Old standbys give way to modern marques
Daytona Beach, Fla., Mar. 9–18—Daytona Bike Week started as a beach race, and it still marks the official beginning of many different race seasons. It is more than that, though. Builders race to finish bikes to debut at the many bike shows, companies race to launch new products, and consumers race around trying to experience all the sights and sounds Daytona has to offer. Daytona Bike Week typically spans two weekends, and this year was no different. The first weekend is for the dirt racers and also for the Southeast’s weekend warriors, who can’t come for the whole week but want to experience as much Bike Week action as they can.
This year’s first Saturday featured an unsanctioned Main Street pub crawl lead by former pro motocross racer and entrepreneur Carey Hart. Many amateurs felt they had what it took to keep up with the pros as they sampled the goods at all the watering holes up and down Main Street. They left with only a few foggy memories and social media posts as a reminder of the fun they’d had.
The week started off cooler than normal, dipping below freezing a few nights, with days warming into the 60s and 70s. As the week wore on, riders who rolled down to the Sunshine State were rewarded with ideal upper 70-degree days and evenings the mostly air-cooled engines loved but that required layers and sometimes a stout jacket for even the hardiest of riders.
Speaking of Main Street, it has had a resurgence in popularity, fueled in part by Indian Motorcycle and their double-decker display. In addition to Indian’s standard line-up, the display came complete with the newest Limited Edition Jack Daniels Indian Scout, a Hooligan racer Scout, Carey Hart’s tricked-out sidecar Indian Chieftain and the newest addition to the Indian line-up, the sparkly 116-inch fire-breathing Chieftain. It was refreshing to see Indian put forth that much effort to engage customers and educate them about the brand.
The majority of the racing action, and many other events, happened out at the Daytona International Speedway. I was invited to a press launch for Arai helmets, and I even got to make some hot laps on the short track with coaching by pro flat tracker Johnny Lewis. Some of the bikes at our disposal were well beyond my riding ability, but a blast nonetheless.
During the day, the Speedway is a hive of activity, with all the major motorcycle manufacturers offering test rides, multiple bike shows and a ton of consumer-based vendors that encourage installs and experiential opportunities. Polaris proffered hot laps with professional Slingshot drivers through a coned course that would make even the strongest of stomachs turn, but most riders came out all smiles, albeit a little dizzy from the drifting. The Speedway also serves as the hub for everything Harley-Davidson corporate activates during the rally. It is the official pit stop, showcasing all their current models—including the new 48 Special and 1200 Iron—as well as a police skills demonstration, racing history displays, the Harley Jumpstart program, and demonstrations by the all-Harley stunt team Ill Conduct.
The American Flat Track TT race was held on the interior of the speedway, and it had a good crowd, ready to see the high-flying, dangerously fast race that only a TT can showcase. The 2018 race did not disappoint: we saw lots of crashes, the fierce Indian–Harley rivalry and some spectacularly skilled riding. At one point, during the Twins race, a rider broke his entire swingarm clean off and stuck the landing as his wheel, with half the swingarm attached, bounced across the track. 2017 champion and Indian factory rider Jared Mees took the win with JD Beach on a Yamaha finishing second and Henry Wiles coming in third on a Kawasaki. The Singles class had just as much action and crowned Dan Bromley as the winner, Jesse Janisch in second place and Shane Narbonne in third.
The Speedway also played host to the first Baddest Bagger competition at the new Chevrolet gate location. Hosted by Paul Yaffe’s Bagger Nation, the competition saw over 130 baggers of all shapes and sizes and crowned DA Performance Baggers as the Baddest Bagger Daytona 2018. There were plenty of big-wheel baggers but also a handful of tasteful, rideable entries that were tricked out and showed a lot of craftsmanship.
Willie’s Tropical Tattoo Chopper Time bike show, which has become a Daytona institution known for their no-nonsense take on what they consider to be show-worthy motorcycles, is the antithesis of the Baddest Bagger show. Founded over 15 years ago, when people stopped to admire Jeff Cochran and Donny Loos’s custom machines, Willie’s old-school chopper show has now grown into a huge event that supports veterans’ charities and prides itself on still offering $2 beers and $1 waters. Over 130 bikes were featured in this show as well, so there were a lot of machines to admire while taking in live music and seeing some of the top builders in the game.
Beach Street played home to a lot of vendors and bike shows, and Indian Motorcycle Daytona had their own bike show, demo location, sound competition, V8 parade and the Rat’s Hole Custom Bike Show. The traffic was stiff and a touch somber when the Beach Street performance institution, Carl’s Speed Shop, had their going-out-of-business sale. The shop was a living monument to all things performance-related, and I took the time to peruse the archival history housed there, hoping it will find its way into a museum someday. This is purported to be the last year that Beach Street will be open to vendors as there is redevelopment proposal that will prohibit vendors and typical Bike Week activity.
The Perewitz Paint show was held on Beach Street as well and featured a record number of contestants showing off their painting talents. They had handmade trophies provided by Dave Perewitz and daughter Jody as well as airbrushes provided by SATA for the painters, which is what makes this show so unique. They offer the painter the prize so he or she can be rewarded for all the hard work put into a custom paint job.
A newer event, Boogie East, was a chopper-based show for pre-1983 motorcycles held at Annie Oakley’s out near Destination Daytona. There you could find some great examples of newer-generation craftsmen and their work, as well as some stellar entertainment provided by The Outbound Train and Lulu Van Tuckett. It fell on the day before St. Patrick’s Day, but that didn’t matter—I still found plenty of people embracing the pre-holiday spirit to its fullest. It was great to see new events like this one take place and thrive thanks to the guys at Chemical Candy Customs and a few enthusiastic chopper riders and builders. This was only the show’s second year, and I expect next year to be even bigger.
The week wrapped up with two polar-opposite races: the Daytona 200 and the Sons of Speed Vintage Race. The Daytona 200 couples the best technology has to offer with some of the top riders in the inaugural race of the year. Danny Eslick once again outpaced his competitors and took top honors in the 56-lap race. On the same day, at New Smyrna Speedway, riders battled it out on 100-year-old motorcycles in three separate classes. Founded by Billy Lane of Choppers Inc., the Sons of Speed Vintage Race encompasses the spirit of early board-track racing and highlights the camaraderie essential to putting on a vintage race of this magnitude. To really appreciate the thrill of watching these 100-year-old bikes fly by at over 80 mph you have to see it in person.
Billy and his wife Erin Lane have put together a grassroots event that is the highlight for many because of the spirit and enthusiasm with which they run it. When you see the community spirit involved in this event, you realize the term “race” doesn’t really do it justice. There is definitely a winner, though, and, in this case, it was vintage expert Matt Walksler of Period Modified, but the real competition is internal—rider melding with machine to get the best performance out of an ancient contraption with no clutch or brakes and having the stones to race it to its maximum potential.
Daytona Bike Week once again proved to be action packed with more racing, shows and events than ever. Nothing compares to Daytona for knocking the frost off the bikes, seeing what builders created over the winter and if racers improved their game. With Daytona 2018 in the books we get to look forward to a full American Flat Track schedule, Sons of Speed races in Sturgis and numerous bike shows throughout the U.S. If Daytona is just the precursor to the season, we are in for a great one with riders returning to the roots of racing and bike builders pushing the envelope with every creation. 2018 is poised to be a hallmark year.