AFT Rider Spotlight: A Socially-Distanced Interview with Sammy Halbert
Known for a playful demeanor and an unwavering confidence, the No. 69 AFT SuperTwins rider Sammy Halbert has grown to become a fan favorite both on and off the racetrack. After a couple of years attempting to find his footing on Harley-Davidson machinery, Halbert has crossed over to the other side. With the legend Kenny Coolbeth, Jr. at his side, Halbert will be piloting the Coolbeth-Nila FTR750 in 2020, and from the sound of it, his competition has every reason to sweat the swap.
We caught up with Slammin' Sammy - a name he earned in his younger years for his aggressive style and ruthlessness on the racetrack - while he hunkered down in his Florida home. We chat racing, his FTR outlook, his transition into a "Florida Man" and his COVID-19 routine.
AFT: Elephant in the room, we are all stuck at home counting down to an end-of-May season opener…what are you doing to pass the time?
Halbert: Well, I finally got around to mowing my lawn! Stocked up on food, and have been trying some new recipes, this time off has definitely made me a little more domesticated. When not doing my "chores" I have made it out for a few fun mountain bike rides with my friend Thunder; I peddled hard so he couldn't get any closer than six feet to me! I've also managed to get on my dirt bikes a few times at some private tracks so I can stay ready for when we get back to racing.
AFT: You recently made the move from the PNW down to Florida. How’s that made life different for you?
Halbert: The move to Florida definitely allowed me to put more of a focus on riding, especially during the winter months, with a solid friend group too. It's a pretty good riding scene around here, and there are a lot of folks that take training pretty seriously, so that’s been a good atmosphere for me to be around to continue pushing myself, even when it's hot and humid! I recently got a Florida driver’s license too, so now it’s getting real.
AFT: Have you seen a gator yet? What other Florida stuff have you done/seen since making the transition?
Halbert: Of course! I was just out riding my dirt bike in the woods the other day and came across a big ole gator, just chillin’. Not much else that comes to mind. I’d spent my fair share of time in FL before actually moving here so, initially, it’s just been about getting my house/garage and training routine dialed-in and riding with buddies, with a few Sunday poolside hangs. Now that I think of it, I did jump off a bridge into the water and swam with some manatees and have been saying “y’all" a lot more. I've even had a late-night Waffle House experience!
AFT: Let’s hear more about riding the FTR750 for the first time…was it love at first ride? What are you stoked about? What do you think you’ll need to work on to be competitive?
Halbert: It was definitely a good feeling. When I jumped on the Coolbeth-Nila Racing bike, straight away I felt comfortable pushing it to the limit. The second time was even better; it seemed like I could ride it as hard as I wanted and still not crash. After that, we found some set-ups that made it more challenging, worked through that and got to a better place. I'm stoked on the team, how it has come together, and at having a legit shot at every track we go to. To be competitive inside the top three, I'll need to make sure my starts are dialed; it’s a new bike for me so I need to learn the best way to get it off the line on all the different surfaces we race on, as well as learn the best way to set the bike up for me on all the different tracks. There's also some stuff with my body position on the bike I'm looking closely at and trying to adjust a little bit.
AFT: Looks like our first race will be on a Mile. Does that make you excited, or do you think that’ll present a greater challenge?
Halbert: Yea, now that you mention it, I think that is something I should get excited about. I like the challenge of racing the horse track in Lexington. It seems to suit my style well and I know I'll have the equipment under me to get the job done. I'll just need to keep it twisted!
AFT: It must be pretty awesome to work so closely with someone you very recently lined up next to on the start grid. How’s it been getting to ride for Kenny Coolbeth?
Halbert: It has been a really cool experience already and we've only done testing and a couple small races together so far. Seeing his motivation and desire to win on that side of the fence is rad. Over the winter, we worked together on our sponsorship deals for the team and have been making sure we have all the parts we need to go racing. We seem to be gelling really well with all that and definitely motivate each other to keep pushing to best hold up our ends of the deal. At those few races and through the testing we’ve done, we've made a lot of changes to determine what works best for me. Sometimes I feel bad when I ask my mechanic to change this and that, then change it back again, but he's been super cool about doing whatever it takes. As an elite rider himself, he gets it, and his strongest tracks are some of the tracks I can improve on so, I'll be leaning on him for pointers to step up my game.
AFT: Considering all the changes you’ve made after all the years of riding for Factory H-D, what are your goals for 2020? What can people expect from you?
Halbert: My goals are really high, I've got a great team of people supporting me that I'm stoked on, and I'm gonna let my riding and racing do the talking for me. I can't wait to make my debut with the new team.
AFT: You’ve always been someone who’s been able to stay healthy while traveling and living life on the limiter, what advice do you have for people who are looking to stay healthy these days?
Halbert: Well, I'm no doctor, but my opinion is that you should stay well hydrated and eat whole foods and stay away from processed foods as much as possible. No sweets, other than chocolates…lots and lots of chocolate.
A fitness buff, Halbert would typically be found working out in the gym.
AFT: What’s been your workout routine since the gyms are closed? How do you stay fit while staying home?
Halbert: I did have to pick up some more workout equipment to add some variety to my home gym. The change to our racing schedule has altered my training more than anything. I'm fortunate to have Dick Tibbits as my coach this year; he has a wealth of knowledge and has adjusted my training program so I'll be ready to come out swinging when we finally get to race.
AFT: After life returns to normal, where do you see the future of flat track is headed? We’ve got the SuperTwins class and the addition of TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold in 2020, and the growth of talent in the other two classes, what would you like to see next for AFT?
Halbert: I have chosen to stay optimistic that it's going to go along with the vision AFT has outlined for us. I'm hopeful that the Super Twins class will be badass and the fans will be stoked on it. I’m definitely stoked on our TV package and viewing options with TrackPass. The evolution of the classes is interesting, especially with some riders having to step into different classes, but in reality that's similar to other elite forms of motorsports. You have to bring more than just riding talent to the table, you have to make the right moves and have the right backing to land in the premier class.
What I'd like to see next is for the series to continue to refine their operations and have the equipment and crew continue improving our tracks, bring in the level of medical care that other top series have, with a dedicated crew of medical professionals ready to deal with life threatening injuries at the track, and a championship points fund. That's all going on my Christmas list!
AFT: Well, I don’t know how much I’m allowed to tell you just yet, but looks like you’ll be getting some of those Christmas wishes granted early once we get back to racing! Thanks for taking the time, Sammy, we cannot wait to see you shredding at the Red Mile.