AMA Flat Track Indy Mile, August 18, 2012, Indianapolis Fairgrounds, Indiana, USA

Indy Mile a fantastic show once again 

photos by Tim Hailey, story by Hailey and the AMA


Jake Johnson slides around the turn and past the rides at the Indy Mile

As a photographer, shooting the Indy Mile is my annual toughest challenge. I've yet to figure it out. It's dark, blindingly fast, and—at a foot away from the inside guardrail on the turns or actually on the track on the main straight—I'm seemingly too close or too far from the bikes. And I fear for my life.

Leah Burdette and The Promotion Company/Family Events are all smiles, all the time

But it's also one of my favorite events to shoot. The Indiana State Fairgrounds is a classic venue located right in town. The race promoters—The Promotion Company/Family Events of Indianapolis, led by Matthew Louck and his riight hand girl Leah Burdette—are the the nicest, most efficient people in the business.

Ben Knight (no, not that one) sparks his foot past the Ferris wheel

This year's race had the added benefit of being run during the State Fair. Yeah, I know, some people complained about sightlines from the lower seats. But the added atmosphere—the lights, sights and sounds—were pretty great. I expected a traffic, parking and logistical nightmare, but there was none.

Kennt Coolbeth wheelies down the crowded front stretch at the strat of the main event

So the horribly named AMA Pro Harley-Davidson Insurance Grand National Championship presented by and Lucas Oil gave the packed house a sensational race as Sammy Halbert (South East Harley/Harley-Davidson) captured the checkered flag for the third time this year. Though Halbert looked sharp under the lights at the Indianapolis State Fairgrounds, it was no easy task as he was forced to fend off fierce competitors in Brandon Robinson (Werner/Kawasaki) and Jared Mees (Rogers Racing/Harley-Davidson) on the last lap for the win.

Slammin' Sammy poses in the winners circle

"I didn't see that one coming, luckily for me, the win fell in to my hands. The whole time I was just trying to figure out how to pass those fast Kawasakis," Halbert said. "In the end I just pulled up behind Brandon (Robinson) trying to get a good draft and when I did I just hammered down and went with it. I was just hoping and praying on that last straight away that I could get through it and I did. It feels amazing; don't count me out, ever."

Bryan Smith's exotic Kawasaki leads Johnson's Harley down the front stretch

Bryan Smith (Howerton Motorsports/Kawasaki) looked to be on his way to another dominating victory but a rare wreck by Jake Johnson forced a restart. Though Smith retained the lead shortly after the restart, his bike came up lame on the 12th lap and ended his night.

Smith's mishap was like blood in the water for sharks as it changed the complexity of the race tremendously. Brandon Robinson had the lead going in to the final three laps and looked like he was going to pull it off. Sammy Halbert, however, had other plans, as he stole the lead on lap 23 and fought off Brandon Robinson on the final straight away for the victory.

Scott Russell, former MS&S editor Peter Jones and others watch back stretch action on the flat screen

It became evident right from the get-go that Indianapolis is the racing capital of the world as the crowd's roar was almost as loud as the engines. Sammy Halbert fended off Brandon Robinson by a mere .26 seconds; that's quicker than you can snap your fingers.

AMA Pro Pro Singles

Stephen Vanderkuur leads Jake Shoemaker in the Pro Singles main

Stephen Vanderkuur (Parkinson Brothers Racing/Honda CRF450R) slammed the throttle just a little bit harder than his opponents Saturday night as he came away with his first win of the season. The race was a 12 lap roller coaster as there was an immense number of lead changes that came down to the final stretch. The win bumps Vanderkuur to first in the standings with a slim two point lead over Ryan Wells (5 Star Steel & Fabrication) and looks to be one of the favorites to win the title going in to the final four races of the season.

Vanderkuur celebrates the win

"It was an awesome race, I knew I had to get a good restart and I did," Vanderkuur said. "I knew there would be a bunch of passing and that I was going to have my work cut out. It was a toss-up and I just went for it. I gave it my all and I'm just so excited."

JR Todd never misses the Mile

Dominic Collindres (Weirbach Racing) took an early lead coming off a restart but maintained it only for a lap as no lead was ever safe in the race. Going in to lap 5, Collindres, Vanderkuur, Zakk Palmer (Double Dick Bandits), and Jake Shoemaker (Montgomeryville Cycle Center) were four wide as they flew down the back stretch. Going in to the last lap it was literally neck and neck, with the winner being a presumed toss-up between the four. It wasn't until the last stretch that Vanderkuur crossed the finish line with a photo finish victory.

Parting shot of an AMA trophy queen in the foreground and photographers checking their pics in the back

Indy Mile photo gallery

Smith and Kawasaki defending Indy Mile win

Not your average Flat Tracker

Bryan Smith broke through years of Harley-Davidson domination to win the last edition of The Lucas Oil Indy Mile AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National in 2010 on a Kawasaki-powered bike tuned by the legendary Bill Werner. When the race returns to the Indiana State Fairgrounds on Saturday, August 18, 2012, Bryan will attempt to defend his title again on a bike with Kawasaki power, but this time on the radically designed bike hand-built by Ricky Howerton and tuned by successful veteran mechanic Skip Eaken.

Howerton does very well at his day job working for the successful family business—Howerton Motorsports located on Gasoline Alley in Indianapolis. The company builds exhaust systems, primarily for Indy Cars, but also for everything on racing on four wheels from NASCAR, to NHRA, to Formula 1. But Ricky loves machines that are on two wheels and go fast on dirt. He got the bug as a kid watching Honda Factory team riders like Bubba Shobert and Ricky Graham burn up flat tracks like the legendary Indy Mile. So, in his “spare” time, he decided to design a dream bike that would dominate the dirt miles…and build it from the ground up.

“Basically, I wanted to build a street bike that was a worthy dirt track bike," said Howerton. "I had stayed in contact with Skip a bit over the past 30 years since I was a teenager. He asked me what engine I wanted to put in it, and I liked the Kawasaki parallel twin a lot. It’s a really nice engine. It’s real compact. Being a parallel twin, the package is really nice. It lends itself to a lot of freedom in your design work in the rear suspension. At that time he was really interested in that engine as well. He knew that Bryan had won two races with Bill Werner on the Springfield and Indy Miles. He asked if I was interested in building another motorcycle. At the time I was going to build just one. Originally, I thought no; why would I want to do that. I was in the design phase at that time, doing all the computer modeling. But the more I talked to Skip, and then my dad, convinced me to go ahead and build a second one and let Skip race it."

Smith went to Howerton and expressed an interest in running the bike on the mile tracks this year. “That was a big deal to have a kid like that want to run for pretty much a no-name like myself in that series at that level," continued Howerton. "I got my other bike back from Skip, and put a couple more engines together and then really fined tuned those things—really massaged them and got them ready to run on the track. We took something you could run on the street and got them to where you could change parts on them quicker on the race track and have spares, etc. That all happened in February of this year, before the dealer show. I call them the number 1 and number 2 bikes, but they are so similar that I had to use decals so we can identify them. The number 2 bike is actually the street bike I rode around on for two weeks before this deal happened. The 1 bike actually has a VIN number, so I guess you could actually ride it to the Indy Mile. If you know what nice is, well then it’s pretty obvious that it’s really nice. It’s more like a two-wheeled Indy Car.”

After the win in Sacramento

And the bike has been fast—very fast. In Bryan’s first outing at the Springfield Mile, he had a great showing and was a threat to win. At Sacramento, Bryan had a dominating day, winning on just his second go-round on the new bike. Howerton says that the team has big ambitions going into Indy. He notes that the shape of the tracks at Indy and Sacramento are similar. But what gives the team the biggest edge? “First and foremost it’s the guy sitting on the seat," said Howerton. "That’s one of the reasons I’ve always liked motorcycle racing. I make my living in car forms of racing. Obviously, there’s more money in that. But it’s the human element in motorcycle racing at whatever level, whether it’s Moto GP or Motocross, that’s the most important thing. Other than that, I think Kawasaki on the engine side of it shows huge potential. That thing makes great power. I’d have to say that the engine on that thing on the miles is just a horse. But the rear tires on the motorcycles across the board are like a restrictor plate. There are a lot of engines out there that make a lot of power. The KTM—that big engine makes a lot of power. The Wood Brothers Ducati makes great power. I think building your power profile and getting the power to the ground is the biggest thing. That’s where Skip, with his history of building Harley engines for decades and him being a part of the Honda factory team, he just has so much knowledge of what to do and what not to do. He’s not a guy who’s a dyno racer who looks for the most peak power. He knows that on dirt tracks it’s hard to get enough grip. He just does a great job with the engines.”

The #42 team will be sponsored by Crosley Radio of Louisville, KY. Bo LeMastus is the CEO and owner of the company. LeMastus says, “We do everything from turntables, jukeboxes, various radios, to telephones. Everything looks like it came from back in the day; be it the ‘30’s, 40’s, 50’s etc. But, obviously everything is state of the art. I was a competitive motorcycle racer as an amateur. That’s how I met Ricky. I’ve been involved in motorcycle racing since the late ‘70’s. It was a natural marriage when Ricky got involved in flat track that Crosley would be a perfect sponsor. Flat track racing is so grassroots. To me it takes you back to the ‘30’s and ‘40’s and that was the earliest form of bike racing, really. It felt like a nice natural tie-in for us. For the coming Indy Mile, from our company here, we will probably bring up a good 50 to 75 of our teammates and their families. So it’s been a neat connection for us to really get our staff involved. I love anything with two wheels. And to be able to partner up and do something with Rick Howerton was just a dream. He is so talented.”

After seeing the huge reaction to the new bike in person at Sacramento, LeMastus is excited about seeing what Bryan can accomplish. He says, “It’s going to be a big night. That’s for sure.”

Why would Ricky Howerton build his labor of love? He says, “I think to tie in what I’ve learned throughout my life and to go to the track and to kind of re-live what I used to watch through Bubba and Ricky back in the day… I’ve got about 3,000 hours now in building the two motorcycles to really get them ready for Springfield this year, and other than a few times when I’ve gotten tired from working 18 hour days or something, it’s been fun the whole time. I think that’s important for me because it’s nothing we’re making money on. It’s a big personal deal, and I’ve had fun the whole time I’ve been doing it.”

The Lucas Oil Indy Mile returns as a featured event of the Indiana State Fair, and again coincides with the Red Bull Indianapolis GP weekend. Activities will be begin with gates opening at 2:00pm, timed-qualifying from 3:00pm-5:00pm, opening ceremonies 7:00pm with the first race at 7:30pm.