Dubbed 'Slammin' Sammy,' Sam Halbert is a veteran in American Flat Track racing. We recently got the chance to sit down with Sammy to chat about his background in racing, development with Factory Harley-Davidson, and more.
Sam “Slammin Sammy” Halbert is an American Flat Track Racer and Factory Harley Davidson rider. Sam resides in the Pacific Northwest and has dedicated his life to racing. Sam started racing at a young age of 10 with his late brother Jethro Halbert who was his best friend and teammate.
They had both risen through the professional Flat Track ranks before a tragic racing accident in September of 2014 claimed Jethro’s life. Despite the tragic setback, Sam has continued his racing career and is playing an important role with Harley Davidson as they compete with the surging Indian Motorcycles. We recently sat down with Sam and talked to him about his career, his late brother and his long-standing relationship with Wiseco.
Wiseco is proud to be the Official Piston of American Flat Track, check it out here.
How did you get into motorcycles? Who introduced you to bikes?
Sammy: My dad definitely introduced me to bikes. Both my parents raced, my mom and my dad. My mom raced quads and my dad raced four-stroke bikes. We always had motorcycles around. Until I was five, six we had the PW50. I didn't want to race yet and my parents weren't ones to push us into racing.
By the time I was ten, I decided I wanted to race. Me and my older brother Jethro had to push for it and make it happen versus the situation where we were pushed into it. I decided I wanted [to race] and got my dad to help me put my bike together. And then it was a family thing. We did it pretty much every weekend from then on.
It’s interesting that you and your brother had to pressure your parents into letting you race. It's common to see parents going the other direction and pushing their kids into it. What are your thoughts?
Sammy: Yeah, you know, everyone's got their own deal, that was my upbringing. It wasn't so much that I had to pressure them to let me go racing, but we had to push for it and want it and work for it. We had to physically be like, “come on dad, help me fix this bike!” And drag [the bike] out and make it happen. That's how it was for us. I think overall it was a good situation for me to start when I was ten, having to work for it versus maybe if I was ushered in at five then burned out by the time I was fifteen. Instead, I came in hungry and worked for it and stayed hungry. For me that worked, but you know, everyone has their own path and that's totally fine.
How'd you get the nickname “Slammin' Sammy?”
Sammy: Slammin' Sammy. I've always been an aggressive racer and so it worked for me. I've always been aggressive and it just happened, it stuck.
Do you have any good first race stories? Sometimes people do good, sometimes it doesn’t go as planned. What was your experience?
Sammy: My first race I started on an XR80, so it wasn't very memorable. We started on an indoor shorter track and then by the next weekend I was on a two stoke 80. So much more power! I don't have any particular first race memories. I know when I first started on my RN80 I would always get terrible starts and that's where, that aggressive Slammin' Sammy started from. I would get terrible starts, and then I'd come bashing my way through the pack of 80 riders, upsetting all the mini bikes parents. That's how my racing career started.
Did you ever have any major incidents where your dad had to jump in or were you ever sat down by a referee?
Sammy: Oh yeah, countless times. Plenty of incidents over the years, for sure. I mean, I've had many mini bike parents upset and yelling at me, yelling at my parents. Maybe some of it was mini bike parent stuff, some of it was maybe I was too aggressive. I don't know but over the years I've been able to refine my technique and still keep that aggressive Slammin’ Sammy but be a little more refined and not take people out as I go.
How has this season been going so far?
Sammy: I got hooked up with Harley-Davidson, which has been a life-long dream of mine, to ride for Factory Harley. Obviously, they had a really tough year last year developing the XG. I knew if I could come in and be successful on the XG this year, it would mean so much. The guys have all been working hard on the team to get this XG competitive against the Indians and we've made big strides.
The Indian is making strides also, so it's been a big challenge. It’s been rewarding to see the progress and work together as a team. I can see the effort the team's putting in and that they are not giving up. They still believe that we're going to get it done and get this bike competitive. It's still going to be a bit more work until we get there. Overall, the season's been challenging, developing a new bike that hasn't run top five so far but we got sixth at the last race in Lima.
How long have you been contesting the AMA flat track series?
Sammy: Well, I turned pro when I turned 15 in 2004. Back then the rule structure was a little different, so 2006 was my official rookie year on the twins. I've been doing it full time since I was 10, so pretty much racing has been my life.
To be a pro at this level it has to be. If you don't mind us asking, how old are you and how much longer are you going to do this?
Sammy: I'm 30 years old and luckily in flat track I can go pretty long. Just seeing how the next bunch of years go, but not thinking about retirement at the moment.
Potentially one of your most exciting races to watch was you and Jared Mees at Atlanta in 2017. Can you walk us through that race from your perspective?
Sammy: I lead the full race until we got to the last five laps and I hit some lappers and lost a little momentum. Jared and I started going back and forth, slide jobbing each other. We were racing aggressively and then the last move just didn't pan out in my favor. I dove in hard on him and passed him and as I slid up the track he was coming up the inside so our lines crossed. I would say it was overly aggressive on his side and unfortunate on my side. It is what it is, but it sucks. \I just roll onto the next one, that's all you can do.
Is there an official review in this situation and does anyone ever get disqualified for riding like that?
Sammy: Yeah, there is and they looked at that incident. I think Jared might have got probation or something for that deal. He is on probation again this year for cheating with a tire. There’s so much gray area with that stuff right now. I know that's an area they're looking at.
If you don’t mind us asking, do you run number 69 on your bike as a tribute to your brother?
Sammy: I love talking about Jethro, he's a big part of my life. We grew up racing together. He started racing at the same time I did and we were out racing every weekend together. We were always teammates. He was always that captain that you could go to and bounce stuff off, or for inspiration. [His accident] was a really bad deal, and obviously it's a dangerous sport. You never expect it to hit you that close to home but it did. When he passed, I didn't have any plans at the time. I was like, I'm going to run 69 to honor him and I let AFT know and showed up at the next race with 69 on my bike. I’ve been rocking it ever since for Jethro, to help keep his memory alive.
The sport lost a great racer, that’s for sure. It’s great to see you honor him with his number. Switching gears a bit, you’ve been racing with Wiseco for a while now, correct?
Sammy: Yeah, I've been with Wiseco for, I don't know how long! I always ride with Wiseco in my bike and it’s been a great company to work with.
How has Wiseco been a part of your career?
Sammy: I think Wiseco has always been heavily involved in flat track. It's nice because we put a different demand on the bikes and Wiseco's willing to make us whatever we need to meet that demand.
I've been running Wiseco [pistons] forever and I've always had great luck, whether it is my single cylinder bikes or my twin cylinder XR750 Harley. Wiseco has always been a good, solid, reliable option, and the company's been great to work with. I always get what I need when I need it so, I haven't really had to switch. It's been nice having Wiseco to rely on throughout my career.
We also got the chance to chat with flat track legend Joe Kopp, which you can read here.
If you are planning on attending any American Flat Track Races this year, look for the #69. Sam is one of the most exciting racers on the circuit, and despite his aggressive exterior style, he is one of the nicest people in racing. We’d like to thank Sammy for taking the time to sit down with us and for being a key part of the Wiseco family.