Gene Romero came within 2 seconds of winning the 1970 Daytona 200. He did go on to win the
Yoshio Nakamura, Honda’s famous Formula 1 team manager, was placed in charge of the Daytona effort. This decision didn’t sit well with Hansen, who was a veteran competitor. “What did he know about racing at Daytona?” Hansen asked. Apparently there was some uncertainty inside Honda, too, as Harada gave Hansen one bike as a contingency. Nakamura was responsible for three works-racer CR750s—the factory racing version of the production CB750. Hansen would field an identical fourth bike.
Once the decision was made to compete, the Honda effort proceeded at full-throttle. Nakamura hired three star international riders: 125cc World Champion Ralph Bryans, fellow Irishman Tommy Robb and U.K. Honda dealer, racer and Isle of Man TT expert Bill Smith. For his entry, Hansen selected well-known AMA Grand National Champion and three-time Daytona 200 runner-up Dick “Bugsy” Mann.
That year’s Daytona 200 was controversial from the start. Bickering began early in the week, when other teams learned that the factory Triumphs and BSAs were using non-homologated five-speed transmissions. Honda was drawn into the controversy mid-week when Bryans crashed his CR750 on the front straight, where it caught fire. Honda’s threats to protest the Britbikes’ illegal gearboxes went
After catching Mann in the early laps, Gary Nixon (9) led the race until the 110-mile mark
up in smoke when the other teams saw the CR750’s decidedly non-stock magnesium engine cases burning in the flames.
Desperate to capture pole position—and the $1000 prize that went with it—Romero and his mechanic, Pat Owens, took a calculated risk for qualifying and installed skinnier, 3.5-inch-wide street tires run at very high pressure. Their gamble paid off when Romero’s Triumph logged a remarkable 157.342-mph lap, clocking 165 mph through the back-straight speed trap and chunking the tires in the process. Hailwood’s BSA qualified second with a 152.90-mph lap and Nixon held third at 152.82 mph. Mann’s Honda qualified fourth with an average speed of 152.67 mph, ahead of all three Nakamura-tuned CR750s.
An extra tall—and illegal—tailsection helped Romero set his 157-mph lap in qualifying. Not
Honda had the speed, but Hansen was concerned about mechanical problems. Mann’s bike suffered a misfire that affected high-rpm performance. Bob Jameson, Hansen’s lead mechanic, did some investigating and discovered the hard-rubber cam-chain tensioner was disintegrating inside the motor, necessitating a full engine rebuild. Jameson alerted Nakamura’s other three crew chiefs, but they foolishly ignored his advice. Meanwhile, the BSA/Triumph mechanics had their own worries: Those new, full-coverage fairings didn’t flow enough air to keep the triples cool in the Florida heat, especially on the infield road course.
When the green flag dropped, Mann got the start of his career and opened a 50-yard lead by Turn 1. Before exiting the infield, however, Hailwood and Nixon closed the gap. Romero was right behind until traffic forced him off-track, costing a precious, 15-second delay. By lap two Hailwood and Nixon had both ridden around Mann and were running away, until Hailwood’s bike overheated on lap six. Nixon led the race until the 110-mile mark, when he likewise retired with a burnt center piston. The factory Hondas of Bryans, Robb and Smith dropped out one by one, all suffering the same top-end problems. This left Mann, who built a tremendous lead after Nixon retired, as the only Honda rider in the race. Rayborn and the rest of Harley’s Wrecking Crew were non-factors. Not a single iron-head XR—soon to be nicknamed the “waffle iron” for its tendency to overheat—finished the race. The Motor Company’s best result that year came from Walt Fulton Jr., riding an “obsolete” KR.
Here's an inside view of Mike Hailwood's BSA Rocket 3. Notice the poorly placed oil cooler
Even after a meticulous engine rebuild, Mann’s cam-chain tensioner was gone within the first 100 miles. With just 10 laps remaining, Mann’s lead over Romero had withered to just 12 seconds. Hansen did some quick calculations and figured they could safely lose 1 second per lap and still win—provided the bike stayed together. “Dick’s machine was smoking, missing, the whole thing,” Hansen remembers. “I had my doubts.” Still, Hansen kept his fingers crossed, and kept Mann informed of Romero’s progress lap by lap.