DAYTONA BEACH, FLA., MAR. 8-17–The inaugural running of the Daytona 200 took place in January 1937 on the sands of Daytona Beach. Motorcycle racing was big sport at that time, and throngs of folks surged right up to the edges of the makeshift track to watch the heroes of the day compete against one another. The race created the need for auxiliary events, and as the 200 continued in popularity through the years, the activities surrounding it grew as well, eventually being transformed into the 10-day Daytona Bike Week rally spread throughout Volusia County and beyond.
That first Daytona 200 was won by Ed “Iron Man” Kretz who muscled his Indian Sport Scout around the track to attain an average speed of 73.34 mph—an astounding feat in those days, especially when part of the track was on the sand. The years between 1937 and 1948 were during the so-called Harley-Indian wars, with Harley-Davidsons and Indians swapping top-point status. The last time Indian won the 200 was in 1948 (the company went bankrupt in 1953), and Harley dominated the competition through the ‘60s.
The Indian marque was revived in 1999, but the “Gilroy era” lasted only until 2003. Stellican bought the name and resurrected the brand in 2006, and in 2011, it was acquired by Polaris, the makers of Victory Motorcycle. Now the Harley-Indian rivalry has moved from the track to the street, with competition heating up in the cruiser category. And this year, Daytona Bike Week was the playground for the battle of the big twins.
The opening Friday of Bike Week, Harley Owners Group members were invited to hang out with the Harley-Davidson staff at Mikey Luv’s Bar & Grill on Main Street. This year is the 30th anniversary of H.O.G., and this affair also commemorated the first-ever H.O.G. event that was held in Daytona in 1983. Although Harley tried to keep it under their collective hat, word leaked out that there would be a big surprise. Sure enough, come Friday night The Motor Company unveiled a brand-new Softail—the Breakout, a more affordable version of the CVO Breakout introduced last year. One of the Harley crew was heard to mention that it was the first time a new Harley-Davidson model had been unveiled in Daytona.
The next night, Indian Motorcycle continued the hype surrounding its 2014 models, which will be the first to come from the Spirit Lake, Iowa, facility where Victory Motorcycles are built. During the International Motorcycle Show 2012–2013 series, Indian teased attendees by setting up sound booths where one could hear the new motor. The actual motor itself, the Thunder Stroke 111, was finally unveiled Saturday evening at Dirty Harry’s, another watering hole on Main Street. Indian set up shop at several locations where various displays of the motor were featured. Gigantic Indian Motorcycle banners were also seen hung across several Bike Week venues, including Main Street, Beach Street, Daytona International Speedway and Destination Daytona. Let the competition continue!
A Monday press conference held by the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce provided a preview of the 72nd running of Daytona Bike Week. Local officials, as well as representatives of Daytona businesses and Bike Week venues took to the podium, describing what events their respective organizations would present. H-D Director of Customer Experience Steve Piehl spoke about the more than 100 Harley employees from all over the world who came to staff their Beach Street, International Speedway and Bikers on the Boulevard venues. The Motor Company has been the longest-running sponsor of Bike Week, taking the lead in that department about a quarter-century ago. And Harley sponsored the XR1200 race at the speedway on Friday, as well as the Bike Week Community Appreciation Parade the closing Saturday. Joie Chitwood, president of Daytona International Speedway, shared the good news that the Supercross event held the prior weekend brought the best crowd since the race’s inception in 1986.
Special guests included several stars of the TV show Moonshiners: Bootleg Bill, Josh Owens and his pup Cutie Pie. Turns out that Bill and Josh are motorcyclists—in fact, Josh had a career as a superbike and motocross racer. Cutie Pie rides, as well, perched on the gas tank and handlebars of Josh’s bike. For some comic relief, Bill and Josh gifted Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson with a mason jar full of moonshine! The sheriff opened it up, sniffed it, and said, “I hate to tell you this, but you boys are in a whole lot of trouble.” Then he quipped, “And you could learn a thing or two from ol’ Bill McCoy.” McCoy was a famous Prohibition-era bootlegger known for selling pure, unadulterated alcohol in Volusia County. In fact, the phrase “It’s the real McCoy” was derived from this Holly Hill legend.
Around the corner from the Chamber of Commerce, both sides of North Beach Street were lined with businesses and vendors. I stopped in to visit Daytona Harley-Davidson where the store’s museum is open to the public. There I saw Janet Kersey, managing director of the museum store, who talked about museum’s progress. She is well into a long, exhaustive process of reaching out to survivors of early racers, and searching and fact-checking data to compile a definitive history of motorcycling at Daytona Beach. Several vintage bikes were on display, and one of the staffers said that each bike has a special story. He pointed out a blue and white ’64 Panhead owned by a young man who was deployed in the military, but never came home. The late Bruce Rossmeyer, founder of Daytona H-D, heard about the bike, bought it from the serviceman’s mom and swore no one would ever ride it again.
Just north of the museum Carl’s Speed Shop, Indian Victory Motorcycles of Daytona, ROAR Motorcycles and other stores attracted a constant stream of visitors. Across the street, industry mainstays such as S&S Cycle and BAKER Drivetrain were set up in Riverfront Park. The park is also where Harley-Davidson had its display, highlighting the company’s 110th anniversary and H.O.G.’s 30th, as well as parts, accessories, apparel and, of course, new bikes. On Tuesday, the 6th annual Harley-Davidson MDA Women’s Ride departed from this location, ending at Destination Daytona.
Crossing the Halifax River at North Beach Street and East Fairview Avenue brings you to Main Street where, if you hang out long enough, you were pretty much guaranteed to see just about the entire Bike Week population. Day and night, each watering hole tried to outdo its neighbors with louder music, hotter girls and cheaper drinks. With all the saloons, shops and spectating, it was easy to while away the hours. And for this Northerner, the weather was a delight. I’d left the cold and snow of the Northeast to enjoy daytime temperatures in the high 60s and 70s, with only Tuesday bringing intermittent rain showers.
Spreading our wings
Although Main and Beach streets were two of the most popular rally locations, Bike Week has a lot more to offer if you’re willing to actually get on your motorcycle and ride. Aside from the week’s racing schedule, the speedway offered a number of motorcycle and parts manufacturers, as well as other high-quality vendors. Harley, Indian, Victory and several metric motorcycle companies set up demo areas all week, giving you the opportunity to test ride the bike of your dreams.
The 12-mile stretch of US-1 between International Speedway Boulevard and Destination Daytona is home to a slew of biker bars and other attractions. This was the second year for Hogs on the Hill, a Bike Week rally spot in Holly Hill. Complaints from locals about last year’s loud concerts and scantily clad bikini bike-wash girls caused the city to dial it back a bit for this year. We must have passed the venue a dozen times during the week and could see very few patrons there. However, the city understands a new venue can take a while to catch on and seems willing to invest in the event, hoping for better crowds in the future.
Rally favorites further north include the Broken Spoke and the Iron Horse Saloon, both of which presented a slew of activities during Bike Week. This year, the Boot Hill Saloon had a brand-new look. The Boot Hill has partnered with Strip Club Choppers and The Rat’s Hole, resulting in a very cool rally location with vendors, food, drinks, bands, a motordrome, tattoo parlor and, of course, The Rat’s Hole Bar along with a Strip Club Choppers stripper pole setup. I was introduced to Michelle Vaughn with Strip Club Choppers Southeast who showed me a newly built bike that will travel the country to raise cancer awareness. Michelle, a breast cancer survivor herself, told me the bike’s name is Hope. Its theme is illustrated by 18 painted ribbons representing the 18 different blood and cancer diseases.
Continuing north on US-1, the sprawling Destination Daytona venue was home to hundreds of premier vendors, including aftermarket parts manufacturers doing product installs onsite. The Saints and Sinners Pub hosted several bands on the outside stage, and we happened by when our friend Charlie Brechtel and his band were performing. The Ives Brothers put on their Ball of Steel stunt show several times each day, and nearby were Michael Ballard and Angie signing autographs and chatting with fans at the Full Throttle Saloon rally rig.
Moonshine and motorcycles
Bike Week saw more bike shows than one person could possibly attend. These competitions track custom bike trends, as well as capture the zeitgeist of pop culture. Big wheels and baggers are still on top of the curve, but the phenomenon that has recently taken our reality show-watching nation by storm is that of everything moonshine. Josh and Bill, the aforementioned stars of Moonshiners, seem to show up pretty much everywhere—at the No Name Saloon and across the street at the Iron Horse, as well as the Bike Week welcome center on Beach Street. They were celebrity bartenders at the Palmetto Moonshine booth at Willie’s Old School Bike Show, and the duo—actually, trio, if you count Cutie Pie—were the grand marshals of the Bike Week Community Appreciation Parade. Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine also set up shop at Destination Daytona, and the moonshine influence could be seen on custom builds everywhere.
The Broken Spoke presented Bike Week’s inaugural Editors’ Choice Bike Show on Tuesday where THUNDER PRESS and 14 other motorcycle magazines judged a field of 57 customs. Harley-Davidson conducted its ride-in custom bike show on Beach Street on Wednesday. Thursday was the iconic Willie’s Ole School Chopper Show at Willie’s Tropical Tattoo on Yonge Avenue in Ormond Beach. Friday was the venerable Boardwalk Bike Show, as well as the Chop-In Block ride-in bike show at the Broken Spoke. Another bike show the same day was the rally’s first-ever Baddest Bagger bike competition at Destination Daytona. Top class winners out of the field of 65 included Shane Philips for Radical, Mark Brodeyr for Modified and Mike Woodyshek for Stock. The Baddest Bagger in Daytona was awarded to Kenny Williams, Baddest Urban Bagger in Daytona went to Joey Hensley, Baddest American Bagger was won by Twisted Image, and Darrell Harper took the Mike and Angie Full Throttle Saloon award.
The Rat’s Hole Bike Show, a Daytona institution for over four decades, took place Saturday at the Daytona Lagoon with entries exceeding the 180 that competed last year. First-place champs included Captain Mike in Three Wheeler, Jon Crush in 251cc to 1000cc, Linda Gee in Sportster Custom, Wes Smith in Sportster Radical, Todd Anglaui in Most Unusual, Ronald Carriere in Full Dresser and Touring, Henry Canup in Antique/Classics Restored, Rod Rankins in Antique/Classics Unrestored, Rat Smitty in Rat Class, Lord Drake Kustoms in Café Racer, Judd York in Bobber, Derek Del Castillo in Extreme Bobber, Darian Johnson in Sportbike, Johnny and Mackenzie Person in Over 1000cc Stock, Jon Shipley in Over 1000cc Custom, Scott Wheeler in Over 1000cc Custom Metric, Will Robertson in Over 1000cc Radical Metric, Thomas Carotenuti in Over 1000cc Radical, and Ricardo Rivera in Over 1000cc Super Radical. Taking the top prize in the first-ever Bagger Showdown was Joe Hensley, and the big winner of the day was Discovery Channel Biker Build-Off winner Mike Pugliese who rode away with first place in the Extreme Bagger class, as well as taking Best of Show.
My last evening in Daytona Beach was quite a memorable one. Just before sundown, we rode over to Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard where Black Bike Week was about to kick into high gear. The scene was that of a giant block party, with a mix of riders perched on their bikes and locals bringing chairs to park themselves on the sidewalk. The high-energy music combined with the aroma of barbecue and other Southern delicacies invited us to linger awhile.
However, our plans included one last run to Destination Daytona for a free concert at the Coca-Cola Pavilion. Southern rock and blues band Diablo Canyon played the opening set, followed by a fabulous concert by country star Shooter Jennings and his band. Then it was back to Main Street to watch the Razorbacks rockabilly band celebrate their 10th year performing at Bank and Blues. Although it was well after midnight when I headed for home, the street was still packed with people partying. It was a fabulous ending to another picture-perfect Bike Week.