PHOENIX — When riders from the AMA Pro Flat Track series race at Turf Paradise on May 14, it will mark the return of national championship professional motorcycle racing after a 30-year absence in the Phoenix area.
The Arizona Mile is the fourth race in the 15 race AMA Pro Flat Track national championship series and also marks the first time this season that riders will be racing on a high speed mile oval after racing on smaller tracks in Daytona, Florida in February and Austin, Texas in mid-April. “Between the high-speed and the drafting that riders do back in the pack, the Arizona Mile will have a NASCAR supesspeedway feel to it, except that everyone is on two wheels,” noted race promoter Chris Morgan, “and we are excited to bring this type of racing back to Phoenix after such a long absence.”
At least 40 of the nation’s top professional flat track riders are expected to compete in the Arizona Mile, which will require the premiere GNC 1 class to bring out the high horsepower, 750 cc, twin cylinder, handcrafted racing bikes for the first time this season after racing smaller, production-based motorcycles in Florida and Texas. Also, riders in the junior GNC2 class will be racing smaller twin-cylinder bikes for the first time this season after racing on single cylinder models earlier in the season.
Among the top riders entered in the GNC1 class is veteran rider Sammy Halbert, who leads the early season national championship standings after winning the season-opener at Daytona and consistent top-three finishes in a second Daytona race and in Austin. “Definitely winning at Daytona and being on the box every week through the first three races of the season gives me a ton of confidence for Arizona,” said Halbert.
Even so, he admits that “right now, the level of competition is as high as it’s ever been in this series.
“Brad Baker, Kenny Coolbeth and Jake Johnson (winner of Round II in Daytona) are heavy hitters and they are all on top of their game,” says Halbert.
Another top rider with momentum coming into the Arizona Mile is four-time and defending AMA Pro Flat Track national champion Jared Mees. With a win in Austin, Mees has already tasted victory champagne and is thirsty for more. “We’ve never had a Grand National win this early in the season before,” said Mees. “Anytime you get a win, it helps your confidence,” adds Mees, “but Sammy Halbert has had a great start so far this year.”
But the one rider that all the others will be watching will be the series “mile master”, Bryan Smith. Smith is the widely acknowledged threat to win on any mile oval, which has become a specialty of the veteran rider who has raced professionally since 2001. “Bryan is a great mile racer,” admits Halbert. “It’s what he excels at and it seems to come to him naturally.”
In contrast to racing on the smaller tracks, Halbert calls racing on a mile oval “a high-speed, high-risk game.” Halbert adds that “you definitely need strength to hold the weight of the bike in the corners, but the race requires more patience and finesse” to race handlebar-to-handlebar at speeds up to 100 mph.