Calistoga Half-Mile 2018

Uneasy Rider: Just One NorCal AFT Race in 2019? Goddamnit.

American Flat Track released its provisional schedule for the 2019 season earlier this week, and I’ve been griping internally since. There’s no fuckin’ Calistoga Half-Mile! If you’re here in the Bay Area with us and want to see national-level flat track racing within reasonable same-day riding distance next year, your only option is to suffer the suffocating late-spring heat of The Sac.

Yeah, we do just that every year, and An even lives there. I did a mad midday dash in Big Vancy last year, 380 miles of frenetic, highly-caffeinated scanning for Ponch ‘n’ John after spending the day sweatin’ to the oldies at the 50th Annual Hanford Vintage Cycle Rally and Swap Meet and then dropping our Benelli TNT135 in goddamn Bakersfield, all so I could roll into Cal Expo just in time to see Bryan Smith not win the Sac Mile for the first time in seven years.

But man, I was really hoping to make it out to The ‘Stogie again—I haven’t seen a wine country race since 2014, due to travel and a series of other, mostly unfortunate events.

My memories of the 2014 Half-Mile are mostly the wrenching and twisting in my gut after watching Jethro Halbert go down and just not move, a few feet from where I was shooting photos ‘tween turns one and two. He suffered massive brain trauma from the crash, and after nearly a year of uncertainty, passed away August 5th, 2015.

I know Jethro’s death really did a number on some folks involved with the Calistoga race, as is the case every time a racer goes down and doesn’t get up again.

The 2015 Half-Mile was postponed, then canceled because the Napa County Fairgrounds were being used as an evacuation center for those displaced by the raging wildfires of that year, which I can’t even remember the specifics of today because half the state being on fire is the new normal.

In 2016, the folks behind the Calistoga race, Terry Otton and Steve DeLorenzi moved it to Santa Rosa and made it a mile. It was a hell of an event on both ends of the spectrum, a weekend of glorious racing, rock ‘n’ roll, shenanigans, and heartbreaking tragedy: two racers, 20-year old Charlotte Kainz and 17-year old Kyle McGrane, were killed in separate crashes.

Thankfully, flat track’s return to Calistoga in 2017 was unmarred by what was starting to feel like some kind of wine country flat track curse, and the 2018 Half-Mile was similarly free of fatalities—the thousands of photos we captured in Calistoga those two years are almost universally upbeat, celebratory and joyful.

I was on the road in 2017 and at The Quail Motorcycle Gathering too late in the day for the 2018 race so Fish could bail and rail to The ‘Stogie, but like I said, I was planning to get back to the little town between 128 and 29 in 2019, in hopes not of exactly overwriting but perhaps fixing the mixture of my Calistoga memories.

Ain’t gonna happen—there are just two west coast AFT races slated for 2019: the Sac Mile and the Perris Half-Mile, which returns after a year off.

It’s not like I can’t get my fill of flat track racing between Western Flat Track’s seemingly ever-expanding series, Super Hooligans events like the One Pro, where I left another as-yet-to-be-determined percentage of my hearing last year and a variety of other slideways racing events big and small. Hell, the Lodi Motorcycle Club still runs their own series at the Lodi Cycle Bowl.

But… it’s The ‘Stogie, man.

I reached out to Steve DeLorenzi’s SDI Racing to ask what happened to the Half-Mile, but didn’t get an answer. Yeah, the organization, which had previously told me they were signed up to promote the Sac Mile and Calistoga Half-Mile for the next few years, vaguebooked back in August that “as of now” the Calistoga was not in the works for 2019, promising to “disclose more information as we get closer to 2019.” Maybe we’re not close enough to 2019 yet, or maybe they’re still butt-hurt that when we posted our very positive coverage of the 2018 Sac Mile on Facebook the day after the race, we cracked wise about the venue, saying: “Didn’t make it up to The Sac for The Legendary Sacramento Mile? We’ve got you covered, with more photos than you’ll find anywhere else. It’ll be just like you were there, minus the dust, attitudes from Cal Expo staff and security, and nightmarish parking situation.”

This incredibly-gentle-by-CityBike-standards commentary resulted in an incredulous, now-deleted “We pay this guy to report this?” Facebook post (we don’t get paid to cover racing or anything) and what I’ll simply describe as a very strange, vaguely threatening phone call in which words like “slander” were pointed my way and complaints were lodged regarding phrases like “Indian-mounted racers basically teabagged the entire field” and “it wasn’t hot as Satan’s balls like it usually is at the Sacramento Mile” as well as totes-adorbs abbreviations like “The Sac” and “The ‘Stogie.”

Whatever. Flat track racing is still cool, even if some of the people involved are overly precious and entitled, and don’t understand basic concepts of journalism, social media, satire, or the legal definition of the word “slander,” and even if I’m probably gonna encounter some difficulties getting media access up in The Sac next year.

Despite the lack of communication about this classic race, The ‘Stogie being off the schedule for 2019 isn’t that surprising to anyone who’s been paying attention to the dynamics around these types of events. When I interviewed the promotion team of Terry Otton (Ramspur Winery), Steve DeLorenzi and Randy Kremlacek (then California, now Western Flat Track) about what was starting to look like a real-deal resurgence of flat track back in 2016, pre-American Flat Track, it seemed clear that the wine-and-spa-day crowd wasn’t real keen on the racin’ part of the rubbin’ and racin’ equation.

“I didn’t really think Santa Rosa was gonna go for it,” Terry said of the move from Calistoga to Santa Rosa that year. “So I went over there, expecting to be kicked out of their office, and they were ecstatic. The new CEO of the fairgrounds came from Del Mar and she had been around ten years ago when Chris Agajanian was doing races there. She was all excited and I just went wow. It was something that was meant to be.

“And that’s in contrast to dealing with the fairgrounds in Calistoga… they don’t want cars there, they don’t want motorcycles there, they don’t want anything there. And they made it very difficult… when we were trying to reschedule our event they wouldn’t give me a date, wouldn’t give me this, wouldn’t give me that… zero cooperation.”

Maybe racers rumbling through town in 2014 felt a little too much like The Wild One to officials in the little whiny wine town, or maybe Calistoga saw what was once a fading underground niche becoming big again and upped the ante, ultimately bluffing their way out of hosting the race for 2019. Maybe they just said no.

This is all conjecture on my part, of course, but I did have off-the-record conversations with what real journalists call “sources familiar with the matter” or whatever, and these discussions largely confirmed that The ‘Stogie’s absence from next year’s schedule was probably much about costs, as well as other difficulties that come with hosting a big race in a sorta-remote small town, especially a race that still draws mostly already-overextended working class folk who may want to have a few beers at the race and stay somewhere in town, but don’t dig on three-dollar-sign clothing-optional resort hotels.

Maybe we’ll do a CityBike charity ride down to the Perris Half-Mile the weekend before the Sac Mile next year to make up for missing ‘Stogie. We could even make it a Saddlesore 1000 with the mains right in the middle for extra stupid points. Who’s with me?