An Ode to the Daytona of Yesteryear

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In remembrance of crowded beaches and great road races

Daytona beach bike week annual

I first went to daytona bike week in 1980, and while I haven't attended every year's edition I've been to more than I've missed. Back then, the major attraction for me was the road racing. Daytona was an international event, and teams and fans came from all over the world to compete, and enjoy the competition and the weather.

Sometime in the 1980s the focus of the event shifted from racing to partying/showing/selling/buying mostly American V-twins. Bit by bit, road racing diminished as the primary reason for attending Daytona, and I guess I can understand that. The overwhelming force in the industry was powered by sales of Harley-Davidsons, and the focus of the event shifted to cater to the needs of this new audience. In spite of the shift, Daytona Beach still remained center stage for its namesake racing event.

NOT WANTED

A few years ago, friends who are natives of Daytona Beach and who still live close by in New Smyrna Beach told me that Daytona was working hard to push the motorcyclists out of town, as they had pushed out the spring-breakers several years earlier. Daytona Beach felt it didn't need the nuisance, noise and traffic that the event generated, even though the rally and races reportedly brought more cash into town than any other single event.

Well, Daytona seems to have succeeded in doing just that. A ride down Highway A1A, the main drag along the beach, is pretty easy with not much bike traffic. Years ago you had to book a room well in advance; this year there were plenty of vacancy signs on hotels and motels along the beach. Trolling Main Street either on foot or by bike is still an exercise in patience, but it's about the only place left that has the kind of human/machine density you used to be able to find all over Daytona.

I think there are still enormous numbers of people riding (and trailering) to the event, but Daytona Beach isn't necessarily their destination. Sub-events have sprouted up like acne on a teenager — bikers are now welcomed and catered to in St. Augustine, Deland, New Smyrna, Ormond Beach, Orlando, and other towns in the greater Daytona area.

MISH-MASH RUN

The Speedway itself is still a draw, featuring a mix of V-twin aftermarket exhibitors in a tent city on the northeast corner, and Japanese and European OEMs exhibiting their latest products and offering test rides on the northwest corner. The corners are separated by the NASCAR Experience building, and a tent housing about a half-dozen odds-and-ends vendors.

The racing? That's kind of a sideshow now. The road races have ratcheted down from being an international event to a Superbike event, and now the once-famed Daytona 200 is kind of a mish-mash run, with 600cc four-cylinders to 1000cc twins competing. Superbikes have been relegated to a sort of "support race" restricted to the infield track. (The Supercross however, still does quite well, as it does at every venue it appears.)

International Speedway Drive is still flush with bike traffic. I'm not sure where they're going, but Harleys rumble back and forth in significant numbers. Sportbikers scream through the more staid Harley riders, making some ridiculous and dangerous moves as they weave through traffic.

Bruce Rossmeyer's sprawling Destination Daytona complex off of Highway 1 and I-95 has become the mecca for any V-twin rider making the pilgrimage to Florida. Getting into the parking lot can be a half-hour ordeal at certain times of the day, but if you've planned everything correctly you really never have to leave. There's everything on site you could possibly want: a hotel, restaurants, a Triumph and Ducati dealership, and the landmark Harley-Davidson dealership. Plus there all kinds of vendors selling everything from sunglasses and earplugs to wheels, sound systems and fairings, and enough T-shirt sellers to outfit residents in every town along the entire Eastern Seaboard in Bike Week sartorial splendor.

The sportbike crowd shows up here and there, but it's changed a lot over the years. The bikes aren't copies of what's going to be seen on the track over the weekend; rather, they're Hayabusas, Ninjas, and R1s that have been "slammed," stretched, chromed, blown and fitted with a tire as wide as a first-episode Biggest Loser contestant. Some riders are tricked out with full leathers and a leather vest over that, declaring their club affiliation. Where these guys hang out I don't exactly know, but it's definitely a younger crowd than the ones piloting Harleys.

Daytona Beach, as a place to hang out, seems to have disappeared. Oh, all the elements are still around, but they're not as focused as they used to be. Maybe the town fathers succeeded in pushing the activity out of Daytona Beach, or maybe the event just got too big. For me? It was OK. No long lines while waiting to get into restaurants (or anyplace else, for that matter). And I ended up watching the race on a big screen at a friend's house on Ponce Inlet while enjoying a good, cold beer.

Mike Vaughan is the former publisher of Dealernews. You can reach him at mvaughan@mikevaughan.com or via editors@dealernews.com .