Leo Perry is a 74-year-old motorcycle dirt racer who calls himself "lucky" for only suffering one major injury in the 50-plus years he's raced motorcycles.
"That was serious," he said. "I broke my arm; tore my arm almost off."
He's not letting age or another potential injury stop him from being one of the many riders who will experience the thrill of short track dirt motorcycle racing inside the Chris Beck Arena at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds on Friday.
Give the man credit. One blemish in more than a half-century wouldn't stop most people from living their lives to the fullest. He'll be riding a 1968 Bridgestone 100 in the Vintage class — featuring bikes manufactured before 1972 — and a Suzuki RM 250 with a Champion frame in the modified division.
"It's a high that you can't explain," Perry said. "It's a natural high that you just cannot explain."
Racing around a one-eighth mile "bull ring" dirt track in an indoor arena at speeds ranging from 25-50 miles per hour will give just about any competitor an incomparable rush.
The event at the fair Friday will feature riders in six different engine classes, four age classes and one vintage class battling for points and cash. The top three engine classes — 251cc-open, 201cc-250cc and 86cc-200cc — each have A, B and C divisions. The two lower engine classes are for children. Kids ages 7-15 are open to competing in the 85cc class, 7- to 11-year-olds can race in the 65cc class, and 4-to 8-year-olds battle in the 50cc pee wee DTX class.
Bob Bellino's Circle Bell Motorsports is coordinating the races. The event is sanctioned by the Scott Sports Championship Dirt Track Series and the American Motorcycle Association's District 36. Racers wishing to participate must sign up for membership with both the district and the AMA.
Bellino said that entrants essentially walk up on race day. Similar grass-root events, he said, have drawn 75 riders, both experienced and amateurs.
"I would say it's a good 50-50 mix between the veteran riders and the new riders who've been racing for a year or two," Bellino said.
Riders earn points for high finishes. Beginners start in the "C" class and work their way to the "A" class at the amateur level. The points can eventually lead to a rider earning a spot on the pro circuit/level, which races the AMA pro-level Santa Rosa Mile event at the fairgrounds in September.
Many people involved with the sport say dirt track racing has seen a resurgence the past few years. District 36 membership director Jill Patterson said the nostalgia of the past is bringing back the riders who raced when the sport was at its heyday. The revival of the sport also features the arrival of very young racers on the course.
Take Ron Lingron's 7-year-old son, Joey. Lingron, the track announcer at Petaluma Speedway, purchased a bike for Joey and had him ride it in the family's backyard.
"The good thing about the flat track motorcycle racing is that it's so darn cheap to start out," he said.
Lingron said while most sprint cars cost more than $50,000 before they hit the track, he purchased a bike for his son for just under $1,000. Lingron said the smile on Joey's face after his first ride on it showed the investment was worth it.