"This is not strategy here, it's more about balls." Quite simply, that could be the cliff notes version of an AMA Pro Flat Track Mile. More specifically, that was Bryan Smith's assessment of what it was like racing at this year's Oklahoma City Mile. Oklahoma was different from most of the miles on schedule, more of an old school flat track. Each mile has a bit of character its own, but the one thing they all have in common – all miles are gnarly. Going around an oval track at 130-plus mph with no front brake… I guess you could say it separates the men from the boys.

“It’s amazing how close you are out there sometimes, sometimes closer than I would like,” Smith said. “It’s so tight. It’s almost like rubbing is racing, but on the mile it’s like, within a couple inches is near death almost.”

Bryan Smith, AMA Pro Flat Track Mile
A bit old school, Bryan Smith feels that the Mile tracks are the heart of American Flat Track racing.Photo: Andrea Wilson

Smith knows a thing or two about the miles, he’s the modern-day specialist. With 19 wins and counting, Smith sits fifth on the all-time mile win list, behind guys like Ricky Graham, Bubba Shobert, Chris Carr and Scott Parker. He’s come out on top in many a draft war, and those wars are a sight to see. That dance with death looks rather graceful, almost easy to an outsider, but of course there’s a lot more to it.

“Even though it looks so smooth, like the draft passes are easy – even if it’s somebody like myself that’s maybe got more horsepower than other guys – it’s still really sketchy because we’re only dealing with 10 inches of racetrack,” he explained. “That 10 inches is like asphalt and one inch over that is like ice. So it’s not like you just miss your mark and lose a little bit of time; it’s like you miss your mark, you might bust your ass and go through the fence.”

To put it in layman’s terms, Smith said, “It’s almost like riding on a roller coaster track. Obviously the roller coaster is wide open and hooked up and not going anywhere, but if it goes off the track it’s bad news. It’s kind of how the grooves are on the mile, or any flat track, but the miles are exaggerated because they’re so fast.”

Bryan Smith, modern-day mile specialist
Smith (42) is the modern-day mile specialist with 19 AMA Pro Flat Track GNC1 mile wins to his resume.Photo Courtesy of AMA Pro Racing/Brian J Nelson

The miles are special for sure. For a racer and a spectator. The speed. The intensity. The danger… That’s perhaps why they have a bit more status, and perhaps why those old school miles are sacred ground. Anyway you look at it, winning a mile is a big deal, but it means even more to Smith when it’s a place like Springfield or Sacramento. Smith has won plenty of both of those. Including a record six-straight Sacramento Miles.

“I just love the mile,” Smith said. “Sacramento’s pretty special to me. Just the presence of the whole place, it’s legendary. It’s a place that I grew up watching my heroes on ESPN race there. So I always thought when I was a kid, I want to race the Sacramento Mile. It’s like a kid that grows up watching football and says, ‘I want to play in the Superbowl.’ It’s kind of like that. It’s like the Springfield Mile of the west coast, just kind of the home of flat track, I feel like.”

That dream first came true when he turned Pro and got a chance to race the legendary Sacramento Mile (then apart of the Formula USA series). The young kid from Michigan had a little help from another Mile specialist, Willie McCoy, who offered to haul his bike out to California while Smith was in school. The young Smith then hopped on a plane to California to live the dream.

Jared Mees
With two rounds left in 2016, Smith (pictured) looks to sweep the Springfield and Santa Rosa Miles to chase down his rival Mees in the points standings.Photo: Andrea Wilson

“It was really cool for me because it was the first time I left home,” he said. “There was a sold out crowd, he hauls my bike… I was just a kid in a candy store. I’m in Sacramento, California. I still remember to this day standing outside the airport and him pulling up in his box van to pick me up. Go to the race, I’m there by myself. He’s kind of helping me. I won the support class main event and then I fly back home and go to school on Monday. And I still remember nodding off in class. The teachers are like, ‘Wake up! What’d you do this weekend? Why are you so tired?’ I’m like, ‘Well, I went to California…’ That was before the internet and smart phones.”

In the end, that’s why the Sacramento is so special to Smith. It was his first pro race away from home, and he won it. And if it wasn’t for guys like McCoy to help some “punk kid from Michigan” get to the Sacramento Mile and race, maybe there wouldn’t be that carrot hanging out in front of Smith to keep going after that dream of being a Grand National Champion.

Scott Parker
Smith’s role model growing up was the mile-man himself – Scott Parker, pictured here.Photo: Andrea Wilson

But that Mile bug started early. Smith was influenced by the winningest rider in the history of the Grand National Championship – Scott Parker, also the mile-specialist with the all-time mile win record of 55.

“It’s almost like my whole life is based around the miles,” he said. “Because when I was a kid we’d be over Scott Parker’s house cooking out. He and my dad were friends. That’s how I got into flat track. I’d go home and turn on ESPN or watch VHS tapes of it, because that was my time period, there was no DVR. I could watch him at Sacramento or Springfield and here he is on a mile. So when I was a kid if you wanted to be a flat track racer or a champion, you better be good at the miles.”

Grand National Championship crown
Smith is still chasing that Grand National Championship crown, and although the Miles are his game, he’s spent a lot of time working on the Half-Miles and Short Tracks.Photo: Andrea Wilson

It's not that Smith doesn’t like the short tracks or half-miles, the miles just mean more. If you grew up around a guy with broom in his garage with a number plate that says, “the Parker Sweep – ’88, 10-mile wins,” and that guy also has nine Grand National Championship number one plates, you might grow up with a bias towards the miles.

“Nothing against short tracks or half miles, but it’s just like everybody kind of classifies American flat track, any flat track, with the mile events,” he said. “It’s just that much cooler to me. I want to win the miles, just because that is flat track. I always grew up looking at it that way. It didn’t help that Parker was basically family to me. One season there was 10 miles; he won them all. So that was about the time I was getting introduced to flat track, so I was like, well, if I want to be flat track I better learn how to ride the miles.”

He also has a very competitive machine, a modern day flat tracker built by tuner Rick Howerton. But Smith says it’s more than the machine, “A lot of people think, the Kawasaki’s fast, he’s got the better bike, the better team, but it’s like I’ve been kind of bred into being a mile racer almost since I was born.”

Besides breeding, or maybe because of it, his temperament helps with the Miles as well.

Springfield Mile
The Michigan native will be going for his fourth-straight win at the Springfield Mile this weekend.Photo Courtesy of AMA Pro Racing/Brian J Nelson

“I’m just a chill kind of person,” he added. “At the miles, even if you go out there with the mindset that you’re going to be calm it’s hard when the corner’s coming up at 130 [mph] and there’s 10 inches of rubber you’ve got to hit. There’s a million and a half things going through your mind. To keep it on the groove and not panic and go fast… Probably just the maturity, experience, just mindset is something that helps me on the mile.”

For Smith, the history of the sport carries a lot of weight as well, so winning at any of those old school venues, mile or not, means something. And of course the Springfield Mile is always special, he’s won plenty of those, seven to be precise. So since he’s a big mile guy, are there any other miles that are special to Smith? “Just all of them that I win,” he said with a smile.