Once a year, Don Flaner travels across the country for a one-of-a-kind project – oversight of the construction of the DAYTONA Monster Energy Supercross track.
Flaner has made the trek from northern California to the “World Center of Racing” since 1989, using his background in commercial construction to ensure that the multi-step process of building a Supercross track creates a new and exciting fan experience each year.
Supercross legend Ricky Carmichael has designed the track for the past 11 seasons, and works closely with Flaner from concept to execution.
“It usually takes three months off and on, because it goes back and forth,” Flaner says. “I will draw the road course in, and in general what Ricky would like to see. He’ll come back a few times, make some changes between us, and then he takes that and fills in where all the jumps go. That comes back to me and we walk through it.”
Although he has been visiting Daytona International Speedway for over two decades, his first few visits were “just for fun,” Flaner says. In 2004, he began a formal role overseeing the construction of the track, and a few years later took over sole responsibility of managing the implementation from start to finish.
With just a few short weeks between the end of the DAYTONA 500 and the beginning of Bike Week, Flaner and his team waste no time getting started.
“One of the things I find exciting is Monday morning after the DAYTONA 500, I’m standing out there on that grass – I’m it,” Flaner says. “I’m just out there, right? I dig the first hole.”
Bright and early following the conclusion of “The Great American Race,” Flaner goes to the “ballfield” and begins to paint the outline of the Supercross track, marking the location of jumps and obstacles, even writing a number into the turf to let the construction crew know how many truckloads of dirt are needed to build each jump. Some of the larger jumps can take up to 16 truckloads of dirt to build, while the average “whoop” section requires roughly one truckload for each bump.
Originally built around the iconic DAYTONA logo, the desire for a different track design each year – and the need for more space to do so – eventually won out and Flaner was allowed to utilize the entire field.
“We had to put a rope around (the logo), it couldn’t be touched,” Flaner recalls. “I guess that went through until I started and they wanted to make some changes to the track. I said, ‘The only way I can do that (is to build over the whole field).’
“After a few months, they called me back and said ‘OK.’”
To construct the course, Flaner works in conjunction with Bomber Built – owned by three-time motocross champion Mark Barnett – to move nearly 300 truckloads of dirt into the stadium, fill in the outline drawn by Flaner and sculpt it into the final shape of the track.
“Once the track is sculpted, I go back and I build the starting gate run and make sure we’ve got enough room in the first turn to keep it as safe as possible,” he says. “We’ve got 22 guys going very fast that are going to make that hard left turn – and this year, it’s a very hard turn – it’s not a sweep like we usually have. It’s something different we’re trying.”
Also new this year, the course runs “backwards,” which for Supercross at DAYTONA means moving clockwise rather than the typical counter-clockwise run.
Conceptualization of each year’s track begins immediately – Flaner, Carmichael, Barnett and the DAYTONA staff meet the day after the DAYTONA Monster Energy Supercross race to lay out plans and discuss changes they would like to see implemented in the future.
(A portion of last year's 2017 DAYTONA Monster Energy Supercross track diagram)
“Mark and Ricky were talking in our meeting, both of them had been thinking about running it the opposite direction for a few years,” Flaner says.
Up for the challenge, Flaner and the team decided to build the starting gate portion of the track differently to allow space for the first turn and the direction of the course.
“We had to bring the start out about 40 feet onto pit road. Everybody approved, and that’s how we made that first turn backwards. With Supercross, the fans like to see change. It’s really important.”
Once the track has been laid out and the starting gate put in place, Flaner oversees the installation of other elements, including 647 Tuff Blox, track lighting, and the Monster Energy finish line structure.
He will then walk the track for over an hour, looking to eliminate any shadows cast onto the course that may distract the riders while racing at over 40 miles per hour.
A successful rider himself, Flaner has been racing motocross as well as mountain bicycles since 1987. That experience makes him uniquely qualified to work with some of the biggest names in the sport to oversee the track at DAYTONA.
For Flaner, racing has always been a family affair.
“My son unfortunately got me into it,” he says with a laugh. “It’s really a great sport. It’s a really family-oriented sport. If you have child in it, you have to be there.”
When his son outgrew motorcycle racing, Flaner continued with the sport and still participates at a high level to this day.
“We do what they call an (International Oldtimer Motocross) league, with 14 races in seven western states,” Flaner says. “We go to those and I’ve been lucky enough to win a few of the nationals.”
After DAYTONA Monster Energy Supercross is complete, many of the track elements are removed and the track is adapted to accommodate amateur riders for two days of Ricky Carmichael Amateur Supercross followed by one day of FLY Racing ATV Supercross.
“The three days of amateur racing are very important to me because it’s for the kids,” Flaner says. “There’s nothing like going out there (for the races).
“For the seven-year-old class, parents can go out on the track. The wheels are so small, bikes can stall, get into a rut. So for the parents, by the time they get through race, they’ve run the whole track. I really enjoy it and I’m glad we are still getting a lot of kids.”
For the last two seasons, the Harley-Davidson TT presented by Russ Brown Motorcycle Attorneys At DAYTONA course has been constructed underneath the Supercross track, adding a new challenge to the design process.
Much like the Supercross track, the DAYTONA TT track design is coordinated between Flaner and the American Flat Track organization.
To construct the flat track, a wide groove is dug into the field and filled with a dirt mixture that will dry to be nearly as hard as concrete. That layer will become the flat track course, and the clay mixture that becomes the Supercross track is built on top, to be removed completely upon the conclusion of FLY Racing ATV Supercross on Tuesday.
Flaner and his team work overnight to remove the Supercross clay to prepare for the next race on Thursday night. Three excavators, three frontloaders, and 22 trucks are called into action to change over the track in such a short time.
Once all of the Supercross track has been removed, the base layer of the DAYTONA TT track is refinished with the same hard clay material, some of which is left off to the side, and the track will be left to dry as much as possible before the flat track race.
A Supercross track requires constant maintenance, sometimes during intermissions between heats and sometimes at a moment’s notice during a race.
As Flaner recalls, the most challenging race in his time has been the DAYTONA Monster Energy Supercross in 2008, when six inches of rain during the race left the track saturated with several feet of water in some areas. The team was forced mid-race to dig out sections of the course so that crews could pump water away from the track while the riders were racing in wet and challenging conditions.
“For all of us, it was a very challenging night. So you would’ve thought it wouldn’t have been a good race night – we probably got more publicity out of that race than any of the races since I’ve been involved.
“We’re really here for the fans, and the fans really loved that race,” Flaner says of the experience.
When he is not designing Supercross courses or running his construction company, Flaner and his wife Carol run an almond orchard together in northern California, and even find time to work on several local tracks.
The Monday following Bike Week, Flaner heads back home out west, the track clay is removed and the field is reseeded.
“The most fun part for me is being here. This is like another family for me – I love being here at DAYTONA. It’s the main reason I’m here,” Flaner says. “Everybody is really good to me out here, and for that I am incredibly grateful.”