When you approach it from the outside looking from a distance, it looks like a giant ant hill rising out of the North Carolina clay. It’s imposing and weird at the same time, encircled in fence at the top. It is Oz and you’re here to meet the wizard.
Inside it is more imposing. Red and white, it flashes by, red-white, red-white, red-white, getting ever closer. You are pressed down on your tank by the g-forces, your helmet is buffeting about, you have to keep the throttle pinned, your suspension is sacked, and still it gets closer, turning into a blur as the banking flattens out; Red-white, red-white, red-white, red-white.
It will eat you and your bike, there is nowhere to run, it is unforgiving, until it is inches off your right elbow and you are flying down the back straight. Welcome to Rockingham, North Carolina. Now go do it lap after lap.
This is the reality of racing on banked NASCAR tracks on a motorcycle. Many people do not, and did not, like it. Echoing some of those sentiments, Carl Fogarty – as fearless a racer as ever there was – was quoted in a British publication back in his day as saying he did not like Daytona, that he did not like the walls. I asked him about that at the track and he denied it. I do not know if he was being polite and less than candid, as I was from the American press at the time, or whether he was misquoted. But make no mistake, the walls are a very real hazard and they are unforgiving.
WERA used to race at Rockingham, or its more proper name, North Carolina Motor Speedway, and both WERA and the AMA raced at Pocono International Raceway; they no longer do so. Pocono had its own issues, wide tar strips that would get greasy in the summer on the banks, and a less than billiard-table smooth surface, which could make things as they say, “interesting.” The last thing you want when going 100-plus miles per hour on a banked turn is a battleship plate steel wall or glorified chain link fence that could double as a cheese grater to catch you if things get interesting.
Both Pocono and “The Rock,” were always kind to me, and I loved both tracks, though I crashed at both. I usually did very well at both venues, but I recognized then, as I do now, why some people did not like to race there. In short, there is no room for error, and the cost of an error can be very high. Rockingham would literally eat bikes – if setting them on fire as they slide up to the wall to be demolished, only to slide back to the apron as a ball of Reynolds Wrap constitutes “eating.” If the bike is hitting the wall, you can imagine what the rider is doing.
Which brings me to Daytona.
Let me say from the outset, I love the Daytona 200. The first column I wrote for MO incorporated the Daytona 200 into it. I love the venue, I love the history and the storied track, I love the memories of some of the truly great races held there with names that are legends; I love all of it. The Daytona 200 was always a harbinger of Spring. However, I do not think it would be the end of the world if an American road race series were to go forward without Daytona on the schedule. It is simply a racetrack, and this country has a lot of beautiful honest-to-God road courses.
Bike Week will soldier on just fine without the 200. Let’s face it, much of Bike Week has nothing at all to do with racing, and most of the attendees at Daytona never even see the inside of the track. Bike Week is an iconic affair of its own, and much like the Sturgis and Laconia rallies, it will go on, race or no race.
However, there are more than a few problems with suggesting something like the Daytona 200 simply isn’t necessary anymore, not the least of which is geezers like me and our love of tradition. It is a great event, a fantastic kick-off to the racing season and, once upon a time, was truly an international affair. I’m sure people think back upon those days and would like to see it restored to its former glory again. It was, in short, a very big deal.
That’s all well and good, but we are not living in the days of Kenny Sr. and Freddie, or even Mr. Daytona himself, Scott Russell. It’s 2015. We have multiple venues with truly magnificent facilities that could host the seasonal kickoff and do so with things like runoff areas and airfence. It would be safer for the racers, it would spare the tire companies the cost of tire testing for an anomaly, and racing would go on. We no longer race on the beach at Daytona either, and that seemed to work out pretty well. Things change.
There’s the racers themselves. Look, racers are racers, they will race anywhere. Exhibit A: the Isle of Man. It is, without a doubt, undeniably cool. It is also undeniably nuts. But there isn’t anybody that has ever held a competition license that hasn’t thought, “God, I’d love to grid up for the Isle of Man.” Well? Fine. I loved Rockingham and Pocono too, and always did well at both, but WERA no longer races at either for a reason. So, maybe it is time to reconsider this speedway tradition.
Will guys continue to race at Daytona? Of course they will if some organization keeps ponying up purses. It’s an American icon, much like Bonneville is to land-speed records, but that’s not the point. The point is they don’t need to – it’s not necessary. And with Wayne Rainey’s new crew in charge of the national roadracing series in this country, MotoAmerica, it may be completely unnecessary.
So, we no longer race on the beach, and the day has come when America’s premier series no longer races at Daytona International Speedway. Boardtracks went away, too. Racing will live on just fine. Moving ahead, I hope we make smart decisions.
Ride hard, look through the corner, and stay on the gas.
About the Author: Chris Kallfelz is an orphaned Irish Catholic German Jew from a broken home with distinctly Buddhist tendencies. He hasn’t got the sense God gave seafood. Nice women seem to like him on occasion, for which he is eternally thankful, and he wrecks cars, badly, which is why bikes make sense. He doesn’t wreck bikes, unless they are on a track in closed course competition, and then all bets are off. He can hold a reasonable dinner conversation, eats with his mouth closed, and quotes Blaise Pascal when he’s not trying to high-side something for a five-dollar trophy. He’s been educated everywhere, and can ride bikes, commercial airliners and main battle tanks.