It was kind of a bummer that two-time Daytona 200 winner Danny Eslick didn’t get to race the 200 again this year, but not that big a bummer because I guess I have to number myself among the millions who just don’t much care about the Daytona 200 anymore. Which is an interest the people who run it had to work pretty hard to squash; I remember being hugely excited to go to Florida for the big race, and being amazed all over again every time I rolled through the tunnel and inside that enormous place. Holy cow.

One night I helped the Two Brothers Racing crew change Freddie Spencer’s RC30 engine in a motel room with the bed propped against the wall. (My help consisted of handing Mike Velasco a fresh Bud every 45 minutes or so and SingTFU.) I remember a super nice fresh-faced kid named Josh Hayes introducing himself, in an Olive Garden I think, and thinking this guy is going places. I remember Anthony Gobert’s rear tire blowing up in the last corner in practice, and him rolling into the pits actually scared white, with steel tire cords having whipped the Yamaha’s tailsection into shrapnel.

Thanks to me, Mike, Freddie and the Two Bros RC30 were fresh as a daisy for the 200. Frankly I forget how it turned out, but not that great.

Thanks to me, Mike, Freddie and the Two Bros RC30 were fresh as a daisy for the 200. Frankly I forget how it turned out, but not that great.

In those days, you’d bump into guys like Steve Hislop and other foreign dignitaries who were always up for a chat because to them, you were the exotic one. I remember getting to do a trackday there on an R6, tucking into the draft of a very large man on a Hayabusa, and watching the R6 tach needle sit at 15,500 rpm in top gear for a couple of laps, the screaming Yamaha going probably 15 or 20 mph faster than it ever could on its own power. Daytona was a crazy, unique place and a big deal.

Later, I talked to Kenny Roberts himself in the pits, and he told me Daytona is like no place else in the world, which is true. Here, he said, you’re riding an engine. For most of the lap, you’re not worrying about corners or braking, just getting out of the wind and holding it wide open. True. Like my kid said the other day when he quoted Eleanor Roosevelt: “America is all about speed. Hot, nasty speed.”

Well, that was the old track, of course, that included most of the high banks in every lap. Then came the 600s replacing the superbikes, then came the infield course, that cut out half of the high banking… then the thrill was kind of gone, which was maybe just as well since so was the money and prestige. Chicken or egg?

I’m glad Michael Barnes got to win it this year at least – at a tender 47 years old – and $25,000 beats a pointy stick in the eyeball any day. Kevin Schwantz got $30K in 1988 dollars for his win, though, and a sweet camelhair jacket. Wages, as Bernie would say, have remained stagnant. Today, I wouldn’t inspect that pole-position Rolex too closely…

Eslick, defending Daytona 200 champ and a popular character known for his fondness for a good time, was charged with battery of an officer, a felony – a charge which was then reduced to misdemeanor battery, according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal. Eslick pled no contest to the reduced charge and must “undergo substance abuse evaluation and agree to any treatment if necessary, he is to consume no drugs or alcohol, be subject to urinalysis checks and enter a two-day anger management class.”

Does this look like a man with substance abuse or anger issues? Okay, well maybe it does. But not many people can ride a motorcycle like this. Photo by

Does this look like a man with substance abuse or anger issues? Okay, well maybe it does. But not many people can ride a motorcycle like this. Photo by

Basically it’s all over except for Florida deciding if it’s going to let Eslick phone in once a week from his home in Oklahoma or wherever he might be: “No, I haven’t had a drop, I swear!” Wonder if they could put one of those breathalyzer ignition locks on his race bike?

The AMA, of course, wasted no time determining guilt before declaring Eslick unable to race the 200 (a win would’ve made it a record three in a row), proclaiming that “Participating in professional motorcycle competition is a privilege, not a right, and there is zero tolerance for behavior that is detrimental to the promotion of motorcycling in all its forms.”

I tend to agree with Kevin Cameron, who wrote a while ago that roadracing is an art, and the best riders artists. We used to cut artists a little slack, understanding their creativity was wound up with a certain amount of craziness that required a high-volume ventilation system. Lately, maybe racers are more technicians than artists.

Either way, what pegs my hypocrisy needle is the part where everybody so loves the law and the Constitution and all that, but as soon as those principles are about to help a hapless schmoe out – i.e., innocent until proven guilty – everybody lines up to ignore the law and start tying the noose. Gee, maybe we could wait till the guy’s convicted of a crime to yank his license? We know better than to get into politics here, but I believe the two leading candidates for POTUS both have legal issues hanging over their heads.


Eslick took the high road on Barry Boone’s Radio show, said it was his own fault for screwing up after a year of hard training, that the police have a tough job and he’d never harm one. He also added he’d gotten lots of support from his many fans and, interestingly, from many law enforcement officers. Barry Boone jumped in to agree that the police have it rough, and that the U.S. these days is not a police-friendly place, and how much we all should respect the boys in blue. Mr. Daytona Scott Russell was on the show, too, and went along with the party line all the way up until sharing his story about how he was railroaded by the Daytona PD in 1997 even though he was completely innocent. Wait, what? How did the commie get in the studio?

Does this stuff happen in other countries? I’ve heard plenty of stories over the years (and lived a couple) about the madcap adventures of racers in the old days – including ones about guys like Mike Hailwood not bothering to wait until after they’d won the race to celebrate – but I don’t remember hearing many stories about guys having their seasons or careers ended by being busted by the Man except in the good ol’ USA.

Anthony Gobert may have been the most talented guy I ever saw ride a motorcycle. Obviously he was also a loose cannon, not the best team player, and did apparently enjoy his aftermarket substances. None of it slowed him down much, and I incurred the ire of various authority figures by opining (in semi-jest) that whatever he was smoking, the AMA should attempt to level the field by providing it to everybody else. If the residual effects of whatever was in Gobert’s system were making him ride dangerously, it would’ve been an entirely different matter, but that never seemed to be the case. (Of course if you’re a clean-cut kid like Marc Marquez, feel free to ram at will!)

What did slow AG down eventually were failed drug tests, resultant fallings-out with team owners and sponsors, and finally an alleged DUI in Huntington Beach which ended his Erion Honda ride and career. I don’t know if he was ever found guilty of the DUI or not, but I remember hearing it was a burned-out taillight that led to the stop, put paid to his career and resulted in a one-way ticket back to Palookaville. In the ’90s, about half the people I knew had DUIs in Huntington Beach. (The other half of us had ours in the next town south, Newport Beach.)

Even though Daytona isn’t even on the AMA Pro Roadracing schedule anymore, and even though the AMA gave the roadracing program over to MotoAmerica, the AMA is still the entity that hands out competition licenses, which means Eslick and his TOBC team and new Yamaha R1 Superstock bike remain in limbo with the first real race of the season coming up April 9 at COTA in Texas. Some would call that “behavior that is detrimental to the promotion of motorcycling in all its forms,” but I’ll wait to see how it shakes out.

I take some comfort in knowing at least the AMA’s not making any money off young Danny. Maria Sharapova was suspended from professional tennis and lost her Nike deal after testing positive for meldonium last month, but her branded Nike merchandise was selling like proverbial hotcakes anyway at the BNP Paribas tournament we attended at Indian Wells last weekend (poor thing must need the money). With the AMA’s inability to make motorcycle racing pay, at least you can’t accuse it of profiting from the athletes it hangs out to dry. Which only makes its actual motive for throwing its stars under the bus that much harder to figure out?

Free Danny Eslick!

  • Old MOron

    “Free Danny Eslick!”
    Goddamnit, JB! You’ve done it again.
    You can’t this stuff anywhere else on the Net, folks.

  • kenneth_moore

    I really miss the days when we’d be on our feet the entire race, watching riders like Mladin and Duhamel battle lap after lap. Or hearing about HD desperately trying to rig the rules so their bikes had a chance. The 200 was THE race every rider wanted to win at least once, and THE race we went to every year, no matter what. How they managed to ruin it so thoroughly is beyond me. Maybe someday it will be relevant again, but it’s going to be taken a miracle.

  • Craig Hoffman

    Racers are often flamboyant characters – it comes with the same personality traits that allow them to do what they do. Motorcycle racing would be pretty boring if only pudgy middle aged white guys who are anal about never ever breaking any kind of rule or regulation were allowed to participate.

    As long as he is not drunk, let Eslick race. The AMA should not be in the criminal punishment business. The authorities have already handled that.

    • Ser Samsquamsh

      Are middle aged white people the only demographic capable of restraining themselves from punching cops while in a drugged state?

      • Campisi

        Without independently-supplied video, I’m not necessarily willing to believe the police account of the incident. Cops seem to have thin skin and a vindictive streak these days.

        • Roger Lyle

          The Police recanted his story the next day. He said it was overblown! It has been reduced to a misdemeanor.

      • Craig Hoffman

        Don’t get me wrong. Hitler was a middle aged white guy, and look at all the problems that mofo caused…

  • Sayyed Bashir

    Young people look up to motorcycle racers and athletes as role models. If racers and athletes are openly drinking and doing drugs, they are going to do the same.

    • john burns

      well we need to yank The Great Gatsby from the reading list, then. The guy who wrote the definitive Great American Novel was a terrible lush.

      • Ian Parkes

        Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle…

        • Old MOron

          If you’re going to reference Monty Python, a youtube link is appropriate. Oh well, I’ve got that song stuck in my head now, anyway.

        • Colonel Matumbo

          and hobbes was fond of his dram

          • Ian Parkes

            All together now!

            And Rene Descartes was a drunken fart: “I drink, therefore I am”
            Yes, Socrates himself is particularly missed;
            A lovely little thinker, but a bugger when he’s pissed.

      • Old MOron

        First time I read Gatsby, I didn’t really get it. i was mildly annoyed with myself and with Fitzgerald, and with everyone who had hyped his work.

        Nowadays I don’t expect a masterpiece to reveal itself entirely on the first pass – or even the most recent. As a matter of fact, maybe it’s time to read Gatsby again.

      • John B.

        “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——”

        “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

        Yea, that’s brilliant.

    • Gruf Rude

      Most adults ‘openly drink’ and based on TV ads, a fair number are apparently doing mind-altering drugs prescribed by their physicians. As far as I can tell, Eslick signed on to roadrace motorcycles, not function as a ‘role model’ for young people (a role that more properly ought to be filled by their parents anyway).

      • Sayyed Bashir

        By definition, parents are a generation older than their children. Young people look to accomplished men and women of their own age to be role models. That is the definition of a role model. Whatever Danny signed up to be, to young people he is (or was) a accomplished motorcycle racer, and they look up to him.

        • Colonel Matumbo

          young people look up cuz there short, like you pooki

      • Chocky

        Yes!! thank you…If you are under the care of your parents then THEY are responsible for your actions…If you are of age then YOU are…
        Enough of this ‘I take drugs because daddy didn’t love me enough’

  • dbwindhorst

    Nice piece, JB — really. You’re consistently drawing a line back to Cook Nielsen, et al, and all the other folks who taught me in my youth to appreciate good motojournalism.

  • John B.

    “Participating in professional motorcycle competition is a privilege, not a right, and there is zero tolerance for behavior that is detrimental to the promotion of motorcycling in all its forms.”

    It takes talent to squeeze so many dictatorial phrases into one sentence. Whenever someone tells you something is a privilege and not a right, you’re about to lose that right. Whenever someone espouses “Zero Tolerance” about this or that, they’re saying, “We have ‘Zero’ ability to exercise good judgment.” And, whenever someone pontificates about “behavior detrimental to [insert cause],” they’re saying, “We’re not sure what, if anything, you did wrong, but we’re going to punish you anyway.”

    You hear the same drivel in school disciplinary proceedings…. It’s banal bureaucratic nonsense meant to imitate justice.

    Really good article!

  • Michael

    Nice article… I tend to agree. Let him race. If he’s not broken any race rules, let him race.
    I will also say that “The Go Show” was freakishly fast. I watched him obliterate a high class Australian Superbike field week in week out when he was only a kid (17 I think). He killed them and could have certainly been the best in the world. He was, as we know, his own worst enemy.
    There was only one other guy whom I saw destroy the Australian Superbike field week in week out like Gobert. His name was Mat Maladin… wasn’t a real bad rider either 😉

  • Roger Lyle

    Good piece to read John Burns. I was upset too to see the AMA with it’s limited wisdom press release! Shoot before you verify your target! Guilty before trial! I told the AMA man right before the 200, they made a big mistake and only made it worse by issuing that statement! He respectfully disagreed. The AMA’s job is to promote motorcycling, not highlight a misdemeanor! Why do we have 40,000 spectators at the Daytona Supercross the week before the 200? Why do we have 5000 each night for the Daytona Flat Track? Why do we only have an “estimated 15,000 spectators for the 75th Daytona 200”? Get to work AMA or get out of the business! One more question. Where is the AMA logo on the Daytona 200 and Supercross Credentials?

  • gunny 2shoes

    Police, wanna be one? Constant judgement calls on drunken world renown geniuses or armed delirious trash.

  • Gary

    Three years ago I would agree with Burns 100 percent. It is amazing how your views will change after learning a member of your immediate family is an alcoholic. Does Danny have a problem? It sorta sounds like it. I hope not, because it ruins lives. It ruins families. And, yes … it’s even more important than racing.

  • disqus_9GQw44dyM0

    Always enjoy your stuff Mr. Burns. You make a lot of good points and I certainly was bummed not to see Danny race this year. All that aside; maybe, hopefully, this will get Danny’s attention and help him get to a healthier place for the rest of his life off the bike…which always arrives much quicker for racers than expected.