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Daytona Bike Week 2009

By Robert Filla

Bikers’ stimulus package

Big chill can’t keep crowds away

Daytona Beach, Fla., Feb. 27–Mar. 8—Even if you’re not the superstitious type and think the fear of black cats and stepping on cracks is but an exercise in primitive myths, you might have wanted to heed the prognostication of one furry rodent up in Pennsylvania earlier this year, especially if your riding calendar included a trip to Florida to break the malaise of a long winter. That’s because back on February 2, Punxsutawney Phil, the world’s most famous groundhog, predicted six more weeks of winter. Whoever would have imagined that this bucktoothed seer’s prediction would reach all the way down to Daytona Bike Week? But it sure the hell did this year.

While the last two days of February (the first two days of Bike Week) saw great weather, March bared her fangs and came roaring in like the proverbial lion as a nasty cold front swept across the Southeast section of the country. Near white-out conditions blanketed much of Mississippi and Georgia with air traffic disrupted as far south as Atlanta. I played tag with the storm all the way along Interstate 10 from Houston to Daytona, waking up to temperatures each morning in the high 20s and low 30s. I never saw any significant increase above 50 until I dropped south from Tallahassee. But just as irritating as the chill was the unrelenting wind that howled like a banshee with the passing of the cold front. Stiff northerly winds plagued Bike Week and kept temperatures cooler than usual right up until the second weekend of the event.

And while vendors worried about how the weather might “chill” attendance, during the same period, other prognosticators (less furry but just as bristly) were busy spewing forth their own dire prophesies that had the potential to trigger poor numbers. That’s when billionaire investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett announced that the “economy has fallen off a cliff” (difficult to get much more dire than that). That declaration was followed with the “system doesn’t work without confidence” and that the country is “undergoing a fundamental shift.” If proclamations like that wouldn’t make you think twice about attending Bike Week and instead dig a hole in your back yard, bury your money and the tattered remains of your investments and climb in with it, then what would? But although the nation seems gripped by economic fear, the bikers rolled into Daytona with their own form of financial stimulus. They had confidence that the beer would be cold, the beer girls still hot and the weather would improve. Their “fundamental shift” involved going from first to fifth on some lonely stretch of Florida back road. And cliffs? We ride precipices all the time. In mid-week, CNN reported that “500,000 pack Daytona Beach for Bike Week.” While it’s impossible to accurately measure those figures (and it’s doubtful any records were set during 2009), this year’s rally did seem flush at most venues, with respectable attendance that surprised many. Even Kevin Killian, senior vice president of the Daytona Beach/Halifax Area Chamber of Commerce told CNN, “Every indication we’ve had so far is that this year’s going to be a good one.” And why shouldn’t it be? Bikers relish their indulgences and even if a new bike or a complete makeover of their old ride was not in their fiscal budget, most are thrifty enough to save their bucks and fit Daytona Bike Week into their portfolio. And what awaited them were more activities than ever.

Life’s a Beach
In times past, Beach Street ranked high as far as the number of vendors and amount of action. When the Destination Daytona monolith was erected several years ago in Ormond Beach, most followed the allure of the tinsel and lights north, leaving Beach Street basically dying rally-wise and being slated for some renovations with upscale condos in the works. But new life has been given to this short stretch lying along the Halifax River between Main and International Speedway Blvd. On the east side of the street, Riverfront Park was in full swing and served as the official visitor information and welcome center for Bike Week, offering free posters and pocket guides of the rally’s activities with a fully-staffed crew eager to help confused guests. Harley’s Traveling Museum was also present at the park along with West Coast Choppers (sorry, no Jesse), Paul Yaffe’s Bagger Nation, Redneck Engineering and Trotta’s Thunder Cycle Design. Across from Riverfront Park and facing the Halifax were the permanent shops of Bruce Rossmeyer’s Original Daytona Harley-Davidson dealership, Big Dog Motorcycles and Carl’s Speed Shop. Both sides of the street were peppered with smaller vendor booths whose owners had decided to take advantage of the revived location. And while the place was never packed, availing easy parking on the street at all times, there was brisk business being conducted and a lot of shopping going on. We can only hope that the resurgence of Beach Street as a player during Bike Week is a permanent addition to the rally. The diversity is good.

Another revamp this year was the expansion of the Daytona Beach Ocean Center, a massive, multi-use facility designed to host conventions, banquets, trade shows and sporting events. Having its grand re-opening on February 22, the four-year reconstruction project doubled the center’s size by 164,000 square feet. With a $76 million price tag, it’s the largest construction project in Volusia County Government history. The Motor Company took over the place for Bike Week, offering a continuous schedule of activities. There was the H-D new products show held all week, a Women’s Day including a Women’s MDA Ride on Tuesday, a ride-in bike show on Wednesday, a MDA live auction on Friday and a bike raffle on Saturday. The outside activities included stunt shows and live music.

In the Dog House
The Seminole Hard Rock Roadhouse returned to the Dog House Bar & Grill on Main Street with a Gatling-gun series of worthy events. The party kicked off with the debut of 16 guitars customized by some of the world’s most noted motorcycle personalities. Given the same Fender guitar and told there were no rules, this team of out-of-the-norm creators came up with some outstanding pieces of art that were auctioned off later in the week. Accenting the guitars was a collection of biker lifestyle photography by noted camera guru Michael Lichter. On Tuesday, the tattooed Englishman Russell Mitchell of Exile Cycles hosted the Hard Rock Tattoo Contest. Later in the day, the Limpnickie crew deserted their “Lot” and showed up in force to display their bikes, answer questions and pose for glam photos. On Wednesday, The Horse Backstreet Choppers provided everyone a treat when they brought in the Confederate Railroad for a live performance. The week of Road House merriment cumulated with the presentation of the Seminole Hard Rock’s Biker Fusion event on Thursday evening. Hosted by Ami James of Love Hate Choppers, Christian Clayton of Sucker Punch Sallys, Billy Lane of Choppers Inc. and Shelly Rossmeyer (daughter of you-know-who), this industry party was open to the public for a donation and was in support of the Black Hawk Medevac Units and those wounded in Afghanistan. A total of $24,000—including a $10,000 donation from the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s leader Max Osceola—was raised this night through the auctioning of a series of custom skateboards designed by Buck Wild, and the Fender guitars that had been on display all week. The monies will be used to underwrite Soldier’s Angels, an organization that supplies backpack care packages to the military packed with clothing, toiletries, phone cards and other amenities. Additional proceeds will come from an online auction of Christian Clayton’s Hard Rock Fender guitar that was used by Avril Lavigne and hand-painted by hotrod artist Sara Ray (go to suckerpunchsallys.com or soldiersangels.com for updates). The evening was highlighted when Billy Lane gifted a 1976 Shovelhead that he had received from Vietnam vet Bion Howard, to three-tour Vietnam veteran Leon Roy. Roy was selected as the recipient by the Military Order of Purple Hearts of Florida. To keep everyone in a patriotic attitude (and help loosen the wallets of those donating to the cause), a bevy of Jack Daniels girls stayed busy passing out free samples of American Honey, the distillery’s latest libation. An excellent finish to an excellent evening.

All that glitters
Escaping Main Street to find alternative entertainment was an easy matter. And if chrome and paint are your personal afflictions, then once again Daytona was the place to be, offering a gamut of bike shows. Willie’s Tropical Tattoo presented their ever-popular, ever-expanding, ever-crowded Chopper Show at their shop near Ormond Beach on Thursday. Friday was packed with no less than four shows scattered across the area: the Cycle Source Limpnickie Lot Show on the south side, the Boardwalk Bike Show in the middle of town, the Captain Morgan Show out at the Cabbage Patch and a British and Euro Bike Show at the Daytona Flea Market. The week ended with the Rat’s Hole Custom Bike Show held at the Daytona Lagoon Water Park on Saturday featuring the top three winners from the Padua, Italy, International Bike Expo. This year’s Rat’s Hole Show was dedicated to bike builder Jerry Graves, who recently passed away. Graves had competed at the Rat’s Hole for the previous eight years and the last bike he built was on display in his memory.

The American Motorcycle Association held its 21st Annual Breakfast supporting the AMA Hall of Fame on Friday at the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort. The breakfast is a fundraiser for the AMA’s Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum that saw record attendance during the month of January this year. The money raised will be directed toward a future exhibit at the museum—the Hall of Legends. Flat track champions Scott Parker and Jay Springsteen were on hand as guests of honor, sharing their backgrounds and racing stories on stage with Harley-Davidson tuner Bill Werner, whose talent helped both racers in achieving their AMA Grand Championships. Camaraderie and humorous memories were abundant, such as one conversation between the two after a heated race:

“Hey, did you see that out there on the track?”

“What? What’d you see?”

“First turn, third row up—the big blonde in the halter top!”

A day at the races
Demo rides were available at the Speedway for anyone interested in piloting a Harley, Victory or Boss Hoss. Indian Motorcycles was set up in the demo staging area but still not allowing anyone to do more than touch and sit on their machines. Instead they will be offering demo rides throughout the year during individual dealership openings. Harley had a demo fleet of more than 100 bikes and on Thursday, they set a new record of 1,905 test rides. Then they topped that figure with 2,034 rides the next day. Other heavy hitters at the track were Big Dog Motorcycles, Bourget’s Bike Works, Big Bear Choppers, Ridley, Kuryakyn, Progressive Suspension, Performance Machine and Baker Drivetrain. A surprise was the appearance of American IronHorse. Apparently they are getting their restructuring in order and hope to survive the times. One of their most interesting displays was a concept bike built around an AIH Texas Chopper base with an X-Wedge power plant. When questioned about the project, design lead Jeff Long replied, “We’re just testing the waters.”

Deal of the decade
During these difficult times, resourcefulness is a valued asset. This proved true when, while investigating accommodations, editor-in-chief Terry Roorda discovered a hidden gem. For years the Thunder Press crew has taken residence in numerous condos that line Atlantic Boulevard—nice but generally expensive, too far from Main and somewhat disconnected from the heart of the rally. But this year we landed in the belly of the beast, not 50 steps off Main Street in a three-bedroom, two-bath house. Owned by a local, it was truly the bro deal of the decade: $1,800 for 10 days, no deposit, no security or cleaning charges, laundry room, private parking, great front porch to watch the beer girls arrive and depart, and embellished with the perfect biker decor. And no, I’m not telling ya where it is. I’m just bragging (with hopes of scoring it again during Biketoberfest).

The magnitude of the events during Daytona remains despite the nation’s economic mess, making the task of seeing it all virtually impossible. From the Greg Allman concert and Hog Brawl cage fighting matches at Destination Daytona to the Infamous Bike Week Ride-Thru at the Lighthouse Landing down in Ponce Inlet, the rally remains a marathon and not a sprint, forcing you to pace yourself. And you can’t leave out one of the most famous strips of biker bars in the world. All estimates show that attendance during Bike Week was down somewhat this year. That was attested to by the “Vacancy” signage at literally every motel in town. Some even touted “check out our one night stay special,” an option unheard of just a year or two ago. Another sign of the times was during mid-week when, in anticipation of reduced crowds, T-shirt vendors slashed their prices, offering four for $20 (that type of discount normally never appears until Sunday). But the riders who braved the elements and the prophets of doom weren’t afraid to part with some of their bucks. Destination Daytona reported setting a new record for sales of parts on Wednesday and were well on track to top last year’s motorcycle sales of 517 units. And with Flagler County experiencing the highest unemployment in the state (14.2 percent) and Volusia County posting the highest rate since 1983 (9.9 percent), those familiar Daytona road signs stating, “We’re Glad You’re Back” never seemed more sincere.

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