2019 Bike Week has once again kicked off at the “World Center of Racing!” Motorcycle enthusiasts migrate to the beaches of Daytona, but not all of them are here for recreation. Some are preparing for one of the most prestigious road races in all of North America; the 78th DAYTONA 200 at Daytona International Speedway.
The sights are familiar, but something about this year feels different.
There is one man on the entry list whose name has headlined this race for four of the last five years. His name is Danny Eslick, and 2019 could be the year he joins the ranks of motorcycle legends.
Eslick will be looking for his fifth victory in the legendary motorcycle race, which would be a record-tying feat.
The Tulsa, Olka. native has won four of the last five DAYTONA 200s, meaning a fifth would tie the 32-year-old with motorcycle racing greats Miguel Duhamel and “Mr. Daytona” Scott Russell for most all-time wins.
Danny Eslick goes for his fifth DAYTONA 200 victory in 2019.
“Guys like Scott Russell and Duhamel, they paved the way before me,” Eslick said. “To be tied with them, it’d be incredible. It still hasn’t really sunk in. Even after winning it four times, I’m still speechless.”
Russell, Duhamel and Eslick are now prominent names in the history books of motorcycle road racing history, but they are only a fraction of the legends that have been born on the storied high banks, and focusing on them would do a disservice to the long paved, and even a little sandy road that is the history of the DAYTONA 200.
The DAYTONA 200 began on the beaches of Daytona Beach.
The World’s Most Famous Beach was the host of multiple speed trial events in the early 20th century. By 1935 however, many of those record-setting machines left the beach for the more wide-open space of Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats.
With “The Birthplace of Speed” becoming quiet, organizers knew they had to start doing something in order to continue attracting crowds. Their answer? The inaugural running of the DAYTONA 200.
“It’s crazy how they started on the beach and raced for 200 miles,” Eslick said. “Yeah, the high banks take a toll on your body physically, but nothing compared to racing in the 40’s with a hardtail. It’s unimaginable.”
More than 100 riders competed in the inaugural “Handlebar Derby,” as it was called, on Jan. 24, 1937. Its 3.2-mile course featured a complete asphalt straightaway beginning at the northern point of the course with riders traveling a near mile and a half down the coast.
After that, riders would transition onto Daytona’s sandy beaches and travel north another mile and a half before returning to the asphalt. Sounds simple, right? Except there was one problem race organizers nor riders were expecting; a rising tide.
Race organizers miscalculated the time it would take to complete the inaugural road race, making riders wary of the eventual rising tide on the beach portion of the course.
Ed Kretz won the inaugural motorcycle race on the Daytona Beach sand in 1937.
Eventually, at an average 73.34 mph pace, Californian Ed “Iron Man” Kretz won the inaugural Florida bike race aboard his Indian motorcycle. The race continued annually until 1942. Due to the country’s demand for supplies toward WWII, the American Motorcycling Association discontinued the event “in the interest of national defense” until 1947.
And it continued in strength.
Following the war, Daytona International Speedway founder Bill France Sr. began promoting the sixth running of the DAYTONA 200, which occurred on Feb. 24, 1947. After five years of silence on the beaches, fans and riders both were ready to get back to racing, as a record entry number of 184 riders took to the beach course. Townsfolk rented out their homes for visiting fans as hotels and camping areas filled to capacity.
John Spiegelhoff won in 1947, which would be the last year the bikes would race on the 3.2-mile course as the 1948 edition was moved south to a longer 4.1-mile course toward Ponce Inlet. The new course’s inaugural race was won by Floyd Emde, the last rider to win the event on an Indian motorcycle.
Floyd Emde takes the checkered flag on the Daytona beach course.
The new course produced thrilling bike racing action and champions, including 1953 Champion Paul Goldsmith, who later became the only rider to win on the Daytona Beach Road course both in a stock car and on a motorcycle in 1958, and Brad Andres, who became the youngest rider to win the DAYTONA 200 in 1955 at the age of 18. Andres also later became the second rider to win the event three times after Dick Klamfoth, who became the first after winning in 1949, 1951, and 1952.
By 1960, the beaches started to become crowded again with new businesses and hotels, just as they had in 1947. A new venue was needed, and luckily Bill France Sr. knew just where.
In 1961, the DAYTONA 200 was held on the road course of Daytona International Speedway for the first time. There was much concern whether or not the motorcycles would be able to ride on the 31-degree banking. Thus, a two-mile road course combining the infield and frontstretch of the superspeedway was introduced.
It would be Roger Reiman that would win his first of three victories, winning from the pole and leading 89 of the event’s 100 laps. In 1964, race organizers developed a new 3.81-mile course design that featured a large portion of the superspeedway tri-oval. Over the years, minor changes such as the backstretch chicane and infield reconfigurations changed the course distance.
Roger Reiman won the first DAYTONA 200 held on the high banks of DAYTONA in 1961.
Don Emde, son of 1948 DAYTONA 200 Champion Floyd Emde, became victorious on the 3.81-mile circuit in 1972, winning Yamaha’s first of 13 consecutive victories and making the Emdes the only father-son duo to both win the DAYTONA 200.
In time, the DAYTONA 200 became popular internationally. In 1973, Finnish rider Jarno Saarinen became the first non-North American rider to win the DAYTONA 200.
In the span of only eight years, four other foreign riders triumphed on the high banks; Italian rider Giacomo Agostini won in 1974, Johnny Cecotto of Venezuela in 1976, Patrick Pons from France in 1980, and Graeme Crosby of New Zealand in 1982.
The next foreign rider to win the Daytona road race however, was one of two names that dominated the event in the 90’s.
Miguel Duhamel won his first of five DAYTONA 200s in 1991 while riding for Honda. The Canadian would go on to win the race four more times, all of them on a Honda, which is the current record for most DAYTONA 200 victories.
“Mr. Daytona” Scott Russell won five DAYTONA 200 championships from 1992-1998.
Scott Russell won his first DAYTONA 200 a year after Duhamel in 1992. Russell, who would later earn the nickname “Mr. Daytona,” and Duhamel won every DAYTONA 200 in the 1990s with the exception of 1990 and 1993, which were won by Yamaha riders David Sadowski and Eddie Lawson respectively.
Russell became the first rider to win the DAYTONA 200 for a fourth time in 1997 before breaking that record again in 1998 with a fifth title.
While Russell earned his five DAYTONA 200 victories within the span of eight years, it would take Duhamel 16 years to earn his five victories with his last coming in 2005.
Canadian Miguel Duhamel is tied with Russell with five all-time DAYTONA 200 championships.
Mat Mladin became the only Australian to win the DAYTONA 200 in 2000. Then he won at the “World Center of Racing” again in 2001 and again in 2003 with 2002 being won by the late Nicky Hayden.
Chaz Davies became the only rider from the United Kingdom to win the 2008 DAYTONA 200 after Josh Hayes’ Honda was disqualified for using an illegal crankshaft.
In 2009, a number of changes were made to the DAYTONA 200. Riders would now have to maneuver around the 3.51-mile road course where previously, riders had been racing on a 2.90-mile motorcycle circuit. In addition to the dramatic course changes, the race was held under the lights for the first time as Ben Bostrom won his first and only victory in the event riding for Yamaha.
Since then, a number of riders have made headlines in the DAYTONA 200, including Elena Myers, who became the highest-finishing female rider in 2013 placing ninth. Others winners of the DAYTONA 200 include Josh Herrin, Jason DiSalvo, Joey Pascarella, Cameron Beaubier, and Michael Barnes, who became the oldest rider to win the DAYTONA 200 at the age of 47 years old in 2016. All of them are one-time champions.
The 2019 DAYTONA 200 takes to the high banks on Saturday, March 16.
Year after year the DAYTONA 200 delivers spectacular champions on spectacular machines in a spectacular event, and 2019’s 78th edition will provide another chapter for this motorcycle classic.
What is your favorite memory at the DAYTONA 200? Let us know in the comments section below!