The Vallee Report (9)

Inside Motorcycles contributor and Flat Track Canada announcer, Todd Vallee, offers his thoughts on racing, motorcycles and much more!

I apologize for not having any content for a while. It seems for the month of June I got caught up in the role of racing spectator and thus I found it hard to make time for this column. With two AFT races, a Canadian Superbike round, and of course a Flat Track Canada round that I announced at, the month of June flew by faster than ever but man was it a good time. So without any more delays, I thought now would be a good time to share some thoughts on the two AFT rounds I attended.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before but I am part of a regular foursome that usually heads to the spring running of the Springfield Mile. The foursome consists of my lovely wife Kim, my high school buddy Gary (best seven years of my life), and my brother-in-law Paul. This year we decided to buck tradition and instead of Springfield we marked the Red Mile in Kentucky on the calendar. Nothing against Springfield but we thought we would try something new and check out a new part of the United States that we had never seen. (This change in plans turned out to be prophetic as the Springfield Mile was rained out and re-scheduled for September).

Friday evening we hopped into the Corolla hot rod and set sail with a planned stop in Toledo for the night. Five minutes from the bridge into Port Huron, we got an email saying that due to wet weather the race had now been changed from Saturday to Sunday. After a few half-hearted groans, we recovered quickly and began to send out emails and texts to our respective bosses to let them know that according to the race gods we would now all need Monday off work. After the obligatory stop at Cheap Charlie’s for some great pizza and cheap beer (the soda is $2.25 but the beer is $1.00????), we made our first (yes first) stop at a Dollar Tree. Then of course we headed to a larger store to grab some snacks, beverages and so on before heading for Toledo.

Saturday morning the sun was shining as we piled into the red racer and took off with Lexington Kentucky on our minds. Several more Dollar Tree’s (it’s crazy but everything in there is really a dollar) and a few outdoor stores later, we reached Lexington and made our way to our hotel. Our hotel was reasonably priced and very nice actually and even had a full size fridge to hold our beverages. After a bit of exploring we met Jay and Trent Pickle for supper and then spent the rest of the evening watching a hockey game and working on my beer can pyramid skills.

Sunday morning looked like a great day for racing and we eagerly packed up and headed out the door for the track. From the little bit of driving we did, Lexington looks like a beautiful city and the Red Mile did not disappoint when we got our first glimpse. Yes the track is red and boy does it look huge. We toured the pits for a bit and I got a chance to get my hands a bit dirty helping Pickle on his bike for a few minutes. The racing, much like what we have grown accustomed to in Springfield, was spectacular with bikes in packs using the draft to get towed along to the front of the group. Although Trent came up just short in his bid to make the semis, admittedly he had a great time battling on the mile against the best singles riders that AFT has to offer.

With JD Beach off taking part in a roadrace, there was an opening on his bike for the weekend and that slot just happened to be filled by Kentucky native Roger Hayden. Coincidently, the Hayden family had also been chosen to be Grand Marshalls for the event. While I was a little bummed that I couldn’t find any Nicky memorabilia for sale, it seemed like every third person in the crowd was wearing a shirt with the 69 on it. Earl Hayden waved the green flag for the opening lap of Roger’s semi and there was something almost biblical about watching him wave that flag and cheer his son on from the sidelines but it was all for naught as Roger came up just one position short. It still gave me chills to watch racing royalty and I will remember those moments for the rest of my life.

Just four weeks later it was time for the Lima half mile and this time I was joined by Kim and my daughter Taylor for the trip. We went to our seats near the top of the grandstands and we knew most of the people within shouting distance which led to lots of bench racing during track prep. Having been to Lima many times before, we knew what to expect and this night was no different. With Lima being a cushion half mile (we are blessed in our Canadian series with a bunch of these), many different lines were available to be used and use them they did. It seems like every time I have been to Lima it is declared afterwards as the best race ever and once again this proved to be true. As excited as the fans were I kept thinking if only we could get some of these people across the bridge to check out some of our cushion racing. Sheepishly I almost felt spoiled as I thought of the five gorgeous half miles we have upcoming on our schedule because I know the racing will be great. Along with the great racing, fans were also blessed with a great sunset over top of the roughly five hundred bikes that had made the trip to the track and this stunning view was the cherry on top of a spectacular night.

With three Canadians racing, only Brodie Buchan made the final of his class but his result was hampered by a rough start. Try as they might, Pickle and Clayton Isherwood came up a bit short and saw their night end up short of making the semis.

I guess the point of all this rambling is that even though I find we are spoiled here in Canada, man I really enjoy my trips to check out the AFT rounds. I talked to Tim Balcombe recently and he told me that going to Springfield is on his bucket list. Well Tim, as a certain shoe manufacturer would say, just do it! Life is short, and my weekend trips to races are among the most fun times I have had in my life. In fact, if Tim needs another body to fill a seat in a car for said trip, give me a call. Maybe I’ll find a way to make it happen. Do your best to make the trip Tim, you won’t regret it. Also, how cool is it that my wife happens to be a racing fan (oh, and Dollar Tree fan).

One last note I’m excited to announce that former national champion Doug Lawrence will be joining me in the announcer’s booth for a bunch of the Flat Track Canada rounds. I look forward to working with Doug and can’t wait to hear the insight he will share with fans. I guess the Mississauga Missile will need a new nickname. Wonder how he feels about the Stoney Creek Sidekick?

As a middle-aged man, there are many random thoughts running through my head at any given time. The good news is that random thoughts seem to be the way to go when it comes to a blog. So here are some things to ponder after the first rounds in both the Flat Track Canada and CSBK series.

As I predicted in the current issue of Inside Motorcycles magazine, 14-year-old rookie Expert Hunter “Showtime” Bauer is going to be one to watch. I first profiled a then 6-year-old Bauer in the magazine way back in 2011 when he was included in a story I did on kids taking part in flat track. Even then I saw something special in the kid and on Saturday in Trois Rivieres the kid had an Expert debut for the ages. Bauer not only won both his DTX and Open heats, but he set the fastest lap time in both classes during each race. Bauer finished second behind KBR teammate Dustin Brown in the Open Expert final and likely only a last row start on a back-up bike in the DTX final prevented him from grabbing a podium in that class as well. Although he admitted he was nervous the night before the race, Bauer showed no signs of those nerves on race night and looked right at home on the front row between former champions Brodie Buchan and Dominic Beaulac.

Speaking of Beaulac I spent a few minutes talking to him after the races on Saturday. Beaulac told me he is hard to impress but even he was taken aback by Bauer’s Expert debut. Beaulac told me he watched Bauer’s DTX heat race and his mouth was hanging open the whole time because he was caught off guard by the talent of the young rookie. Beaulac also reflected on his AMA Grand National win in Lima in 2006. He said it was just one of those nights where he knew right after practice that he was going to win. His crew took a bit of convincing, but no doubt they were asking him for lottery numbers after his prediction came true on that magical night. Beaulac also had a funny story of a fan talking to him the other night and telling Beaulac that he used to watch his dad race about twenty years ago (must have been his dad because they have the same last name) and he was fast as hell. After a few minutes going back and forth Beaulac was finally able to convince the fan that it was actually him that he had been watching and that he indeed was fast as hell 20 years ago and hasn’t slowed down much these days.

Big news for the Flat Track Canada series. President Aaron Hesmer has announced that the series will be shown on both TSN and FansChoice this season. This is major exposure for the series and Hesmer is thrilled at the direction things are headed.
Dustin Brown has continued where he left off last season as the 2018 champ won both the DTX and Open races at Trois Rivieres on his new KBR ride. If the first race is any indication Jarrett Phibbs will be one to watch in the Intermediate class. Phibbs had a dominant victory in the DTX class and after an early lead in the Open race he came in second after a wild battle with Gabriel Beaulac. Speaking of Beaulac (part 2) Gabriel had an amazing charge from the last row to take the victory after having a textbook sky shot wheelie from hell that saw him flip his bike in his heat race.

Turns out Jordan Szoke is human after all. Szoke crashed hard in practice at the season opener on Saturday in Shannonville and put in a brave ride on Sunday to take a third place finish. Szoke doesn’t hit the ground very often which is one of the reasons he has pretty well owned the past two decades of Superbike racing here in Canada. One race doesn’t win you a championship but it can help you lose one so the damage control done by Szoke on Sunday was commendable.

Congrats to Ben Young for taking his second career victory at the CSBK opener. Don’t let the fact that Szoke was riding hurt fool you, Young is fast and he is also one of the nicest young men in the paddock.

Finally my posse and I usually head to Springfield for the May race and have done so for a few years now. This year we’ve changed it up a bit and instead will be going to check out the Red Mile in Lexington Kentucky on June 1st. We will have some Canadian boys to cheer for while we are there as Brodie Buchan will be racing the Production Twins class on his Baer Racing Kawasaki and Trent “Sweet Heat” Pickle will be trying his luck in the ever competitive Singles class. This will be my first trip to Kentucky and I’m eager to try out some of the local fare. Apparently KFC isn’t on the menu there but squirrel and raccoon are. Can’t wait. I’m sure they taste like chicken…

With no more Supercross action in Toronto, Gary, Heather, Kim and I headed to Ford Field in Detroit to join many other Canadians taking in the action (the B-Team was out in full force). After a quick stop at Dollar Tree in Mexican town (everything is a dollar but they still have a flyer???), we headed to Nemo’s for a quick bite before the race. Voted the number three best sports bar in America, Nemo’s only serves chicken and fries or burgers and fries but those burgers are the bomb. Off to the race and like every other Supercross event I have attended, it was excellent. It seems to be a great mix of intense racing mixed with tremendous entertainment energy. With the excited announcer who has to be hopped up on Red Bull, pyrotechnics and endless action, Supercross never fails to please. Bonus for us as it was a Triple Crown Race so extra feature races were on the menu.

I feel like a fool but I’ve never noticed Detroit’s fascination with predatory cats until I hit the concrete jungle of downtown. Detroit Lions. Detroit Tigers. What the hell were the Red Wings thinking? Didn’t like Detroit Cheetahs? Or maybe the Detroit Cougars? I guess that last one may be a totally different column…….

Speaking of Supercross, is there anybody out there who picked Cooper Webb to possibly take the title other than perhaps Cooper Webb’s mom? Webb is a contender every week and is looking pretty good on that bright orange KTM. Stay tuned.

AFT has done a complete flip on the front fender rule. After banning front fenders last season, they are mandatory for this year. This change could have a bit to do with safety but I’m guessing with increased manufacturer support it has more to do with the bikes looking more like the ones you see in your local showroom. Regardless, more manufacturers involved in the sport is always a good thing.

The first AFT round is in the books as the Daytona TT took place on March 14th. Alex Dumas and Brodie Buchan took their shot at the TT but despite valiant efforts, they were unable to make the final in the event which saw 64 riders competing for just 16 spots in the Singles main event. 57-year-old motorsports legend Jeff Ward tried at the TT as well, but a bad start in his semi wrecked his chances of making the final. I attended the first two Daytona TT’s and watched this one on the computer but I’m still not a fan of the layout. The two hairpin turns at the end of the track just don’t do it for me. Shouldn’t there be at least one turn were the riders are on the gas in full lock, with both feet up on the pegs powering out of the corner?

A couple of days after the Daytona TT there was an outlaw race at New Senoia Raceway in Georgia, which is a clay short track. Buchan and Trent Pickle took part and as a fan I’ll admit the racing was fun to watch although I still get sketched out by the concrete walls that surround many of the American venues. Social media lit up after this race as fans praised the many different racing lines available to the riders and the action that created. I almost feel bad because practically every track we have in Canada offers a multitude of racing lines with incredible action at each round. The Dash for Cash race from our round at Flamboro Downs last year has been shared well over 600 times on social media receiving plenty of praise, mostly by excited residents of the US. Cross the bridge and come see us my American friends. I promise it will be worth it.

How cool is it to be Sean Dylan Kelly right now? The 16-year-old not only finished a very close second in the Daytona 200 but he actually sat on the pole for the race. Picture most of the other 16-year-olds in North America playing video games while Kelly was riding at death defying speeds around the most iconic superspeedway in the world. Wonder if he is on the radar for any MotoGP teams?

Don Galloway had another successful trip to Georgia and Florida during Bike Week. Riding pretty well every vintage class you can think of on his fleet of pristine bikes, Galloway once again gained his share of podiums throughout the week. Congrats Don. Dustin Brown ran some races at Bike Week as well and picked up the checkered flag in the Super Singles class at Volusia Speedway.

Family day has come and gone and like many others I consider those in the racing world to be “family.” I was pleased to get a call from CSBK Series announcer Frank Wood on Family Day and we spent a good two hours talking about everything regarding two wheels. I have shared the announcer’s booth many times with Frank and have the utmost respect and admiration for him. After a few years now I think the feeling is ALMOST mutual. Thanks for the call my friend. We’ll see you at the track soon.

Finally, my wife and I cancelled our annual trip to Bike Week this year choosing instead to allocate those funds towards a trip to Cuba for us and the kids. We had a blast in Cuba and I don’t regret our decision for a moment. Two days after getting home from Cuba however my daughter hopped on a plane with some friends and flew to Bike Week without mom and dad. Well played Taylor. Well Played.

With Daytona Bike Week only a couple of weeks away, many Canadians will be headed to the Sunshine State for a little two-wheeled fun. While I won't be able to attend this year, last year’s Bike Week was the logical destination for a little fun with my buddy Gary as we were both celebrating our 50th birthday. With our wives Kim and Heather in tow along with friends John, Irene and Brent, we invaded Daytona and did our best to fill our week with good times. Although your list may differ from mine, here are five great things to check out in Daytona if you happen to be making the trip this year.

Daytona Supercross. In a series that is normally set inside stadiums, there is something special about taking in the race at Daytona International Speedway. While the track layout is quite different from the norm, there is still plenty of action to get the crowd fired up in the giant grandstand. Under the stars the bikes seem to stand out a little more and the fireworks seem to pop just a little brighter. The event was perhaps even more special in 2018 as Justin Brayton took his first ever main event victory and in the process, became the oldest ever Daytona winner in history. Congrats Justin.

Daytona TT. Also taking place at the speedway, the Daytona TT is the season opener for the AFT series. Like Supercross, there is something a little different about seeing your favourite flat track stars do battle inside the giant speedway. With 2019 being the third Daytona TT event, AFT has modified the track layout to include a paved stretch of the iconic superspeedway which could prove to be a game changer come race night. Along with the races at the speedway there is also a huge motorcycle midway with everything from demo rides to parts, gear and so much more. You can easily spend a full day at the Speedway and still wouldn't be able to take in all it has to offer.

Bruce Rossmeyer’s Destination Daytona. Located about 15 miles north of Daytona Beach, Rossmeyer’s little slice of heaven can maybe be best described as a day camp for bikers. Over 150-plus acres where you can find a 109,000-square-foot Harley showroom, a hotel, restaurants and more. Much like Daytona there are vendors everywhere, bands playing, beer chilling and just overall good times. Last year while visiting Rossmeyer's we saw the Wall of Death, the Globe of Death and all kinds of meat on sticks that may clog your arteries and lead to your death… While bikers are given the best spots for parking, they do provide a shuttle from the far side of the property for those driving cars.

Daytona 200 Monument. Located beside the beach not far from Main Street, the Daytona Monument is a tribute to the original Daytona beach races and the origins of bike week. The monument itself is stunning with granite plaques honouring past and current racers. The project was spearheaded by Dick Klamfoth who happened to win the 200 in ’49, ’51 and ’52. Klamfoth was on hand for the ceremony last year and along with him I spoke to Hall of Fame announcer Pat Gonsalves, flagman extraordinaire Kevin Clark, flat track pro Sammy Halbert and many others. AFT Chaplain Raymond Rizzo was also on hand to speak about a few of the motorcycle greats we had lost recently including Jamison Minor and the man with the great voice Barry Boone. You can easily spend hours here reading all the plaques and stones and you can even purchase your own customized brick to go into the design surrounding the monument.

Main Street. The best way to describe Main Street is to say it is like Port Dover on steroids. The street is lined on both sides with bikes, people and bars. Every bar has three things in common; cold beer, street meat and great bands. You won’t hear much Justin Bieber or Abba here, but you will get your share of AC DC, Aerosmith, and Def Leppard. Somehow, we always ended up at The Boot Hill Saloon and I drank my share of cheap beer to ensure I had some cash left for some of the delicious shooters. Canadian racing dad James Phibbs showed me some great dance moves and I even got to see one happy/tired patron being wheeled home in a luggage cart one night! Remember though, throttles and bottles don’t mix so if you are going to partake in the festivities leave your two-wheeler at the condo.

As the calendar turns from 2018 to 2019, racing fans are eager to see what the new season will bring. While the first race of 2019 is still a few months away, silly season is in full swing as riders look to secure rides that may lead them to a championship.

I was fortunate to fly to round eight of the Harley-Davidson Canada flat track series in Strathmore Alberta this season and it only seems right to share some of my thoughts on the trip.

First of all let’s talk about the flight itself. Flying on one of our discount airlines out of Hamilton, about a dozen or so of us flat track people headed out for our western adventure. While not looking forward to a seven hour stop in Winnipeg, we were all eager to see what the province of Alberta had in store for us. On the plane to Winnipeg I ended up sitting with my wife of course but also had Hall of Fame member Kurt Biegger sitting beside me as well. Over the next couple of hours Biegger shared stories not only about racing but also about being a young boy growing up in Hamilton. Although he is known as a pretty serious guy when it comes to the racing world, Biegger had me laughing out loud several times as he spun nostalgic yarns. In reality it was like sitting beside the racing equivalent of Yoda, and it was great to be entertained for a couple of hours by his wisdom and hilarity.

After a $40 breakfast and a few alcoholic drinks in the Winnipeg airport, we boarded plane number two to continue our journey. When we finally landed in Calgary we were greeted by the smoky haze of distant forest fires that seemed to have been present since leaving Ontario. We split up a bit at this point. With the Bauers and Biegger hopping into a rental car and Clayton Isherwood heading off to see family with Tyler Seguin in tow, the McCullough’s continued on with us as we were picked up at the airport and given a lift to the track in Strathmore.

This is where I really have to mention the hospitality that was ever present throughout the weekend. From the moment we arrived at the track, people we had never even talked to were offering us a place to stay, food to eat and so much more. I ended up at a little gathering on the outside of the track that went on to the wee hours of the morning and included many beverages and some mystery meat cooked with a blowtorch. At one point Darrell McRae pulled out a photo album and shared some stories about the “glory days.” I spent the next couple of hours laughing at his tales while also amazed that he was still alive, as he kept me stocked with beverages, the mystery meat and whatever other edibles he could scrounge up. Finally feeling the effects of all of the above as well as single digit temperatures (shorts, a t-shirt and sandals apparently aren’t the suggested attire for Alberta nights); I staggered off to the bus for a little shuteye.

Race day was a blast. The track was fast and racing was great despite the Expert class being a bit lean. Although the crowd wasn’t huge, I have never seen one that was more enthusiastic. One fan was so pumped up that I even bought him a t-shirt off the Flat Track Canada crew. I had people helping me with paperwork as I announced and at the end of the races I met an excited couple named Chany and Ben. Ben was originally from Leamington so he is a racing fan since forever but Chany was at her first race and was hooked instantly. I also got to meet Royal Adderson finally and along with buying me a beer he put on a pretty good show on his XR 750.

The next day we piled into the Hesmer’s bus and drove to Calgary for a little fun at Olympic Park. While wreaking havoc on the luge ride was a blast, perhaps it was the ride on the bus that will be more memorable for me. On the way back to Strathmore it was me, my wife Kim and the Hesmers as well as Dustin Brown and Hunter Bauer. I spent the ride talking to the two young superstars about cars, girls, music, and of course, racing. With both youngsters having an incredible season in 2018, it occurred to me that perhaps I was sharing a ride with the two riders who could very well hold onto, or at the very least fight tooth and nail for the number one plate in Canada for the foreseeable future. As I sat during the ride soaking in their youthful exuberance, I thought about how cool it could be years from now when I share the story about the bus ride in Alberta with a couple of young men who may just turn out to be the greatest Canadian racers of their time.

If things all go according to plan for myself, Brown and Bauer, hopefully I can share these stories at a Hall of Fame induction ceremony for the two of them in 20 years or so.

In a move not seen for decades, the British Grand Prix at Silverstone was recently cancelled due to unsafe track conditions. It seems the new surface at the track allowed an abundance of standing water in critical areas, and after meetings and delays, the ultimate decision was made to cancel the event.

I can’t even imagine what kind of turmoil this throws into a series such as MotoGP. The logistics and costs for the teams to make the useless trip to Silverstone must be maddening. My thoughts on this matter aren’t just for the teams involved, but more for the fans. I’m sure fans will get a refund for their tickets they purchased but what about everything else? Think of the fans that travelled from far away, paid for accommodations or camping, booked a week off work to attend, and just the simple feeling of depression for many that no doubt make this a yearly trek and most likely look forward to this event for the whole year before.

I am all about track safety, that isn’t what this is about. Just upon hearing this news, I, as a race fan, reflected on how awesome this year has been with the incredible racing I have been fortunate enough to witness here in Canada.

In our Flat Track Canada series we have had some of the best racing we have had in years. At the two nationals held at Welland County Speedway, Tyler Seguin and Chris Evans engaged in a 15 lap fistfight on both occasions to the delight of the excited crowd. When the checkers flew Seguin and Evans exchanged fist bumps after such a great battle and it seemed only fitting that each of them won one of the rounds. At Flamboro Downs in late July, Dave Pouliot gained a bunch of new fans after an epic Dash for Cash race in which he took victory by inches over former champ Dominic Beaulac. Pouliot even had to charge from the back row after falling early on in the four lap sprint. Video of this epic race has been shared well over 300 times all over North America. In August we saw young upstart Dustin Brown go side by side with veteran Doug Lawrence for several laps at Ohsweken Speedway before Lawrence edged out the victory.

My spectating hasn’t been just in the flat track series, I’ve also seen a couple of pretty good road races this year as well. June saw me take the drive to Grand Bend and watch Canadian Road Racing legend Jordan Szoke squeak out a victory by .171 of a second over a very hungry Ben Young. Then in August I made my annual pilgrimage to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and witnessed what many are calling the best Canadian Superbike race ever as Kenny Riedmann took a narrow victory over Young after a thrilling race long battle.

While all I’ve talked about here are the races in the Expert/Pro ranks, trust me when I say that there have been incredible battles in almost every class all year long.

I feel for those fans that were at Silverstone, I really do. I guess the good news for me is that after the thrilling summer I have had so far, there are still two more national flat track rounds for me to attend.
I’m almost positive the best race of the season is still to come!

Last week I tuned into the History channel for Evel Live, which would see Travis Pastrana duplicate three of Evel Knievel’s famous jumps.

The call came from Inside Motorcycles’ editor Patrick Lambie and I would be telling a fib if I said it caught me by surprise.