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75th annual Daytona Bike Week: Picture-perfect party

By Robert Filla

Daytona Beach, Fla.,, Mar. 5–13—While most of the country is pretty much clueless concerning the biker lifestyle, apparently Mother Nature is not only understanding but also compassionate with the rider’s need to shake off the winter doldrums. And the first of March this year, dear Mother showed just how much she likes a good party by unleashing ample sunshine, record temperatures and mild breezes during the entire 75th anniversary of Daytona Bike Week. From beginning to end, this celebration was pampered by some of the best weather conditions in anyone’s memory.

From stockers to full-blown customs, and everywhere between, Daytona is the time for riders to embrace the new riding season

From stockers to full-blown customs, and everywhere between, Daytona is the time for riders to embrace the new riding season

With the improving economy and low gas prices combining with the projected weather forecast, estimated attendance figures soared to a possible 500,000 for the 75th. And while you might mentally prepare for such numbers, the impact was most staggering at two locations, Destination Daytona and the Daytona International Speedway. Destination Daytona was host to a huge influx of vendors stretching into and filling every available trailer space and cubbyhole and remains one of the most visited locales during Bike Week with a vast number of accents being heard covering a broad spectrum of the motorcycling world. Even after a steady three-hour walking tour, I never made it to the back lots where I was told almost half the vendors were located. A full day, lots of energy and good footwear were required to see it all.

Destination relabeled their 35,000-square-foot Coca-Cola Pavilion this year with the moniker Jesters Live. This open-air, covered pavilion featured live music and vendors during the day at no charge along with national headliners Buckcherry, Blackberry Smoke, Marshall Tucker Band and the Charlie Daniels Band appearing in gated concerts during the first and last weekends. On Sunday, March 6, the 2nd annual True Grit Vintage Bike Show was held at Jesters Live and was free to the public. Then on Wednesday, a selected team of custom painters served as judges for the 2nd annual Dave Perewitz Ultimate Motorcycle Paint Show that featured awards for best candy, best pearl, best color, graphics and flames. This show was also free to the public.

The quite nervous (and quite beautiful) Erica from Pennsylvania stated, “I’ve never done anything like this before” as she posed for the lens at the Broken Spoke

The quite nervous (and quite beautiful) Erica from Pennsylvania stated, “I’ve never done anything like this before” as she posed for the lens at the Broken Spoke

The Les Paul Foundation has a huge mission and vision, all geared for the next generation of musicians. It awards grants to music, music engineering and sound programs, establishes music-related scholarships, provides medical grants for research related to hearing impairment and supports public exhibits of Les Paul’s achievements. Such an exhibit was on display at Jesters Live this year where they were giving away a custom-built Les Paul-themed Shovelhead on Saturday night and also signing people up on a petition supporting a Les Paul postage stamp.

The inaugural Rallies of the World (ROW) was also under the covered pavilion on Monday and Tuesday featuring a dozen or so rally promoters showcasing their events to the public. At their booths you could pick up flyers that provided details of each rally, maps that covered the areas surrounding the rally and even qualify for free passes at several. According to Shelly Rossmeyer Pepe, GM of Destination Daytona and Daytona Harley-Davidson, Jesters Live will be hosting concerts and live events throughout the year, providing a “destination for adults to play and enjoy the entire year.” And the 75th was an excellent time for the grand opening of this new venue.

A fiery nighttime performance at Main Street Station

A fiery nighttime performance at Main Street Station

The massive renovation at the Daytona International Speedway was completed in time for this year’s Daytona 500, which allowed time for any bugs to be worked out before Bike Week. The makeover can hardly be considered “remodeling” since the cost was a staggering $400 million. The project was called Daytona Rising and while the history of Nascar and racing remains, the modern upgrades are stunning. Five expanded and redesigned entrances (they refer to them as “injectors”) lead to a series of 40 escalators and 14 elevators that take patrons to three different concourse levels, labeled “neighborhoods.” The Speedway now has more than 101,000 permanent seats plus twice as many restrooms and three times as many concession stands as before. (More than 30 acres of drywall were needed to complete the project.) The front facade includes huge graphics depicting racing scenes adjacent to the track marquee. Construction during the last few years had crammed all vendors at the east end alongside Midway Avenue. With the project’s completion, the entire front stretch is fully open for business and it was quite busy with hundreds of vendor booths interspersed between the huge displays of major manufacturers. This is where Harley invested heavily, presenting displays that included Thunder Alley, demo rides, a few prime classics from the H-D Museum, a spacious MotorClothes Quonset hut, a Wall of Death and food court. Both Victory and Indian also ran their demo fleet from the front paddock of the Speedway. The main point of entry for motorcycles is now the Bill France entrance and, while one might be tempted to park at the first lot reserved for “motorcycles only,” my advice is to ride on a bit further since this newly-opened section is almost a mile in length—park early, walk far.

Whether profiling on a bike or watching those profiling, Main Street during Bike Week remains an iconic, bucket list must-do

Whether profiling on a bike or watching those profiling, Main Street during Bike Week remains an iconic, bucket list must-do

Racing at the Speedway included Supercross, the AMA Flat Track Series and ended with the Daytona 200 on the last Saturday of Bike Week. In keeping with the rally’s rough ’n’ tumble reputation, defending two-time consecutive 200 winner Danny Eslick was suspended from racing this year after a dust-up with police on Main Street that resulted in his arrest earlier in the week (not all the rowdies ride Harleys, apparently). And in an ironic twist, this year the oldest rider ever to win the Daytona 200 was Michael Barnes, age 47. Barnes came out of retirement in 2014 and beat the previous record of oldest rider to win the 200 set in 1971 by Dick Mann at the tender age of 36. This stunning upset was the perfect conclusion to celebrate 75 years of Daytona motorcycle racing.

Not surprisingly, Beach Street continued to be a major draw during the 75th with more vendors and big rigs than ever packing into Riverfront Park along the Halifax River. Others requiring less space chose to hawk their wares in back lots across the street. But no matter which side of Beach Street you were on, it was abuzz with activity. While big-wheel baggers, ear-splitting sound systems and innovative air suspension kits seemed to dominate the venue, there were plenty of other vendors offering more modest items ranging from custom grips to engine bling. The Indian Motorcycle dealership was the hub of Beach Street, constantly packed with customers interested in seeing the company’s latest model that was unveiled during Bike Week, the Springfield. Their back lot was also filled with independent vendors and featured a total of seven bike shows held throughout the week culminating with the 44th world-famous Rat’s Hole Bike Show on Saturday, March 12. All seven shows were free to the public.

Pooch seems perfectly happy with his doggy kennel on wheels

Pooch seems perfectly happy with his doggy kennel on wheels

One such show was the V8 Motorcycles Show. Both two- and three-wheeled V8-powered bikes assembled at the dealership on Friday, March 11. They left in formation for a parade ride at 1:00 p.m., rumbling across the Halifax and up Main Street, taking a left onto North Atlantic Avenue… well, almost. One block before reaching Atlantic, a lone rider decided he wanted out of the parade and took a right on Coates Street. And the remainder of a long line of V8 motorcycles followed right behind him—almost half the total group. It took several minutes for traffic security to frantically redirect the riders in the proper direction and catch up with the first half, headed north and now out of sight. Eventually they all ended up back at the Beach Street Indian dealership for the afternoon bike show.

Main Street remains a carnival. And it once again lived up to expectations for the 75th with continuous profiling by the ultra-cool and strangely weird. While the street was constantly packed with everything from high-end baggers and ratbike choppers to a three-wheeled boat (complete with outboard motor, alligator and seaweed), the sidewalks were shared by the scantily clad, tattooed and mohawked and the occasional exotic reptile or bird. And while barhopping on Main is a favored way to pass some time, it must be approached as a marathon and not a sprint. With an establishment serving up adult libations about every 50 feet, on both sides of the street from the river to A1A, it’s quite easy to lose an entire day exploring from barstool to barstool. Toss in the abundance of T-shirt, jewelry and motorcycle accessory vendors and you can quickly spend a major part of your Daytona budget in a mere seven blocks. While lots off both sides of Main offer easy access to the action (at $5 per bike; no re-entry), as always, parking along Main is still a highly-valued commodity.

With the $400-million renovation project complete at the Speedway, the venue is perfectly poised for the next 75 years of Daytona motorcycle racing

With the $400-million renovation project complete at the Speedway, the venue is perfectly poised for the next 75 years of Daytona motorcycle racing

Traffic problems were made worse in one instant when on Friday afternoon, two Daytona motor officers tied up the intersection of Main and Peninsula with a sport-bike rider they had pulled over. With lights flashing and the cop bikes partially blocking the street, their stop caused bikes and four-wheeled traffic to negotiate between traffic cones and the offending motorcycles. Although police presence during the week had appeared light, Friday seemed to ramp up with police walking four abreast down Main at times. With larger crowds during the 75th, there was an increase in problems with officers issuing 1,049 citations and making 398 arrests. While most citations were for revving engines (really?), the majority of arrests were due to fights, disorderly conduct and possessing open containers of alcohol.

The weather continued to bless Daytona Bike Week though the final weekend. The result was a continued influx of new arrivals and those already there staying till the end, not wanting to desert the party too soon. On the last Saturday afternoon, traffic heading east from Beach Street to Main Street was backed up for ¾ of the bridge’s length.

This topless lass was quite busy tending the beer bar in front of Destination Daytona— can’t even imagine why

This topless lass was quite busy tending the beer bar in front of Destination Daytona—can’t even imagine why

So did the 75th annual Daytona Bike Week hit that magic half-million mark? That’s almost impossible to determine accurately since the rally encompasses many related events throughout the Volusia and Flagler area. Was it the “biggest, best ever” as predicted by many officials? That’s up to personal opinion. But one thing cannot be denied: all the conditions were perfect, ripe for one hell of a 75-year blowout, possibly the grandest Bike Week in history. So with everything on tap, if you couldn’t find a good time, there’s no one to blame but you.

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