By Madeleine Ahlborn | email@example.com
IT was a weekend Dwight Catalano had been looking forward to ever since he went to the Alamosa County Commissioners meeting earlier in the year to get a special permit to host what was to be a very special day.
The Cat’s Classic AMA Pro Am at the legendary Sutak Raceway was a sight to see on July 9 and 10. It was a celebration of 50 years of the Sutak Raceway hosting motocross racing in the San Luis Valley. Here’s our account of a weekend of motocross at Sutak Raceway.
AT 8 a.m John Casimir, Rocky Mountain Vintage Motorcycle Club president, led a riders meeting to brief participants before the race day began. People from around the Valley came to ride, race, and most importantly, have fun. The Cat’s Classic is an event for all ages and all types of bikes with sponsorship from American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association and RMVMC with multiple classes specific for vintage motorcycles to compete. What is so amazing about these clubs is they are inclusive to all types of riders and machines, which really makes a fun day for everyone who wants to ride.
Throughout the day I was able to speak with a number of rider participants, organizational leaders and volunteers who make this race possible.
FIRST I spoke with moto legend Dwight Catalano, who shared some of the history of the track. “Back in the day when it was a two-wheelers club, we decided to do euros instead of motocross in ’72, so me and Seth Sutak’s dad, Mark Sutak, came out here and laid this track out in late 1972,” Catalano said. “We had some bootleg races in ’72. So we’re celebrating 50 years in Alamosa, 50 years of racing in America, and 50 years of racing in Colorado.”
Catalano has a museum of vintage motorcycles (dirt bikes), which is how he first connected with the AHRMA. “I was a board member with the original club in Colorado and also the referee back in the days when we started that club. I was a referee for 2 years for the whole state. Anyway, I started working with the Alamosa Jaycees, a civic group. They took this project on back then and I was the liaison to the state sanction body and all that. I’ve been involved with every promotion that’s ever been held out here for 50 years. We were lucky enough to throw four years of pro-ams, which is the next level before you get your pro license.” Riders earn their pro licenses for the AMA, American Motorcycle Association.
CATALANO is not just a promoter for the club – he has been racing himself for years.
“I’m an 18-time number-one plate holder at the expert pro level in Colorado since 1984, that was my first. I won a number-one trophy at the World’s Veteran Championship out in California in 2018 and I’ve won 3 motos out there and I think I’m the only Colorado guy that’s been winning at the Vet world championships. But that’s by age. I’m almost 70, and I’m anxious,” he added with a smile.
Catalano continues: “I’m doing this club because they offer 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s (race age categories/classes). It’s a fun club. They have a place for almost every bike and not so hooked up on the points and stuff. It’s just fun and it’s one of those organizations that welcomes beginners all the way up to pros and it’s not so big that you lose track of the fun that you have.”
The continuation of this track and hosting races is a group effort, Catalano said. “I hope the young kids, Seth Sutak, who kind of took this over, sold part of the (family) farm and he mentioned to me, ‘Hey I sold half my farm and I think I want to do something with this track.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ll help you out.’ And here I am helping Seth out and hopefully this will continue on. I know the club was kind of surprised from yesterday’s practice, I’ve never seen it so big and it was all made up of Valley people…which is unusual, very unusual to get that kind of crowd out here from the Valley to practice. I was happy about that.”
THE practice on Saturday was packed with locals and visitors, either on modern bikes or vintage models. The mix of the past and the present was especially cool to see, and from all the young riders to the older generations. At the turnoff from Highway 285 south of Alamosa to the track, there is a big white building that has a painting of a dirt bike rider. Catalano shares some of this history with me. “That brown sign on the cellar, a friend of mine did that in about 1973 or ’74 and the Rutgers that own that property, when she was alive (Mrs. Rutgers) she said, ‘I painted that building to advertise, don’t you dare paint over that simple stupid painting!’ So that’s about 50 years old.”
At the starting grid and ready to watch these bikes rip!
Riders gear up, cheer each other on, and the vintage bikes settle into the perfectly laid out track for these old machines. Marc Latiolais held the grid at the starting gate. He not only races but stepped up to volunteer between his motos. Over the years he has been recognized by the club for doing such a great and consistent job and now is the “go-to” person and is paid for his efforts.
He had a brief moment to talk about the club. “We mostly ride up and down the front range, a couple times we’ve gone to a track in Bullhollow, Utah, but this is only about a 5-hour drive for me.” He lives just outside of Boulder. Latiolais continued, “I’m so glad I made it! This track is GREAT! And the guys that run this outfit I have to say, I am really impressed.” Latiolais could not get enough of how amazing the track was for all the levels of riding. He said it was perfect for the vintage bikes that came out on race day.
THE Cat’s Classic holds a class for every rider and every bike.This was extraordinary to see and experience because the world of motocross is very much like a family reunion, especially at a local track on this level. There were people from all corners of the Valley and even folks who moved away from the Valley and came back just for the weekend to ride and reconnect with the community.
I spoke briefly with rider #303 Monalisa Finley, who was a pit neighbor to rider #459 Britney Gallegos and #11 Louis Gallegos.
Finely said,“Just being out on the bike is my favorite part of the day.” She talked about how cool it was to see the progression of all the riders since her family moved from the Valley and has not been on a track in a few years.
A fan favorite is SLV local Britney Gallegos. She’s the two-time National Hare and Hound champion and International Six Days Enduro world champion on the USA Women’s Trophy Team.
“So far it’s been a good day,” she said. “A lot of good motos, pretty fast people really at all skill levels. They had a good turn out for a local event, a lot of vintage bikes, a good track and super fun.”
Alamosa Citizen talked with Gallegos before the ISDE summer 2020. See it here.
An amazing thing about this event – and I could imagine at any motocross event – is the openness to share tips and tricks with other riders. Finley asked Gallegos if she would watch her in a lap or two and give her some tips on how to be better. Gallegos said, “Wow, I can’t believe how much better she looks.” I caught up with Finley, who said, “That was life changing. Something so simple to weight the outside peg getting into the corner, and holding consistent throttle. I’ll still have to practice but I feel better and faster.”
I walked between different pits and recognized a few young riders who I had a chance to speak with: Zachary Hatton and Brody Webb.
Zachary Hatton is a Valley local. “We’re here for a little dirt bike action!” he said.
“I’ve raced here a couple times, this is the very first track I’ve ever ridden though, since I was like 7 or so, this is the very first track I’ve ever gotten to ride so a lot of memories here. I’m on a 125 today, we’re out here and got the big tank on and out here to show these moto guys what’s up.”
One of my favorite parts of race day was seeing the “battles” between riders. Watching Hatton and Gallegos go neck-and-neck was so exciting! Hatton finished just before Gallegos in one moto then the rest of the day Gallegos picked up speed and kicked up dust. Both riders have grown up riding this track since they were young, and both shared excitement for practicing and participating in the race weekend, plus, having some fun and pushing each other in friendly competition.
BRODY Webb is another Valley local. “I decided to try out motocross for the first time,” he said. “It’s a lot more fun than it looks – I can see what the big fuss is about! I think I’m going to start doing it more. I normally like to do more off-road and enduro type stuff, a little more my pace, and enduro is really fun. I will definitely be back next year.”
This event is geared toward all-around fun, and young riders were gaining confidence, either just getting used to the track and the jumps or settling into the flow being on the bike. I could see some amazing improvements from riders. John Casimir, RMVMC president, and Jason Colon, RMVMC regional coordinator, talked about the club and what it takes to make these races possible.
Casimir: “We’ve prided ourselves, the whole time, on any bike you have and you want to come out and race with us, you can race with us. There is a class for everybody. It helps not only for revenue for the club – we’re not a business but we are a club. We have insurance to pay for and medics to pay for at every event.”
Colon: “It provides exposure. Most of the riders of modern bikes come to our club because it’s more low-key. They tend to be younger, so it gives them exposure to eras of machines that they haven’t seen before. To create the biz that, yeah it pays the bills, but it exposes newer people that haven’t seen it before.”
Casimir: “The community and history is very big for us. Sure, we are competing against each other, but there are people that will stop in the race to help someone, but also in the pits just help anybody. There were several people out here today who were swapping around bikes because if their bike quit – here take mine, go race it. Thousands of dollars invested into these bikes, and just yep go for it. That’s probably true for a lot of motorcyclists, but
it’s especially true for vintage motocrossers that are really just like family.”
Colon: “It’s a very generous community. You want everyone who shows up to get on the gate. If something breaks you do your best to try and fix their bike or get them on something else so they can go race.”
Casimir: You probably saw it out there on the start line, if somebody can’t get their bike started, we’ll hold for a few seconds, and someone will run over and kick their bike for them or do whatever it is to get them involved in that immediate race.”
Colon: “It’s more fun when you have more people out there to share it with.”