There had been a red circle around May 12 on my office calendar for several months denoting the day motorcycle racing would return to LA Raceway near La Monte, Missouri. As that week began, the weather forecast looked very discouraging, calling for thunderstorms every day of the week. Last year, the first A.M.A. motorcycle races at the La Monte facility had to be postponed from Saturday to Sunday due to rain. For 2007, however, the nasty weather did not materialize, and race day dawned with clear skies and the promise of a beautiful day.
Although this was not a Grand National event, the field of 33 pro riders that gathered to compete on the 3/8-mile clay oval track were among the best on the A.M.A. Ford Quality Checked Flat Track Championship circuit. The 2006 twins events champion, Kenny Coolbeth, was present as was the 2006 singles champ, “Jersey” Jake Johnson, the winner of the inaugural LA Raceway feature race last year. Seven-time National #1 Chris Carr was also on hand. Chris recently proved he was fast in a straight line as well, setting a new motorcycle land speed record of almost 351 miles per hour at Bonneville. Dysart, Iowa’s, father and son racing team of Rich and Aaron King made the trip to La Monte. In addition to the A.M.A. pros, 24 vintage racers entered the competition. Several of those were friends that I met while covering National Flat Track Racing Association events in past years. I was very pleased to see Brigitta Meyer back in the saddle of the #20M Yamaha after months of recovering from a racing injury.
LA Raceway, near Whiteman Air Force Base, has been home to Friday night auto races featuring Modifieds, Sprint Cars, Street Stocks, and Hobby Stocks since 2003. Last year, Rick Yeager approached track owner Mike White with the idea of hosting an A.M.A. race to replace the Grand National formerly held annually in nearby Sedalia. The change of venue would reduce the financial commitment (and risk) required and would benefit race fans in the form of reduced admission prices ($15 for adults) and less expensive concessions. Due to the one-day postponement, the event was not a money-maker, but there was so much positive feedback from racers and fans that the decision was made to put a race on the 2007 schedule. With Yeager’s Cycle, Budweiser, Midland Sportscards, Arnwine Electric & Construction, and the End Zone as the major sponsors, the race was set to go.
Many of those who came to the races had attended a bike show at Yeager’s in Sedalia prior to making their way to the track. While the final ironing of the track was in progress, the fans were treated to an exhibition of freestyle motorcycle jumping by the team of Tim Wilson and Rob Lewis from Springfield, Missouri, and Houston, Texas, respectively. These young men put on shows from coast to coast and use their talents as part of a ministry .
Dave Cory, Director of DC Promotions, is licensed by the A.M.A. as a promoter. He and his staff were on hand to handle all of the behind-the-scenes tasks of race administration--signing up the riders, assigning them to heat races, lining up the riders in the staging area prior to each race, handling starting and flagging duties, and tracking the order of the competitors throughout each race. After a riders meeting, racers in the Pro and Vintage classes took to the track for hot laps. The track was fast and in excellent condition.
Since 1991, J.B. Norris has served as announcer for A.M.A. events. He possesses a wealth of knowledge about the sport and is familiar with all of the riders. Through his insightful interviews over the track p.a. system, spectators have an opportunity to learn more about some of the riders.
All of the heat races were run with very few spills and, thankfully, no ambulance runs. The smooth, wide track made for some very competitive racing. The pro qualifying heat race results follow:
Qualifying Heat 1
1st-#43-Sam Halbert-Graham, WA-Yamaha-Memphis Shades/Yama/Parts Unlimited
2nd-#54-Mike Rush-Gilroy, CA-Suzuki-Dave Burks Motorsports/Yeager’s Cycle
3rd-#80-Rich King-Dysart, IA-KTM-Corbin Seats/King Racing
Qualifying Heat 2
1st-#20-Johnny “Showtime” Murphree-San Mateo, CA-Kawasaki-National Cycle/Coziahr H-D
2nd-#31-Ken Coolbeth-Warren, CT-Honda-Bettencourt’s Honda/Spectro
3rd-#27-Robert Pearson-Morton, IL-Yamaha-American H-D/Dick Ford/R&J Racing
Qualifying Heat 3
1st-#1-Jake Johnson-Franklinville, N.J.-Suzuki-American Suzuki/Parts Unlimited
2nd-#4-Chris Carr-Fleetwood, PA-KTM-Quality Checked Certified Pre-Owned Ford
3rd-#11-Brian Bigelow-Omer, MI-Suzuki-Stevens Suzuki/American Suzuki
Qualifying Heat 4
1st-#37-Jimmy Wood-Redlands, CA-Suzuki-Dave Burks Motorsports/Suzuki
2nd-#45-Jesse Janisch-Hartford, WI-Honda-Arai/Motion Pro/Vortex/Mack Daddy Racing
3rd-#23P-Justin Hittle-Peoria, IL-Honda-Pearson Racing/Gary O/Dad
Qualifying Heat 5
1st-#33-Glen Schnabel-West Bend, WI-Suzuki-American Suzuki/Parts Unlimited
2nd-#42-Bryan Smith-Flushing, MI-Honda-Moroney’s Honda/Tucker Rocky
3rd-#21-Jared Mees-Clio, MI-Honda-Saddlemen/American Honda/Blue Springs H-D
Based on the results of the qualifying heats, riders were assigned to heat races from which the first four transferred to the main event.
1st- Jake Johnson-Franklinville, N.J.-Suzuki-American Suzuki/Parts Unlimited
2nd- Jared Mees-Clio, MI-Honda-Saddlemen/American Honda/Blue Springs H-D
3rd-Logan Myers-#24-Wheeler, MI-Honda-Motorcyclist Post/Bruce Transportation
4th- Chris Carr-Fleetwood, PA-KTM-Quality Checked Certified Pre-Owned Ford
1st--#43-Sam Halbert-Graham, WA-Yamaha-Memphis Shades/Yama/Parts Unlimited
2nd- Jimmy Wood-Redlands, CA-Suzuki-Dave Burks Motorsports/Suzuki
3rd- Bryan Smith-Flushing, MI-Honda-Moroney’s Honda/Tucker Rocky
4th- Brian Bigelow-Omer, MI-Suzuki-Stevens Suzuki/American Suzuki
1st-#33-Glen Schnabel-West Bend, WI-Suzuki-American Suzuki/Parts Unlimited
2nd-#20-Johnny “Showtime” Murphree-San Mateo, CA-Kawasaki-National Cycle/Coziahr H-D
3rd- Joe Kopp-Mica, WA-Honda-Lanpheres Beverton/Renton Honda
4th- Jesse Janisch-Hartford, WI-Honda-Arai/Motion Pro/Vortex/Mack Daddy Racing
Non-qualifiers raced in two semi-final races, each transferring three to the main event.
1st-#31-Ken Coolbeth-Warren, CT-Honda-Bettencourt’s Honda/Spectro
2nd-#27-Robert Pearson-Morton, IL-Yamaha-American H-D/Dick Ford/R&J Racing
3rd-#59P-Ion Stear-Harvard, IL-Honda-STX/Weirbach Racing/Zunbrum Racing
1st-#54-Mike Rush-Gilroy, CA-Suzuki-Dave Burks Motorsports/Yeager’s Cycle
2nd-#80-Rich King-Dysart, IA-KTM-Corbin Seats/King Racing
3rd-#28-Shaun Russell-San Jose, CA-Rotax-Rogers-Lake Racing/Bartel’s H-D
Honorable mention goes to #22L, Michael Toon from Blue Springs, Missouri, a privateer and N.F.T.R.A. competitor who nearly made the main event against the heavy-hitters carrying national number plates.
The vintage racers had a similar series of heat races in order to reach their main event, and they put on a great show. During the intermission prior to the two feature races, Tim and Rob once again put on an amazing demonstration of their freestyle aerial skills.
In the vintage final, Yamaha-mounted Scott Raine from Hoyt, Kansas, was fast and steady, and couldn’t be caught. Micheal Anderson on his #72 Honda from Paducah, Kentucky, finished second followed by Tim Lindfors on H-D #7X from Salina, Kansas. Rounding out the top five were Mark Jantz, #49 from Springfield, Missouri, and Randy Blackwell, #17K from Owensville, Missouri.
The wire-to-wire winner in the pro main was Yamaha-mounted Sam Halbert, #43 from Graham, Washington. He was constantly challenged by Jared Mees on his #21 Honda but held onto the lead throughout the race. Joining them for the post-race trophy presentation was the third place finisher, #1 “Jersey” Jake Johnson. Fourth and fifth place riders were Glen Schnabel and Bryan Smith. Soon after the trophy presentation, everyone within range of the three winners was thoroughly soaked in champagne.
Later on in the pit area, I caught up with Sam for a quick interview.
CC: How long have you been an A.M.A. pro racer?
Sam: This is my third year.
CC: Did you race here last year?
Sam: No this is my first time here.
CC: What made you decide to come?
Sam: I looked at last year’s pictures, and I had heard that everyone had a great time last year. Everything in the schedule worked out so that we could be here, and I look forward to coming back next year.
CC: The track must have been to your liking. How did you do in the preliminary races?
Sam: I had a good horse under me and won every race I was in. The Memphis Shades/Parts Unlimited bike was just working great.
CC: The feature race was a clean one all the way through. How was it from your perspective?
Sam: I was a little worried because everyone else was starting up a little higher on the groove, but I picked the very bottom on the pole. I got a great start. There was one guy on a Suzuki a little bit in front of me, but my Yamaha just motored right by him down the backstretch. Once I took the lead, I kept my head down and never looked back. I had my focus with me, and was blessed with the win.
CC: Sammy, thanks for your time and congrats on the win!
With the races having been so well-organized and free from serious crashes, I was ready to head home by 9:30 p.m. Just before leaving, I saw Dave Worth from Blue Springs Harley-Davidson in the pit area. Dave is a huge supporter of motorcycle racing and is one of Jared Mees’ sponsors. I thoroughly enjoyed the day and was pleased to have the opportunity to have infield access to facilitate the accompanying photos. Special thanks to Rick Yeager and Mike White. Let’s do it again next year!
Story and photos by Stripe