Calistoga to Santa Rosa, Sliding Sideways

It’s no secret that we’re big fans of flat track here at CityBike. We make an annual pilgrimage to the long-running Sacramento Mile, in spite of the unholy heat that curses the The Sac in the summer, and were extremely stoked about the return of the Calistoga Half-Mile in 2014, which brought AMA flat track racing—missing since 2011—back to the sleepy little town of Calistoga as a more holistic entertainment experience, with the added bonus of not being hot as hell.

Here’s the thing about flat track, and don’t be fooled by the mainstream moto-mag guys picking up this concept recently—we’ve been saying this for a long time: flat track is one of the last bastions of regular people racing. Say what you will about the NASCAR-esque left turns-only nature of flat track racing (actually, don’t—shut your stupid face) but there’s no denying the balls required—figuratively, not literally speaking, as there are women flat trackers too—to fling a bike sideways intentionally at 130 MPH or so, over and over. And flat track bikes have an appealing purity, even if those damn bikesters are doing their best to ruin it with a constant stream of half-ass street tracker “builds.”

We’d looked forward to the 2015 ‘Stogie, which was looking to be an even more exciting, big deal event than the 2014 Half-Mile, at least in part because Triumph Motorcycles had signed on as presenting sponsor, marking the first time a manufacturer had sponsored a specific race in modern-day flat track. The Calistoga was unfortunately postponed, then canceled because the Napa County Fairgrounds were being used as an evacuation center for those displaced by raging wildfires. Serious bummers all around.

After last year’s cancellation, the hopeful return of the Calistoga had become a frequent topic of discussion around the damp basement that serves as CityBike World Headquarters. When we heard that the Calistoga would be replaced by the Santa Rosa Mile, as the season closer no less, our expectations were high. We knew that the team behind the Calistoga, Nancy and Terry Otton of Ramspur Winery and Steve Delorenzi of SDI Insulation, had planned big things for the 2015 Calistoga and assumed that their think big style would transfer to the Santa Rosa Mile. Then we heard that Triumph was in as presenting sponsor, and our expectations soared to new heights—off to the races, as they say.

I wanted to find out what makes the Terry ‘n’ Steve promo team tick, to understand how and why they’re promoting flat track at such an elevated level in a world where walking the line between half-ass and just plain crazy is all too common, so I headed to Ramspur Winery with master lensman Jeff Ebner in late July, to talk with Santa Rosa Mile co-promoter Terry Otton. We were joined by Randy Kremlacek of the California Flat Track Association, and a passel of magnificent motorcycles from Terry’s garage. A few days later I had a phone conversation with the other half of the co-promoter pair, Steve Delorenzi.

In keeping with CityBike’s extraordinarily high standards of journalistic integrity, we’re compelled to tell you that the Santa Rosa Mile is a CityBike advertiser, and we are a sponsor (albeit a very small one) of the event. Maybe compelled is the wrong word—we heard somewhere that we’re s’posed to divulge such things, and figure we oughta do it, just in case anyone is still taking us seriously.

So why flat track? The answer is pretty simple—Terry raced semi-pro back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and Steve raced as well: “You know, pro/am. I never really went pro—I was on my own at a very young age, so I had to work… I got a job in the shipyards, and I was able to race around that for twelve-plus years.”

Steve had also been involved on the promotional side of the business, working with Circle Bell Enterprises starting in the early ‘70s, and now runs SDI Racing, sponsoring four-time Grand National Champion and X Games gold medalist Jared Mees. Terry’s involvement in flat track was reignited after he retired in 2011—he has since sponsored individual racers including former GNC champ Jake Johnson, Henry Wiles, Jake Shoemaker and a plethora of others. Like Steve and Randy, the foundation of Terry’s involvement is the good of the sport—he and his wife Nancy have donated to the AMA Pro Flat-Track Rookie’s Class of ’79, which raises money for injured racers, and to Vet Motorsports, which seeks to empower injured combat veterans through participation in motorsports, on both two and four wheels.

That thing I mentioned about the incorrect assumption about the venue switch from Calistoga to Santa Rosa? Terry tells me how that transpired:

“This year, when we were talking about Calistoga again, Michael Lock (CEO of AMA Pro Racing) gave me a call…‘Terry,’ he says, ‘I’d like to ask you to consider something.’ And I said well, what’s that? He says, ‘Would you consider moving the venue to Santa Rosa, and doing the mile?’ And I went… that’s a much greater risk. That’s a big deal…cost. He said, ‘Well, we’d make it the final of the year and we’d have our awards banquet.’ And I went, well that’s interesting to me… and then I started thinking about making it more than a one day event, and Randy and I started to talk about having his organization do Friday and Saturday. But when I started to think about that, I said you know, I’m not just going to have anybody do Friday and Saturday, I wanted somebody that was an AMA sanctioned… that actually had a series. And so, Randy joined us.”

“I didn’t really think Santa Rosa was gonna go for it,” he continues. “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.”

“Well, the fairgrounds need and want everything they can get. And all the sudden they became a lot more friendly,” adds Randy, referring to the elimination of state subsidies for county fairs in recent years.

Terry agrees. “And that’s in contrast to dealing with the fairgrounds in Calistoga… But the fairgrounds, 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.”

Randy adds, “They don’t need racing.”

Later, Steve confirms Santa Rosa’s enthusiasm. “I made the call to Katie over there, and they said ‘we want to roll out the red carpet.’ I was away racing, and Terry was able to go in and negotiate the weekend for the Ramspur Winery Santa Rosa Mile. And excitingly enough… one of the very first OEMs to sponsor a race was Triumph. As they were in Calistoga. Triumph stepped up, excitingly, to basically be one of the first OEMs to sponsor a grand national race in years… even though Harley sponsors the series, Triumph, they’re coming in and actually sponsoring the race. So it’s presented by Triumph.”

Triumph’s involvement in flat track in recent years has been important; a firm nudge in the direction of Harley-Davidson, long the de facto flat track “brand.” Of course, Kawasaki is a player in recent years—perhaps you’ve heard how Bryan Smith has owned the Sac Mile six times in a row now, on his Crosley-sponsored Kawi. Ducati wants us to think about their Scrambler as a flat tracker, and Yamaha’s getting into the game with their FZ-07 platform, too. But none of those companies are putting up money like Triumph is, and it makes sense—flat track is true fuckin’ grit, and that’s the brand Triumph is trying to build. Flat track, land speed records, Steve McQueen and all that—real deal riding, not posing.

But they’re not alone. After kickstarting the Hooligan flat track thing with the help of moto-lifestyle marketing mercenary Roland Sands, Indian is joining the fray, too. Their race-only 750cc flat track engine was approved by AMA Pro Racing earlier this year—the first time that’s happened since Honda’s RS750 back in the eighties, a time in the distant past, well before most of these authentic Hooligans twisted a grip.

Jared Mees has been testing Indian’s bike, and is expected to race aboard an Indian next year—factory and satellite teams are in the works for 2017. In the almost-here and now, word that a well-known (think former Grand National Champ) will be racing an Indian at Santa Rosa this year. Wanna find out who? Get your ass to the race!

This fans-first approach represents Steve, Terry and Randy’s ideas of where flat track should be going in the coming years. Their shared backgrounds in different segments of the business world has imbued them with a commitment to understanding who those fans are, to better serve them—something some promoters often miss pretty badly on. Who’s the customer? Is it the rider, the team owner, their sponsors? The people in the stands?

Terry explains: “Whether I was right or wrong, when we did Calistoga we wanted to have strategic sponsors because I thought that would help the sport. I wanted to do something that created a more fun event. I wanted it to be fan-centric. We had the giveaway (The Calistoga Half-Mile partnered with local Yamaha dealers to give away a TTR125, which turned into two TTR50s for tiny winner Amanda and her twin brother Gabriel, as we reported in “A Win-Win at the Calistoga Half-Mile” – News, Clues & Rumors, November 2014), we had Eddie Mulder as the Master of Ceremonies, we had a band… we tried to do things to create a venue that people wanted to come to. Where I got that from is how I ran my business.”

Steve is excited about Triumph’s (and Indian’s) involvement, and hopes to have both Calistoga and Santa Rosa next year. “I want to see it expand. Now that we have the infrastructure dialed in, let’s bring in the big boys.”

In the meantime, the team has a lot planned to make sure the 2016 return of the Santa Rosa Mile is triumphant. While it looks like there won’t be a rider parade like Calistoga circa 2014, The Mile has turned into a three day racing event from September 23rd to 25th, with emphasis on major stoke for the fans.

The weekend kicks off early at North Bay Triumph dealer, Marin Speed Shop, with a barbecue / meet-and-greet type thing on Thursday afternoon. The racing starts with amateur flat track racing Friday night, continues with Pro/Am Short Track and Hooligan racing Saturday, and concludes with the season finale main event and AMA awards banquet on Sunday. While the Dash for Cash has been eliminated throughout the series, Randy and Mark Zimmerman of Specialty Fabrications have put up $5,000 to honor this tradition at Santa Rosa, and Ramspur Winery will be adding to this purse as well.

And oh yeah, there’ll be men and women throwing motorcycles sideways at 130 MPH—not to be missed.

This story originally appeared in our September 2016 issuewhich you can read in all its original high-res glory here.

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