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.
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.”
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!