Sonoma County Fair flat track racing thrills riders, spectators

The Friday night lights shined on Chris Beck Arena at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds and amidst the smell of corn dogs and sight of neon lights on the carnival midway, the roar of motorcycles was at the forefront.

By all accounts the noise of the engines and smell of motorcycle exhaust was welcomed by fans and riders alike.

After a 30-plus year hiatus of racing at the fair, amateur and professional flat dirt track motorcycle racing was back as riders from a wide spectrum of ages guided their bikes around the one-eighth-mile track in front of several thousand appreciative fans at the Scott Sports Championship Dirt Track Series.

"Everyone is happy we restarted this event — except my wife," event promoter Bob Bellino said with a chuckle. "We decided to restart this event because the sport is so cool. The fans here were missing it."

The event featured 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.

Bellino's Circle Bell Motorsports coordinated the races. The event was sanctioned by the Scott Sports Championship Dirt Track Series and American Motorcycle Association's District 36.

"It's a well-run event. Bob does a wonderful job. Everyone works together, even competitors," rider Chris Baker, 49, of Petaluma said. "After 29 years out of racing I got the itch to go back into it. Racing just gets under your skin."

Most of the riders are local, and most of the winners will only take home a trophy.

The winners of the few main professional events took home a few hundred dollars.

Clearly the event was not about winning a lot of cash, but about pride and camaraderie among the racers.

"I grew up in this town and racing was big in the 70s," said Brian Pecor, 57, owner of the Motorcycle Shop in Santa Rosa. "To see a resurgence of racing in small venues like this makes sense for everybody."

The fair owns the event and paid Circle Bell Motorsports a nominal fee to organize the event.

Based on the fan turnout and cheering from the stands, the event was a hit.

"I think it's great, they need to do this every year. It's impressive," Dave Pedersen of Occidental said. "I came here when I was a kid all the time."

Speaking of kids, many of the fan favorites are in the youth categories, starting at age four and going up to 15.

"This is my first year of racing. Riding the bike is really fun," said Jesse Debaca, 9, of Santa Rosa. "I learned to ride at my uncle's house on a track he has in his backyard."

One of the biggest cheers of the night came as Christian Spurgeon took a victory lap with the checkered flag after winning his 85cc Class C race for 7 to 15-year-olds.

As the dirt flew on the track during races, riders swapped stories and exchanged handshakes back at pit row.

Damon Coca, 16, of Windsor stood next to his dad, Dean, and explained why he was turning pro as a dirt track rider.

"My dad used to race back in the day and I wanted to keep the family tradition going," the younger Coca said. "I've been riding since I was 4 and I just love it."