Although the fat lady hasn’t yet sung – she’ll take the stage Saturday at 1:00 pm in the form of the Daytona 200 – the 75th Daytona Bike Week has begun to wind down. When you actually sit back to think about it, the event is really quite something. If you attend it, you know that Bike Week is something else – in the best sense of the phrase.
Last weekend, Bike Week’s racing kicked off with Eli Tomac taking the 450SX win while Jeremy Martin notched the 250SX podium at Daytona Supercross. This weekend, the 200 will provide the closing. In between, Bike Week is an orgy of motorcycle mayhem, ranging from bike shows to swap meets to concerts to the infamous Main Street.
Daytona Bike Week grew from humble roots, springing forth from the Daytona 200 race on January 24, 1937. While the roadracing event currently takes place on the road course inside the updated-for-2016 Daytona International Speedway, the original course was a 3.2-mile track that used both the beach and pavement. The debut race was won by the famed Ed Kretz who lapped the entire field aboard an Indian Sport Scout on his way to a 73.34 mph average speed for the race. The race continued using the Daytona Beach Course until after 1947.
Those who have wondered what curious math makes 2016 the 75th running of the Daytona 200 – and, hence, Bike Week – will have their OCD tendencies satisfied by the fact that the 200 was canceled from 1942–1946 because of WWII. In 1948, the Beach Course was lengthened to 4.1 miles where it remained until the event moved to the International Speedway’s course in 1961.
Although many Bike Week attendees have almost no idea that there is a historical race taking place at the Speedway, it continues to provide plenty of drama for roadracing fans – both on and off the track. This year defending, two-time consecutive 200 winner Danny Eslick found himself disqualified from racing for the foreseeable future because of a run-in with police on Main Street earlier this week. Other racers have had their Bike Week plans altered through mishaps prior to the race, most notably Scott “Mr. Daytona” Russell, who missed the 1999 Daytona 200 after having his cheekbone broken in a fight at the notorious Razzles bar.
Despite the Eslick drama, qualifying for the 200 has been completed with Geoff May of Sugar Hill, Georgia, winning a second-straight Daytona 200 pole position today. Just outside the high banking of the speedway’s Turns 1 and 2, the second night of flat track racing will take place this evening, and it still ranks as one of the best entertainment values of the entire week. Last night, the RSD Superhooligan racers took to the AMA Flat Track, and tonight the AMA Flat Track Series will provide the bar-to-bar entertainment.
Other forms of competition are also one of the mainstays of Bike Week. Bike shows from British/European to vintage to full-on customs fill the calendar of Bike Week. Perhaps the most famous is the Rats Hole taking place on the Saturday the 12th. The Rats Hole show is one of the most popular shows around, and just so happens to be one of the oldest, too.
As Daytona Bike Week has smoothed off some of its rough edges over the last couple of decades, its role in OEMs getting new models in front of the riding public in an environment has grown steadily in importance. Although there were a few growing pains, this year, as riders had to learn the new routes into the vendor area in front of the upgraded Daytona International Speedway, the response from most was positive. The midway’s demo ride options were: Can-Am/BRP, Harley-Davidson, Honda, Kawasaki, Polaris (Indian, Slingshot, Victory), Suzuki, and Yamaha. Other smaller vendors, like Royal Enfield, set up demo areas in various places around Daytona. In many cases, the reservations for the vehicles were filled quite early, making sleeping in a risky proposition if you wanted to test ride a motorcycle.
With the media and public in attendance, Bike Week offers manufacturers of all sizes the opportunity to reveal its newest models to throngs of moto enthusiasts. For example, Arch Motorcycle Company chose to debut its KRGT–1 at Bruce Rossmeyer’s Destination Daytona during Bike Week. Last week, Victory and Indian unleashed the Octane and the Springfield, respectively.
Along with the bikes from the OEMs, Bike Week offered fans the chance to meet the factory riders in a variety of events. Suzuki hosted a lunch for all Suzuki racers at the track in Daytona along with RCH Racing Factory Team sponsor Jimmy Johns. Honda made its Honda Supercross Red Riders available for autographs the night before the Supercross event at the beginning of Bike Week.
Despite all the commercial and racing events taking place during Bike Week, the heart of Daytona resides in the masses of people who come to celebrate their love of motorcycling by riding (Yes, there are tons of places to ride to around Daytona – just not many curves.), eating, riding, eating some more, and hanging out with other motorcyclists swapping stories (some of them true). Of course, music, drinking, and acting tough are part of the scene, too, but if you pause to look at the attendees while they putt through traffic or walk around, they’re having a good time.
That’s what keeps us going to Daytona about a dozen times, now. You can bet that by the time the 76th Daytona Bike Week rolls around, we’ll be working up a “business” plan for spending the entire week covering the event once again.