MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi hosts American Flat Track stars Brad Baker and Sammy Halbert for a flat track training day at Rossi’s Ranch

Rossi’s Ranch. It’s become a mecca for motorcycle racers from all disciplines. A prime dirt track in the hills of the small seaside town of Tavullia in Italy; the home of Valentino Rossi. Sure, there are dirt tracks all around the world, most of the legendary ones are in U.S. Hallowed grounds like the Springfield Mile, the Peoria TT, the Sacramento Mile, Lima Half-Mile, to name a few… but Rossi’s Ranch is special. It also requires a special invitation from the man himself.

Last weekend, American Flat Track stars Brad Baker and Sammy Halbert received that special invitation and got to spin some laps with the nine-time MotoGP™ World Champion and his VR46 Rider’s Academy.

“Getting to come ride with Rossi at his ranch was definitely a dream come true,” Halbert said. “It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I messaged with him about it years ago, and then it never happened, and I didn’t think it was ever going to happen, but the situation presented itself and I jumped on it.”

It was full VIP treatment for the flat track racers visiting from the states, with lunch at Rossi’s restaurant in town before the afternoon riding session and a BBQ afterwards. Halbert even got to ride one of Rossi’s bikes. 

“Just going into his home town and eating at his restaurant, and seeing his store and his fan club,” Halbert said. “Then driving into the track, it’s such a scenic area, and seeing his track from the hillside down below… I don’t know how to put it into words. It was definitely special to be in Italy at his track. He was just a real cool, down to earth guy, we got to spend a bit of time talking over the day, so that was nice. It was everything I expected and then some.”

Baker had a similar take on the experience that day.

“It was an incredible experience,” Baker said. “Just the pre-game leading up to it of having lunch at his restaurant and seeing all the 46 banners, and basically just how behind him that whole town is and how all of Italy is behind Valentino Rossi is amazing. Getting to the ranch, you come off of one mountainside and kind of down into a valley, and then you see the racetrack. It’s a beautiful track with beautiful surroundings. The riding was really cool.”

Rossi’s ranch is not only special because it’s attached to Rossi, it’s completely different from any dirt track in the world.

“It’s much more than a TT track,” Halbert said. “It really is like a road race track on dirt, even the way he’s got the curbing and stuff like that. It’s very similar to a road race track, it’s just dirt down instead of pavement. It’s a really unique concept and makes for a lot of fun.”

And it’s not just any dirt, it’s a very technical surface that U.S. flat trackers closely compare to the old Short Track at Daytona – a hard packed limestone surface. Now throw in distance, elevation changes, off-camber turns, and now we have a flat track/road race party.

“The only surface that’s like it is Daytona,” Baker said. “It’s almost picture perfect to Daytona. It’s super slick, same type of white, moon dirt type stuff. It’s perfect for training for what they do because you have to be a very disciplined rider. You have to hit your marks. It’s very, very technical. So you’re constantly focusing, and as soon as you lose focus you make a mistake. So it’s like the mental aspect of it is just as grueling on you as the physical aspect. So for training and what they were looking out of this place, they did a really good job of making the perfect training facility for what they do.”

Although it’s not necessarily something that flat track racers need for training, both Halbert and Baker felt they could take something away from it. For Halbert it was getting used to right turns, especially with two new TTs next year – the all-new DAYTONA TT and the groundbreaking Buffalo Chip TT presented by Indian Motorcycle.

“I got to ride with Valentino a little bit and he kind of showed me some lines,” Halbert said. “Afterwards when we were talking about it, it was pretty funny what he said to me; he basically said: ‘You’re pretty fast in the left-hand turns, not so fast on the right.’ He’s a pretty funny, cool guy.”

For Baker, it was about discipline.

“The discipline part, the part where – in every race, it doesn’t matter what type of racing it is, riders get excited and they make moves when maybe they should have been a little bit more patient, or maybe they should have gotten a little bit better rhythm,” Baker explained. “It’s about focus and this track requires a lot of focus. As far as the riding part, you can’t translate from a slick road course-style flat track on a Single to riding a hooked up Half-Mile on a Twin, just like you can’t really translate too much of that over to riding a MotoGP bike either. It’s mainly about the focus, the discipline, the consistency of hitting your marks and, obviously, the physical part of just being on the motorcycle and being able to have the endurance to ride a motorcycle that long that will help in other situations.”

Both of them also look forward to coming back.

“I definitely would like to put some more laps on it to get more comfortable,” Halbert said. “I just showed up and jumped on one of his bikes. I wasn’t exactly able to get comfortable on it, but I was here for the experience, to meet Valentino, to get to check it out and ride the track and enjoy it, and I did, so I left happy.”

“Valentino is just a super down-to-earth, right on dude,” Baker said. “You wouldn’t think that he’s the superstar that he is just by talking to him. He’s just so interested in motorcycles and how things are done. Usually when you see somebody of his stature, they really don’t care about the little stuff and whatnot, but he’s just intrigued and thrilled about motorcycles, and a lot of aspects as well. That’s truly what he enjoys. It was just a really good time and really good vibes. Valentino said that I’m welcome to come back anytime I want, so that’s pretty cool.”

To see a full photo gallery, courtesy of Camills and VR46 Riders Academy, please click here.