I could take the easy way out and heap abuse on the 69th running of America's once world-class roadrace, the Daytona 200. The Daytona Motorsport Group is new at this motorcycle gig, and being NASCAR guys they see everything through caution yellow-tinted lenses. I'm not going to take the easy way out though, for a few reasons...
The Daytona Sportbikes are running five-wide down the front straight, and have been for the last 20 laps. I've lost count of the lead changes as they bump and grind through the infield side-by-side and nose-to-tail. The start was a mess: A pile of red tail lights went down in the first turn, victims of cold tires and a cold track. But then the magic: Josh Herrin, Dane Westby, Steve Rapp, Danny Eslick and Tommy Aquino showing the crowd just how good AMA Pro Racing can be.
They're starting to pit now and the pack is breaking apart. No matter: I'm a satisfied customer. Amazingly, after all the refueling and tire changes over 200 miles, Herrin beats Westby by just 8 seconds.
Not to say things couldn't be better. They were: The Superbike class, running earlier in the day, completely blew away the Daytona Sportbikes. It ended with the top five-Jake Zemke, Tommy Hayden, Ben Bostrom, Aaron Yates and Larry Pegram-separated by less than a second; first and second a scant .009 of a second apart. This was the best roadrace I've seen since ... hell, it was the best roadrace I've seen!
There's only one problem. To put it in terms the DMG and NASCAR will both understand, the Craftsman Truck Series is being promoted ahead of the Sprint Cup Series. The Superbikes compete on a short course that omits the superspeedway's high-banked Turns 1 and 2. Is this done for tire life or to conceal the faster lap times of the so-called "support" class?
In case my missing VIP pass was a clerical error, I have to say that the DMG is getting better. The pace car-led rolling starts and caution periods are gone, and the track lights stayed on. Fans are allowed to roam the pit area for free, the infield crowd looked bigger than last year and the camp fires burned bright in the cold night air.
But wait, there's more: Decades of flat-track racing at Municipal Stadium have receded into the past as Daytona erected a quarter-mile dirt oval in the speedway parking lot. I'd shed a tear, but Muni was just a stage. Over time I'm sure we'll learn to love the new track as much as we loved the old one.
The racers, however, may not be feeling so lovey-dovey. The new dirt was a slippery mix akin to asphalt underlayment. Young bodies bounced off the hard Turn 3 surface nearly every heat. Restarts were unrelenting. It was a giant speedway track, the bikes sideways down the straights then hanging it out in the corners. Number-one plate-holder "Hammering Hank" Wiley's grandma was sitting next to me, but it was Jake Johnson who took the main. After the last race I walked the track and it was still moist, a thin layer of what appeared to be zinc-oxide sun-block coating the surface.
If you liked it back when bikes were made of steel and men were 90 percent water, the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association (AHRMA) offers the best bang for your buck. I love this stuff! It doesn't matter that the racing bears no resemblance to history. When did a Honda CB350 ever out-run a Yamaha RD250? I spent all day ogling classic bikes, wandering the pits and stepping into pools of Castrol racing oil. I even got to see test rider Thad Wolff win both the Trans-Atlantic Challenge and the hand-shifter class.
It's easy to complain about Daytona's faded world-class status. I do it all the time. Sometimes, though, the races are so good, they make you forget about the rest of the world. That's how Bike Week was this year.