76th Daytona Bike Week: Coming full circle

By Shadow

Daytona Beach, Fla., Mar. 10–19—In 1937, motorcycle racers took to shores of Daytona Beach for the first-ever Daytona 200 race, which also signaled the beginning of Daytona Bike Week. The popular competition took place along a 3.2-mile strip of sand every year until 1961 when it moved to the Daytona International Speedway.

From the early 1900’s, both Harley-Davidson and Indian Motocycle vied for top points, which translated to more sales, hence the old adage, “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.” The golden age of racing, from 1937 through 1948, saw the Harley vs. Indian wars escalate, with both marques swapping top points from race to race. After 1948, Indian drifted away from the competition scene until finally going out of business in 1953, while Harley continued its points domination well into the 1960s.

It wasn’t until Indian was acquired by Polaris and revealed their 2014 model lineup—the first to roll out of the Spirit Lake plant—that the Harley-Indian rivalry truly picked up steam again. But this time, the competition wasn’t on the track, but on the street, with Indian’s cruisers going head-to-head against those produced by Harley. This year, with the introduction of the revamped and renamed American Flat Track series that kicked off its racing season at Daytona International Speedway, the Harley-Indian wars have come full circle. (Check out THUNDER PRESS contributor Jim Hesketh’s exclusive coverage of the Daytona TT at thunderpressed.wpengine.com/online-exclusives.)

The staff at Dirty Harry’s on Main Street did their best to keep the crowds happyMeanwhile, the on-street war between Harley and Indian was still evident all over Bike Week. On the first night of the rally Indian revealed the Jack Daniel’s Chieftain, designed by Brian Klock in conjunction with Jack Daniel’s. Only 100 were manufactured in this limited series which sold out 10 minutes after being made available to the public the following Monday. Other bikes unveiled included Chieftains customized by Paul Yaffe and Cary Hart, along with the three winning entries from the Project Chieftain dealer contest. Both Indian and Harley-Davidson offered a slew of displays, demo rides, bike shows, owners’ groups events and other rides and activities during Bike Week. Each company marked their respective territories at a number of rally venues, such as the events at Indian Motorcycle Daytona and the Harley-Davidson “takeover” of Dirty Harry’s, Bank & Blues, and the Full Moon where the bar closed on Sunday and Thursday nights for private H.O.G. Rally Rendezvous.

And there were plenty of people in Daytona Beach to take advantage of all the festivities. Conventional wisdom dictates that the year after a rally’s milestone anniversary, as in last year’s 75th, sees much lower attendance, but that did not seem to be the case this time. Many area hotels reported an uptick in reservations over last year’s rally. Maybe it’s because spring break occurred at the same time as this year’s Bike Week, or maybe Hurricane Matthew caused many riders to forego Bikertoberfest last year and instead get their Daytona fix in March. And, this year, St. Patrick’s Day, which fell on the second Friday of the rally, was another impetus for everyone to party hearty.

Both weekends of Bike Week saw sunny skies, warm weather, and big crowds

But whatever the reason, traffic on International Speedway Boulevard was backed up for quite some distance on both weekends as well as certain times during the week while turns into the Speedway and onto I-95 were jammed at peak times. And the intersection at Tomoka Farms Road was clogged with all manner of vehicles on their way to the Daytona Flea Market where Jam-On Productions was hosting its annual swap meet, or to the Cabbage Patch or the Sunshine Chapter AMCA National Meet in New Smyrna, which was where I was headed on the first Saturday. That afternoon, the charming little two-lane wasn’t quite so peaceful anymore.

After spending several hours perusing the antique bikes and the swap meet parts for sale at the Sunshine Meet, I stopped at the Motorcycle Marketplace set up in the parking lot of the Speedway, which was still packed with people even in the late hours of the afternoon. This location, one of the two largest vender venues, is where manufacturers conducted demo rides and parts purveyors displayed and installed their wares. The extensive construction project at the Speedway has finally been completed, leaving plenty of space for both exhibitors and parking.

Warren Lane shows off this antique beauty at his True Grit Vintage Bike Show at Destination Daytona

Destination Daytona, the Ormond Beach location of Bruce Rossmeyer’s Harley-Davidson, was the other major Bike Week vendor location, offering much entertainment during the rally. Merchants were set up in every nook and cranny of the spacious property, and included major manufacturers that offered product installs while you shopped, dined, drank, or watched one of the shows that were part of the week-long Southern Revival Concert Series. Five custom motorcycle shows also took place during the rally, and the two we saw were Warren Lane’s True Grit pre-’77 Bike Show on the first Sunday, and the Perewitz Paint Show on Wednesday, both of which offered some eye-catching customs.

We also spent a considerable amount of time on and around Main Street since our digs were within easy walking distance. A new rally venue right around the corner was the Full Throttle Vendor Showcase at the Ocean Center on A1A. There was a respectable showing of vendors and we did find some interesting new products on display. With free admission, free beer at 1:00 p.m. every day, and other giveaways, how could you go wrong? And the Rockpack series on the opening Saturday and Sunday nights of the rally saw big names from the 60’s and 70’s, including Iron Butterfly as well as members of Boston, Toto, Sha Na Na and The Hollies. The Ocean Center hasn’t played a part in Bike Week since the International Motorcycle Show series pulled out of Daytona several years ago, so seeing the facility in use again was a welcome addition to the rally.

There were thrills and spills aplenty during the Concrete Clash on the Coast races at the Ocean Center Arena

Most of Main Street, however, doesn’t change much from year to year. We love the wet T-shirt contests at Dirty Harry’s, the Boardwalk Bike Show on Friday, the Razorbacks making their annual pilgrimage to play the Bank & Blues all week, Jasmine Cain on the outdoor stage at the Full Moon Saloon, the crowds at Froggy’s and the Boot Hill Saloon, and our favorite beer tub girl, Daytona Tie at the Main Street Station. Just across the Main Street Bridge, Beach Street was lined with vendors, while across the street, in the back lot of Indian Motorcycle Daytona Beach, the venerable Rat’s Hole Custom Bike Show celebrated its 45th year.

But most of the action happens well away from Main and Beach Streets, at places where spring breakers don’t generally venture. Between Daytona and Ormond Beach, lining both sides of US-1, is a corridor of saloons; the Broken Spoke which was in full swing after the destruction Hurricane Matthew brought last October, the Hog Pen, the second Boot Hill Saloon location, and across the street Wild Bill’s and the Iron Horse Saloon where I spent several hours late one afternoon. While there I happened upon a David Allan Coe performance which made my day. At 77, this grizzled outlaw country singer still draws huge and appreciative crowds.

Also appearing at the Iron Horse were the California Hell Riders, who we watched as they dipped and dived around the Wall of Death. In fact, there were four more Walls of Death scattered at four other locations during the rally: Wild Wheels Wall of Death was at the Jam-On Swap Meet, Rhett Rotten performed at Destination Daytona, Ives Brothers circled the barrel at the Speedway, and we saw the American Motordrome trick riders master their Wall at the Fastlane Swap Meet at the Volusia County Fairgrounds. Having five Walls of Death—and I believe there are only five currently in operation across the entire U.S.—at a single rally may have been some sort of record, and we’re delighted to see once again the rise in popularity of this historic and breathtaking form of entertainment.

The American Motordrome family’s Wall of Death was set up at the Fastlane Promotions swap meet

The American Flat Track series opener at the Speedway wasn’t the only new race in Daytona this year. Billy Lane’s long-awaited Sons of Speed Vintage Motorcycle Race took place at the New Smyrna Speedway on March 18 before a sizable and enthusiastic crowd (I arrived just in time for the final race), and the IV League’s Concrete Clash on the Coast was held inside the Ocean Center Arena the day before, at which I arrived just in time for the finals. These races were also tons of fun, as spectators were seated fairly close to the Dr. Pepper syrup-coated concrete surface, thereby getting a front seat to the thrills and spills in the Hooligan class. But it could have been promoted better; we only found out about it a few days prior, and many rally goers didn’t hear about it at all.

Willie’s Tropical Tattoo Chopper Time bike show has, for most of us, been a go-to event for both Bike Week and Biketoberfest, and one that we thoroughly enjoy. But this year, there were some new kids on the block. On the rally’s second Saturday, right after the 2nd annual Biltwell Bash at Robison’s Cycle in Daytona Beach, was the Lowdown Hoedown at Hold Fast Tattoo in Port Orange. This was a very cool grassroots event that included homebuilt choppers, some cool vendors, and a fun, friendly crowd. Too late, I learned about two other events that took place the day before: the Nash Motorcycle Ride & Skate starting at the Broken Spoke and riding to an alligator farm and two skate parks, and the first-ever Boogie East Chopper Show for 1984-and-earlier motorcycles at Annie Oakley’s Saloon in Ormond Beach.

Although the opening and closing weekends of the rally saw perfect weather with temps reaching the 70s and 80s, the mercury didn’t rise much about the low 60s from Monday through Thursday. Still, only two days saw a bit of rain, and for this gal who left the Northeast just before a blizzard, the Daytona Beach weather seemed like summer. The resurrected interest in racing, vintage bikes, and grassroots gatherings is a growing phenomenon that seems to be drawing all aspects of our culture, giving rise to one of the best Bike Weeks in years. With the proliferation of these types of exciting activities, the grand old dame of Daytona just might rediscover her youth. 

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