Santa Rosa was a little dustier and a little noisier than usual on Sunday, but an overflow crowd at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds couldn't have been any more pleased.
Returning to town after a 41-year hiatus, the Santa Rosa Mile had a lot of people claiming victory -- including promoter Circle Bell Motorsports, local fans of motorcycle racing and vendors of cold beverages at the fairgrounds.
Oh, and "Slammin' " Sammy Halbert, who held off Jared Mees to capture the main event and move into second place in the AMA Pro Grand National Championship points standings with just two races remaining on the calendar.
After Halbert's victory, barriers were thrown open and fans were allowed to cross the dirt track and crowd around the winner's circle. They also were able to enter pit row to get up close and personal with riders, who limped around with steel-fitted left shoes that help them stabilize the bikes in turns. Walking on asphalt, they sounded like wooden-legged pirates: step . . . clomp . . . step . . . clomp.
All in all, it was a fan-friendly event, and a lot of them took advantage. Circle Bell President Bob Bellino estimated attendance at 12,000 people, pointing to a standing-room-only crowd that exceeded the fairground's grandstand and bleachers.
Many spectators rode in on their own motorcycles. Dozens of rides were lined up in the lot off Brookwood Avenue, where they could park for free.
The demographics were all over the map -- hard-core race fans in souvenir T-shirts, car-club types with full-sleeve tattoos, grandparents and kids and everyone in between.
At 6 months, Dagur Phares of Alameda certainly was among the youngest. He was there with his father, Jason Phares, and his mother, Molly Markum, and his 2-year-old brother, Odin, who shared his double-wide stroller when the family was on the move.
This was Markum's first race of any kind, though Jason Phares has been to quite a few.
"I was telling her, flat-track racing, in the mile, if it's amateur is sometimes boring if someone doesn't know what they're watching," Phares said. "But when the pros are here, it's like a whole other world. They go fast enough into those corners that you're kind of shocked."
Markum seemed mildly impressed. "I got dirt in my eyes," she said.
Most everyone did. Flat-track riders tend to follow a predictable course around the track: outside rail on the straightaway, cutting to the inside rail on the turns. As they slide sideways into the curves, left foot on the ground, they shoot up rooster tails of dirt.
The racing was as competitive as advertised, with a lot of jockeying for position in the turns.
"Some of the heat races were fantastic," said Lance Bystedt, who lives in Sutter County. "The track is changing every lap, so the outcome is always in question."
About the only person who seemed a bit sour after the racing was Dennis Pearson, Circle Bell's track specialist. He had spent most of the previous week preparing the fairgrounds' dirt surface, but it wound up looser than he expected. Very few areas of the track formed the rubberized hard-pack known as "blue groove" or "black groove" that racers like.
"It was pretty tough. The whole second half of that (final) race, you couldn't see 10 feet in front of you," said Jake Johnson, who finished fourth. ". . . You're kind of tensed up, because you don't know what's going on in front of you. So you kind of always have to be on your toes, because if something happens, you only got 10 feet to react to it."