“Correct me if I’m wrong,” wrote Cycle News editor Paul Carruthers in his column in last week’s issue of Cycle News (http://cyclenews.coverleaf.com/cyclenews/20120918#pg125) last week, “but Harley-Davidson riders complaining after getting beaten on an AMA Grand National Mile by a Kawasaki smells a lot like four-week-old fish.” He then wrote that I was the one who “did most of the complaining” after losing out to Bryan Smith at the Springfield Mile. Yes, Paul Carruthers called me out. In Cycle News. For the world to read.
Carruthers asked us to correct him if he’s wrong. I hope he was serious, because the story he told was a little one-sided. To be fair, everything he wrote was factually correct. There have been just four victories by Kawasakis on anything other than a short track or TT in the last 40 years, all four by Smith. He’s also right that Kawasakis haven’t fared as well on half miles, primarily because most top riders are on Harleys on those tracks. And it’s true that Kawasakis have won just two of four miles so far this season. It’s the story he told, not the facts he cited, I have issue with.
He painted me as a whiner who has no right to whine. He made it seem like I’m not supportive of multi-brand racing. And I’m not sure, but he might’ve even said I smell like a four-week-old fish. I totally understand why he wrote the column. When you read my tweets (@sammyhalbert) and my Facebook fan page, you can’t help but notice I’m not happy with the current rules. I’m sure it seems strange I’d be frustrated with rules after winning the Indy Mile, and after finishing second at the Springfield Mile. Most people only dream of results like those at such prestigious tracks.
As Carruthers so eloquently stated, I’m a racer. And I want to win. But even more than that, I want to race. When you put Bryan Smith on an unrestricted Kawasaki, on a dry, one-line mile track, great racing doesn’t happen – because draft passes are not possible – which really frustrates me.
Like Carruthers, I’ll use stats to support my point of view. The Springfield Mile has historically been a track where you don’t know who’s gonna win until the checkered flag flies. Where it ain’t over till it’s over. Where photo finishes are legendary. Well not this year. As long as Smith didn’t break or make a major mistake, like he did at the end of the Springfield Mile in May, he is unbeatable at Springfield when it’s dry and one-lined – because he’s unpassable. At the Springfield Mile a few weeks ago, during which Smith pretty much rode a flawless race, he led the last 20 laps and won by .041 of a second. This may not sound like much, but for Springfield it’s forever. Last year, when Smith was on a Harley, the margin of victory at the track was .016 and .012 of a second, and no rider led for more than eight laps in a row.
Bryan would’ve won the Indy Mile too, had his bike not broke. I’ve not spoken to anyone who thought otherwise. I got a good start at Indy and did my best to stick right on Smith’s back wheel. As soon as he blew past me, there was no way I could draft pass him, so I knew I was racing for second – until Smith’s bike broke. I was in position to take advantage of Bryan’s bad luck, though I had to get a little aggressive to pass Kawasaki-mounted Brandon Robinson. Robinson is less experienced than Smith, so passing him was difficult but possible. I was able to break away just enough so that he couldn’t draft me and got the win.
It was obvious Smith was going to win the September Springfield Mile as well. My only hope was if they watered the track before the main event, putting some moisture on the high line, so us Harley riders could have a shot at out-riding Smith. I repeatedly asked them to water the track for us, as they did before the Pro Singles main. Unfortunately, oil on the track in that race caused a big crash, resulting in a lengthy delay. They didn’t want to keep fans waiting any longer, so they didn’t water it. I was able to work my way into second place behind Smith and I stuck right on his back wheel and did my best not to let anybody get between us. Bryan took the lead on lap six and I took over second on lap 12, and that’s how it stayed for the rest of the race. I knew I was racing for second, which is something I’ve never done before – and it sucked. Is Smith a great racer? For sure. Is Smith a nice guy? Without a doubt. Do fans want to go to a race knowing who’s gonna win in advance? I don’t think so.
Contrary to what Carruthers thinks, I’m all for multi-brand racing. And I understand the need to restrict the Harleys to allow the other brands to have a shot at being competitive. My concern is that as teams build other brands, it’s created a big variance in straightaway and corner speeds – which not only makes for not-so-close racing on miles, it also makes it more dangerous, which is concerning as these are our fastest tracks.
So what’s the answer? In 2009, when they made XR750s go 1mm smaller on the restrictors, we lost a couple ponies. If they gave us back the 1mm on miles, we might have a shot at drafting past the Kawasakis, which would be a better show for the fans. If this happens, one rider won’t lead the last 20 laps at the Springfield Mile – that’s for sure! They could even raise the weight limit for Harleys by 10 pounds, while keeping the other brands with no weight limit – which would still give unrestricted Kawasakis a huge advantage on the mile. In the absence of rule changes, I’d at least like to see the tracks watered more, so Harleys have a small chance of passing for the lead. Because racing for second is no fun. And no fun to watch.
I’m no magazine editor, but I hope I’ve at least explained where I’m coming from. Now maybe Carruthers can explain to me what old fish smells like. In Washington State, where I come from, our riders are fast and our fish is fresh.
Check out Halbert’s video from Springfield at http://youtu.be/gYwCSzGfcR4