell, John Kocinski and Colin Edwards -- have combined to win eight world championships in the Superbike championship. But none of them have accomplished what Spies has accomplished, a perfect seven-for-seven in poles and he's done it in his first season in the series. The 24-year-old Texan is a rare talent on two wheels.

Spies also could be proud of winning the pole on home ground, the only Superbike World round in the United States this year. He'll have the full support of the crowd for the two 21-lap races Sunday on the very fast 3.048-mile course.

"It feels great to have the record and to do it in my home race, but to get the record in the world championship is bigger," Spies said. "I knew I had a good race pace (before qualifying) and knew qualifying would be pretty good. When everybody started talking up about the record, I felt the pressure. I got through the anxiety and the nervousness and the pressure. Once I rolled out for the warm-up, everything went into race mode and I got it done."

The series uses knock-out qualifying, eliminating riders from 26 to 20 to 16 to eight. Spies, on a Yamaha, made each cut easily. He was fastest in the last two 12-minute Superpole sessions, needing one flying lap in each.

In the final session, which determined the pole, Spies ran 1:48.334, nearly a half second quicker than Honda rider Carlos Checa of Spain.

Spies is third in the world championship, 88 points behind Ducati's Noriyuki Haga and three behind Ducati's Michel Fabrizio. Spies has won five of 12 races-all the series' rounds have two-but needs to nearly sweep the remaining 16 to overtake Haga.

"The goal is (Sunday),' Spies said. "I have good race pace. There are four or five riders with good race pace. It's going to be a fight."

Haga failed to advance to the final round of qualifying and starts in ninth position, the inside of the third row in Superbike's four-wide, standing-start procedure. Fabrizio starts from the outside of the front row.

Two other Americans are in the field, both making their debuts in the series.

Jamie Hacking, of Charlotte, N.C., riding for Kawasaki, was quickest in Superpole 1 and made the final eight. He'll start on the outside of the second row. Hacking is replacing the injured Makoto Tamada.

"For my first time in the series, on this bike and on these tires, I'm very pleased with our qualifying result," Hacking said. "It's the best by far for our team this year. I'm very happy and excited with what we've done.

Broc Parkes, Kawasaki's regular rider, starts from seventh position.

Hacking, a regular in the American Motorcyclist Association's Superbike Series, is a close friend of Spies, who won the AMA Superbike championship from 2006 to 2008.

"Ben is a very good qualifier and I'm not surprised he's done what he's done," Hacking said. "He knows how to put qualifying together."

Hacking is considered a good prospect to join Spies in the Superbike World Championship next year. A strong showing in Sunday's two races at the track located 30 miles west of Salt Lake City would bolster his chances.

"If I get the right opportunity and the right offer, I'll be gone (to Superbike World)," Hacking said.

Jake Zemke of Paso Robles, Calif., will start in the middle of the sixth row, 23rd in the 26-rider field. Zemke, also rides regularly in AMA competition.