Most avid motorcyclists of a certain age remember fondly the golden era of flat track racing in America. I’m north of a half century old and I still remember clearly the first motorcycle race I ever experienced. I say experienced because the sights, sounds and smells of that race still stir a visceral reaction when I think about it. It was the early ’70s and my father and I (then 10 years old) were in the stands at the Arizona State Fair as the leather-clad gladiators roared and roosted around the dirt oval.
Undoubtedly, many of the legends that I met at the recent AMA Pro Flat Track Finals in Pomona, California, were competing in that race 40 years ago. The finale of the race season in Pomona served as a point of convergence for many of the greatest racers of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. It was billed as an Ascot reunion honoring the racers of that iconic Southern California race track. However, in reality it was a “who’s who” of many of the greatest racers, promoters and innovators of the last half-century.
The grand marshal of the event was the legendary Gene Romero. The “Flying Burrito” was arguably the most versatile racer of his era. He spoke comfortably, entertaining the substantial crowd of race fans. He was equally gregarious in the pits, talking to other legends and current racers.
There were dozens of other flat track legends seated at tables track-side signing autographs for the large and enthusiastic fan base that lined up for the meet and greet. In attendance were Motorcycle Hall of Famers Don Emde, Eddie Mulder, Bubba Shobert and Skip VanLeeuwen. Punctuating the end of the autograph line was iconic racer and dirt bike product innovator Preston Petty. If you rode a dirt bike in the 1970s, you likely had a Preston Petty product on your 2-stroke—mine was a front fender. Petty, who is now in his 70s, was effervescent as he talked, signed autographs and was photographed.
It was almost poetic how the spray of dirt from the ongoing competition wafted onto the scene as the legends interacted with vintage race fans. It was the perfect storm of the old and the new as the legends basked in their hard-earned glory and the current riders were striving for their own slice of the same.
As for those legends of the future, in the AMA Pro Flat Track Expert Twins class, Bryan Smith rode his Kawasaki to a Pomona race win. However, Jared Mees secured the 2014 Grand National Championship with his fourth-place finish on a Harley-Davidson. In the AMA Pro Singles division, Davis Fisher took the win at the Pomona oval, but Kyle Johnson’s second-place finish earned him this year’s overall title.
In the end, the legends of the sport stole the show…again.