AFM puts on a show in Sonoma – And what a show it was.

I’ve been around some form of racing since I was a kid, and I’ve seen dozens of different sanctioning bodies put on hundreds of different types of programs.  In all that time I’ve seen my share of terrible programs.  We all have.  We’re set for a great day of racing, and the mood in the paddock is light, yet intense, and then the promoter or organizing body steps in and touches every darn thing and what should have been a great weekend instead turns into a complete nightmare.

Thankfully, the AFM (American Federation of Motorcyclists) does NOT have this problem.  As a matter of fact, it was one of the best run programs I have EVER seen.  Ever.  I had no idea what to expect, since this was my first time attending an AFM event.  I headed out to the track early Sunday morning without a credential.  I had planned on sending in my request for one a couple weeks prior, but sometimes things happen and I forget.  It happens.  I headed out anyway, knowing that I could get some decent shots from the spectator areas if I had to, but hoping I could speak to someone in the organization and wrangle a last minute photo vest.

AFM Through the chicane at Race Sonoma
Through the chicane at Race Sonoma

Upon arrival at the track, I headed straight for the Panasonic Media Center.  A building at Race Sonoma that I was intimately familiar with, since I had spent a considerable number of weekends here over the past five years.    Sure enough, there was a crew set up inside the building, taking care of all manner of things, including rider registration and new AFM member sign ups, among other things.  I inquired with the team about gaining a credential, and they were nice enough to lead me to the Race Director, Barbara Smith…”Barb”.  They warned me that she was running the program and might be a bit snippy.  I understood completely.  Who wants to be bothered by someone that should have applied for a credential weeks earlier, much less while they’re busy running an entire race program that included hundreds of riders in dozens of classes.  I hurried out to pit lane, where I was told Barb would be working her race weekend magic, and immediately noticed a woman with fiery red hair who looked very much in charge of all that was going on.

AFM Large Grids featuring multiple classes was the order of the day.
Large Grids featuring multiple classes was the order of the day.

While in the media center, a trio of riders went down in turn 11, and Barb was still coordinating efforts to get the corner clean, the bikes and downed riders moved off scene, and the racing back up and moving as quickly as possible.  I waited patiently and watched Barb skillfully direct traffic and get the riders called back to the track after a relatively brief red flag.  Another handful of quick and direct radio calls from Barb and the crowd pleasing music only orchestrated by racing engines was once again filling the valley.

A brief lull in the action allowed me to quickly introduce myself to Barb, which I did in as brief a manner as possible, since I knew her attention would be back on the job for the next race, scheduled to start just minutes from now.   She looked me up and down, spotting the pair of cameras I had hanging from each shoulder and said, “I suppose you want track access…not a chance.”  I quickly explained that I was doing a feature on a couple of the riders as well as the event, and that I had shot at this track several times.  She looked at me again, this time more purposefully than before, and I have to say at that moment, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect.  She pulled her headphones off of one ear and raised her sunglasses and said, “head over to the media center, fill out the paperwork and bring me back a copy”.  Phew…

AFM Didn't expect to see this type of machine, but it was pretty cool. And quick!
Didn’t expect to see this type of machine, but it was pretty cool. And quick!

I did as she asked and headed back inside to fill out the paperwork. That was another surprise.  I’m pretty sure there was less paperwork involved when I joined the military.  But it was good.  The organization was thorough, including AFM membership, medical forms, and of course the standard liability waiver that basically means I’m on my own if I screw up and get hurt.  One part of the form even requires a notary.  Which, of course, the AFM had on hand for just such occasions.  That’s pretty awesome.

Paperwork finished, I headed back down pit lane and again waited patiently as Barb was handling not only the action on track, but a pair of riders who had approached her regarding an on track incident in the previous race.  A rider wanted to file a protest, and Barb made sure the process was handled properly.  She called over the appropriate AFM official to handle the situation, providing guidance and input as she saw fit.  You could tell she had seen this situation a hundred times before, and her actions let you know she knew exactly how to handle it.  It was actually really cool to see.

AFM Gordon Pull exits the Chicane.
Gordon Pull exits the Chicane.

After getting the next race rolling, Barb turned her attention back to me.  She took my paperwork and gave it the once over before handing me a slip of paper that was, in effect, my photo pass for the weekend.  I let her know when the story would be posted and also let her know that I would send her a letter of assignment for her file.  I extended my hand, which she took and gave a firm shake, and then she smiled.  This stern and direct woman, who up until now had been all business and very focused – smiled.  I rarely rely on other people for my mood, believing that my outlook was self perpetuated.  But this moment put me in a particularly good mood.  I had pretty much done everything I could to annoy a race director: didn’t request my credential earlier, approached her during a race, had her doing paperwork – and she still sent me away with a smile.

If you want to see some incredibly exciting and close racing action, then get yourself to an AFM event.  There are two more events on the 2015 Calendar: Next is at Thunderhill, and the season closes at Buttonwillow.  Both upcoming races are in California on the West Coast of the USA.

Here are some of my favorite photos from my day at Sonoma covering the AFM.

Michael Kim
Greg Clouse
Cory Call leads Deion Campbell and Andrew Lee up the hill and through turn 2.
Robert Brittain
Over the crest at 3a.
Kevin Murphy
Christopher Reyes Ng leads a pair of other riders over the crest at 3a.
Joseph S. Palmeri tucked in and flying over the crest.
Daytona Anderson – With a name like that could he be anything other than a racer?
Jeremy Coffeys eyes are well up track…as they should be.
Guy A Hyder making things exciting over the crest
The sun begins to set on another great weekend of racing.


Check out the AFM (American Federation of Motorcyclists) here.