Kawasaki AMA Superbike Showdown

Pete Brissette
by Pete Brissette

If you're a wine or food connoisseur you're most likely familiar with Sonoma County, California. World-class wineries like Benzinger, Clos du Bois, Chateau St. Jean, Ravenswood, Gallo, Blackstone are but a few that call Sonoma home. And it should go without saying, but fine dining abounds as well. Yes, you may be well-acquainted with all the good eats and drink hailing from this lush Northern California valley, but if you've never been there you may not know that in the midst of it all is moto bliss.

Each May, Infineon Raceway hosts an early round of the AMA Superbike series. Infineon celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2008 – many of the local old-timers still call it Sears Point, the track's name from 1968 to 2002. Called the Kawasaki Superbike Showdown, this doubleheader race weekend is the fifth year in a row that Team Green has been the title sponsor.

“A broad mixture of the motorcycling community is drawn to Sonoma by a common passion for the sport,” said Bruce Stjernstrom, Kawasaki’s director of marketing. “They come to witness supreme talent on the racetrack and revel in the atmosphere of camaraderie and brotherhood that is such an integral part of the motorcycling lifestyle.” That ain't no kiddin'!

This year, racing o' plenty was on tap. The Suzuki Champ... er, um, the Superbike Championship races saw yet another domination by the Rockstar/Makita/American Suzuki duo of Ben Spies and Mat Mladin, only this time it was Spies out front, way out front. Twice. Young Mr. Elbows was victorious on both days with Saturday's Race 1 victory just over 6 seconds ahead of Mladin; the Race 2 margin of victory for Spies was even greater at a tick over 8 seconds. As a note and nod to Spies devastating victories, his lead over Mladin in Race 1 had reached into 10-second territory at one point. Kawasaki’s Jamie Hacking upheld the event title sponsor’s honor by virtue of his pair of podium finishes.

On something of a related note, it seems that many in the pits weren't too interested in the winds of change for the 2009 season courtesy of Daytona Motorsports Group. From privateer riders to team owners to tuners, it seems no one is completely happy about the proposed rules for the 2009 season. But none were more vocal than Mladin. At the winner's circle interview after Race 1, Mladin voiced his hot displeasure when he warned the crowd, plainly saying, among other things, that the '09 superbike series will bring "piece of crap motorcycles and second-rate riders." That was just one of three instances on that particular occasion when the Australian minced no words. Wonder how he really feels?

Moving on to far less controversial race matters, it wasn't just AMA pros going toe-to-toe. The new Red Bull AMA U.S. Rookies Cup was in action, highlighting the talents of 23 racers between ages 13 and 16 from seven states and six countries. The young hopefuls buzzed around on what once was a common but now is the very unfamiliar sound of 125cc two-stroke machines; all identical KTM grand prix racebikes. The goal of the series is designed to “create a level playing field so that the best and the brightest emerge at the top and no young talent is overlooked due to a lack of financial resources or professional backing.” Sunday's race winner was the promising Californian talent, Benny Solis Jr.

Additional racing action included motocross and supermoto. The slip-slidin' action of supermoto took place at the Infineon Karting Center and was a function of Supermoto USA, while a massive field of reportedly some 700 motocrossers tore it up in races hosted by Wine Country Motocross behind the hillside near Turn 7. And in what is a sad statement on current pro roadracing in the U.S., the largely unpublicized motocross race offered up a bigger purse than the headlining AMA Superbike race.

Non-racing fun included multi-time AMA trials champ Geoff Aaron putting on a trials exhibition, and the sometimes-on-two-wheels shenanigans of SBFreaks Street Freestyle stunt pros could be witnessed right from the main grandstands as they wheelied and stoppied to the delight of many.

Being in the right place at the right time – and we motojourno types often are – you could have seen legendary racing greats like dirttracker Jay "Springer" Springsteen, roadracer Jimmy Filice, the always-authentic racing legend Gary Nixon and dirttrack tuner extraordinaire, Bill Werner. More modern bike heroes included the 14-year-old female racing phenom Elena Myers, Kawasaki-sponsored streetbike stunt super pro, Kane Friesen, dragstrip king, Ricky "Just As Fast On A Tiny Dirtbike" Gadson, and the host of Speed TV's “Superbikes,” Jason Britton, himself not half bad at wheelies and such.

Other equally famous guests – but not so much for biking prowess – of Kawasaki included boxing great, Roy Jones, Jr., Kadeem Hardison of television sit-com and movie fame, and male supermodel and super nice guy Tyson Beckford. All three celebs are real motorcycle guys. Jones Jr., who was proclaimed “Fighter of the Decade” of the 1990s and is the current IBF light-heavyweight title-holder, owns a pair of Yamaha R1s. Hardison, seen in the current hit, Made of Honor and perhaps best known for his role as Dwayne Wayne on the Cosby spinoff A Different World, regularly commutes on his BMW R1150GS. Beckford owns a custom Hayabusa, but he showed he could handle a ZX-10R when he took a ride with MO’s Ed in Chief, Kevin Duke, during the weekend.

All three of the celebrity riders took part in a Kawi-sponsored track event the day following the races. It was their first time riding a racetrack, and all of them had a blast. “It was a high I’ve never felt before,” gushed Beckford. But the biggest smile of the day had to have been on the face of Hardison. “It was so fun I can’t even believe it,” he said through an ear-to-ear grin.

A great destination for racing and beyond

Located at the intersection of Highways 121 and 37, Infineon is a great destination for racing and much more. Because there's so much practicing, qualifying and racing over the course of three days, there's ample opportunity to enjoy the area. Getting out to the Pacific coast and riding famous Highway 1 is only a matter of an hour or so, but getting there is more than half the fun, as some of the most enjoyable roads and scenery in the country exist between the Sonoma Valley and the coast. A good coastal destination is Bodega Bay. Immortalized by Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, the village of Bodega Bay is a major destination along the rugged Pacific coast with whale watching, deep-sea fishing, fresh seafood, beachside wine-tasting, picnicking on the beach and splashing in the waves as a few of the area’s attractions.

Sonoma is a treat, but there's more. Napa County is a hop, skip and jump to the east of Infineon, and is well-known for many of the same attractions as Sonoma County: wine, food and gorgeous countryside.

Finally, if you're itching for a dose of the city life, cross through, or rather over, a gateway to get your fill. The Golden Gate Bridge awaits only an hour and a half, or so, south of Sonoma and Infineon, linking you to the cultural richness that is San Francisco. Need we even bother telling you all that can be found there? If you've never been, it most certainly is worth the drive or ride; just beware of a couple of bridge toll crossings depending on your route and the famous hilly and sometimes-narrow nature of the "Frisco" streets.

For the past half decade Kawasaki has let the good times roll at Infineon. Hopefully another five years are in store. If you're an enthusiast of great racing, great riding, great wine, great food and great fun, do all you can to get to this great event.

Make sure to check out our photo gallery for many more images captured at Sonoma. Simply click the "Photo" link below.

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