AMA: Daytona 200 Report -- The worst of times, the best of times

The classic conundrum asks:"If a tree falls in the forest and there's no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?"  Without settling too deeply into the mire of philosophical speculation, this axiom relates to the idea of objects ceasing to exist when there's nobody around to perceive them. That's the situation that the AMA found themselves in at the running of the Daytona 200 on Friday night. A poor economy, fan indifference and the coldest weather that this reporter has ever seen in northern Florida during bike week conspired to make this year's race the most sparsely attended in, well, maybe ever.

The audience wasn't the only group missing in action. The field was, by some estimates, one of the smallest to take the grid. Eventual winner Josh Herrin said that he didn't have much trouble overtaking backmarkers because the the field was about half of what it was in 2009, the first night running of the 200. Some non-American readers are probably wondering just who the heck Josh Herrin is. This points to another group that was conspicuous by it's absence -- the top riders in  America.  The greatest rider in the history of the series, Mat Mladin, retired at the end of last season to his Australian home, emerging only to toss barbed tweets into the Twittersphere and the other "name" riders are confining themselves to the Superbike series.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Always something of an oddball race, even by American standards, the 200 is the sole endurance type race on the AMA calendar and requires special tactics and equipment not used during the rest of the schedule. In bygone days, that wouldn't stop the best of the best from appearing at the spring kick-off. The 200 was one of the premiere spectacles in  motorcycle racing and world champions would make special pains to appear. People who knew nothing about motorcycle road-racing knew that the Daytona 200 was something special.

In recent times, however, the bloom has been off  the rose. In the nineties, Superbike technology had progressed beyond the point of the tires ability to cope with the extreme demands that the unique track configuration and race length imposed. Attempts to ameliorate this safety issue began with different track layouts and descended to the point where the machinery was downgraded from Superbikes to 600cc Supersport machines. The last indignity on this ignominious fall from grace was the imposition of the Daytona Sportbike class, which, detractors claim, are merely tarted-up middleweight streetbikes.

The creator of the Daytona Sportbike, The Daytona Motorsports Group, is an entity owned by the France family of NASCAR (in)fame that purchased the rights to the AMA series in 2008. The series ran mostly in a business as usual fashion until 2009, when the new owners of the series started changing things. DMG quickly gained the reputation as a contentious, ill-managed entity which managed to alienate and anger all of the major players in the series -- riders, manufacturers and fans -- in one fell swoop. Never mind that the actual racing on the track often times rose above  the squabbling and turf tussling to approach greatness, given the confines of the machinery specification.

The road to hell is said to be paved with good intentions, and some of the DMG's aims were admirable. The idea that the sport should be accessable by a broader spectrum of fan, advertiser and competitor were lofty goals, doubtlessly worth attaining. It was the manner that these systemic changes were to be implemented and enforced that rankled the affected parties. The DMG upper management style was hard-headed, heavy-handed and, at times, arbitrary and capricious. Combined with the world-wide economic downturn, this nearly killed pro-level motorcycle roadracing in America.  Major manufacturers abandoned the series and fan interest was at a low not seen for 20 years or more. Top riders found themselves unemployed or attempting to cast their bread onto foreign waters.

Who Are These Guys?

If someone hadn't been to an AMA race in a few years, the grid for the 200 may have looked to be populated by strangers. While the likes of pole-sitter Danny Eslick, last year's Daytona Superbike champion, series runner-up Martin Cardenas and the defacto factory Yamaha duo of Josh Herrin and Tommy Aquino have been around for a couple of years, most of the top ten qualifiers were virtual unknowns, save for the elderly (by this group's standards) Steve Rapp, who won the 200 in 2007 and long-time privateer Michael "Barney" Barnes.  None of the top superbike riders were entered for the 200, unlike past years where one was likely to see a Bostrom or DuHamel or whomever on the grid. 

The Art of War

8 pm Friday evening saw the field lined up in ~40 degree temps. Thankfully, the AMA has gone back to a conventional starting grid, disposing of the much reviled flying "safety car" starts. When the flag dropped,  the field surged forward only to see 4 riders crash in the first turn, suffering from the effects of too much speed on cold tires on a cold track. Second-place qualifier Martin Cardenas, on the Monster Energy/Roadracing World GSXR 600, quickly followed suit in turn three and the race was red-flagged less than a half-lap in.

 A repeat of last year's multiple red-flag, safety car jumbled debacle was avoided however and the field re-gridded barely 15 minutes later, minus Cardenas, whose crew had been unable to repair his Suzuki in time to make the start.  Roadracing World Suzuki's Danny Eslick jumped the start before the gun, but was able to stop his Suzuki, and thereby took advantage of the new "kinder, gentler" start rule that gives race management the freedom to forgive such a transgression if the offender doesn't gain a competitive advantage.

Seven riders, including Herrin, Tommy Aquino, Eslick, Rapp, Project 1 Yamaha's Dane Westby, Pascal Picotte Racing's Brett McCormick and Aussie Dave's Kev Coghlan were all within a second in a take-no-prisoners battle with 3,4 and 5 riders wide on the banking that prompted track announcer Chris Carter to exclaim that the race was "all out war!"  The Yamaha backed efforts of Herrin, Aquino and Westby with their hordes of technicians and spares were in marked contrast to the McCormick, Rapp and Spanish and European Supersport champion Coghlan's decidedly privateer efforts, a situation that diminished the three's drive not one little bit.

Aquino's Yamaha was jetted overly rich which caused it to belch fire out of the exhaust like a flame thrower and forced him in to the pits, nearly out of gas, 2 laps earlier than the rest of the lead pack.  The release valve on Aquino's quick-fill refueling can stuck open, flooding the Graves R6 and the pit box with gallon after gallon of hi-test race gas, which ended his night. After all the initial pit stops were done, Herrin and Westby came out ahead of Eslick and Rapp by a gap of 6-8 seconds.

Herrin, showing no ill effects from a collision he had in the pits with a fire/safety vehicle before practice that saw him clutching his left shoulder in obvious pain, and Westby continued their bare-knuckles brawl until Westby lost 2 seconds on the last pit, which, despite his concerted efforts, he was unable to make up on Herrin, who was running 1:50 second laps and sliding his rear Dunlop well into the latter stages of the race. Herrin, resplendent in his new stars and stripe leathers, took the checkers, the winner of the 2010 Daytona 200.

Hope Springs

As stated earlier, very few fans were in attendance to see the race. Which is all, to put it mildly, too bad, really.  If you managed to be at the track on Friday you were witness to some of the best racing the 200 has seen (at least in the first two-thirds of the race) in a long while. Combine that with the recent efforts of the AMA to make amends to it's competitors and major players for it's heavy-handed managerial tactics, including a purge of the ruling junta, professional roadracing in America appears to have a much brighter future than it did mere months ago. The climate has changed so much that there's even talk making the 200 a Superbike race again. One can only hope. 

2010

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Comments

Mike - you referred to Danny Eslick as riding for Roadracingworld.com. What happened? All the PR stuff say's he rode for the Geico team of RMR. Yet, when I go to the RMR site, no mention of the latest race weekend. Also in tapes, the Myers girl said Slick was her team mate. She rides with support from RRW. I don't get it...How about a clue.

Great article and thanks.

Eslick is part of the RMR race team, but RMR have no ties to Suzuki and they don't have a network of tuners or anything else. From what Ulrich has said in interviews, RRW has all of the necessary suppliers, connections, and personnel so RMR has outsourced a lot of the race prep and tuning to them. RRW is running only one bike this year, I'm assuming the other half of the RRW 600 squad are preparing Danny's bike.

For all intents and purposes, Danny is in the Team Hammer stable.

,, it's just that I don't share you optimism for the "near" future of the AMA series. One of the biggest questions is how much money was lost at Daytona. The first race of the season.,, Quite simply,, it's still broken..
,,, It stands-to-question, why the AMADMG won't reach out for some global guidance from possibly BSB, WSBK, etc. While those series have been affected by the economy, the fan base remains strong because the series does things right,, race on the weekend,,, great competition,,, the right mix of veterans and new comers from the local support series,,, no 1100cc's pathetically racing 600s,, pay-for internet streaming, full broadcast event coverage, with comparatively little interruptions. variety, choices, Quite simply,,, racing done right.

,,denial is not just a river in Egypt,, AMA riders deserve better than what they are currently getting.

why roadracing will never be what it is overseas is that americans dont love motorcycles like they do in europe...unless it only makes 80hp and cant corner and was built by occ...or...makes well over 100hp was stretched and dropped and still cant go around a corner....its just sad....im defending the dmg i think they played a big part in destroying our series...point is we just dont get it...i ride my 70horse sv650 all over the place and whenever i come across a sportsbike chances are they have chickenstrips till next tuesday and there dressed like a squid and have never heard of valentino rossi or king kenny or even miladin....sad.....sad....sad

Great write up!
"...series runner-up Martin Cardenas..."
Though last year Herrin finished 2nd in points, Cardenas 3rd.

superbike races, i think ill tune in for the ama races this year. Superbike looks like the class to watch. Now i wonder if the parity is there now cause of dmg? or because the greats (mladin/spies) have now left. Either way theis season will not be a dull one.

When the *stupid* pace car caused multiple crashes.

I had a pit pass in '82 and watched Honda intro the V4s. I stood on the pit wall during the start.

I remember Dale winning on a TZ750 before that. KR on a 700cc that *shook* when he powered up onto the oval.

Superbikes were the 1st demotion in power. It succeeded though.

If DMG had never shown up, we'd be watching horrible racing, the factories would be broke anyway, and we might not have TV coverage (without NASCAR leverage); but at least everyone would be happy?

DMG made the change as painful as possible, but at least they improved the racing (value-activity). Parts homologation had to happen regardless of what the manufacturers threatened, imo.

It's production bike racing. Everyone who takes to the track is doing one of the factories a favor. We don't need modification rules that allow the factories to decide who wins and who doesn't by inequitable distribution of parts and electronics. Factories can homologate their race parts or race stock.

Long story short, I'm hopeful about the future b/c they are playing the game properly. Equipment is easy to get, the costs are reasonable. Now they just need to get some money flowing, and they need to convince the factories to provide more support to the private teams. So far only Yamaha and Suzuki seem to care.

You mention equitable distribution of parts then end with that only two factories are giving 'support'? What is support if it's not them in charge of distributing parts? It seems that it has to be one way or the other; they either have the factory supported hierarchy like WSBK or allow no factory support at all.

I don't buy that DMG rescued the sport. If it wasn't on SPEED, some other cable channel could have picked it up. Being tethered to NASCARvision is what keeps it under heel. If it's not the product that anyone wants, it's not a product to sell. But if it is, it could be done better.

DMG didn't rescue the sport, they just forced AMA road racing to make one vital rules reform--parts homologation. If they had saved the sport it would be in much better shape.

The sport doesn't need a WSBK hierarchy unless the factories run works teams. The only reason factories run works teams in WSBK is b/c the Flaminis ripped up the MSMA's 1000cc rule book and turned SBK back into a prototype class. The factories actually wanted SBK to be a factory-supported privateer series in which factories supplied parts, technicians, information/data, and riders (in some instances). They wanted to avoid a control tire so they could have tires built to suit the bike, not build the bike to suit Pirellis. Obviously, the factories can't support everyone who shows up to race, but parts homologation gives non-factory-supported teams the ability to buy race parts.

Even after the Flaminis ripped up the MSMA 1000cc SBK rule book and instituted a control tire, the MSMA still provided satellite bikes. Such an arrangement was killer in AMA SBK b/c the rules were so different. In WSBK all modifications that are not listed in the rulebook are prohibited. In the AMA, all modifications that are not explicitly prohibited or codified in the rulebook are unlimited.

Even if the factories gave AMA privateers every single part, there still no guarantee they could even put the bike together. It was not a good arrangement. Hopefully, DMG will increase the allowable modifications when budgets improve, but I hope they don't return to the days of prototyping unless it is in a controlled Moto2 fashion.

What is easy to lose track of is that AMA racing's recovery is not just from last year, it is from the last several years. Fans walked away from the Mat and Ben show (I know I did) because there was nothing to watch? There was also no way to gauge how good the rest of the field was. Was it the Yosh Suzukis or was it Spies and Mladin. Regardless, there wasn't much reason to care.

DMG made a mess of things last year, some of them important and needed, as Phoenix1 points other, others pointless and reeking of hubris. Fans were left with one conclusion: DMG walked in without knowing what the hell they were doing and because they acted like asses in public, the fans grew to resent them.

So, where does that leave us now? DMG (without Edmondson) seems to have found some level of humility, the rules that no one paid much attention to seem to be doing their job and Mladin is gone. The racing has gotten closer as a result and is looking to remain that way - enough so that I'll be watching this season), there are a lot of new, young and talented riders that have an opportunity they would never have had a few years ago and people I know who don't watch bike racing come up to me and want to talk about the race.

The issues to iron out still are building the bridges with the factories since racing without them is just club racing and the class structure needs to be re-thought out. I honestly have no idea what the hell class I am watching despite knowing the riders involved.

If the racing continues to be as good as it was at Daytona and AMA Pro runs a mostly problem free show the fans will come back although it will take a few years for it to be as strong as it was back in the early part of this decade. But as said in an earlier post, this is America where stick and ball sports rule the roost and in motorsports NASCAR is the 800 lbs gorilla that sucks up most of the corporate racing dollars that are available. Be sure though that us yanks that are into the two wheeled racing scene are just as passionate about it as fans in GB, Italy, Spain or elsewhere.

i attended the final round of the ama series last year at new jersey motorsports park...situated in a highly populated area of the east...very close to philly and very close to ny not to mention all the burbs in the surrounding area...it was what i believe the largest crowd attendance of the 09 season...point being...alot of the ama rounds are held at track that are very hard to get to and are in the middle of nowhere....i am aware that because americans want there peace and quite this is just how it has to be....but when i look at the first gp held at indy people came out in drones....near 100,000 people on a hurricane!!! explain that??...im sure had there been an ama round at indy with no help from a world series the stands would look like daytona...no real point here just an observation...try and find some tracks closer to some populated areas and that might just help too....stay away from kansas!!!

Until American Superbike is put back on top not DMG sportbike, I won't bother. The Superbike purse should be higher and deeper into the field than the "entry" class they are trying to foist on us.