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Leaving 'em in the dust

  • AMA Pro Flat Track racers Sammy Halbert, front, and Bryan Smith compete during a Grand National Championship Twins race at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds on Sunday, September 30, 2012 in Santa Rosa, California. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

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.

AMA Pro Flat-Track Racing

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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."


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