Daytona 200 History
The famed Daytona 200 will celebrate its 69th anniversary this Friday. Fifty-one riders will battle under the lights for 57 laps, and the winner will acquire his or her exclusive slot into motorcycle-racing history.
Since Jan. 24, 1937, the race has required the commitment and skill from multiple racers, some winning entrants becoming legends: Joe Leonard, Paul Goldsmith, Giacomo Agostini, Kenny Roberts, Wayne Rainey, Miguel Duhamel, Mat Mladin, just to name a few.
Of course these greats raced on Daytona International Speedway (DIS). But well before these champions began etching their names into the heritage of this high-speed sport, races were performed at Daytona Beach…not the town, but the actual beach.
Racing in the sand occurred from 1937 to 1961, lacking the years 1942-47 due to World War II. Riders racing the then-called “Handlebar Derby” piloted mostly Harley-Davidsons and Indians, some with the dangerous suicide-shift.
During the first race on the 3.2-mile beach course that was used from 1937 to 1948, Ed Kretz was one of the 120 entries, and took the win on an Indian, averaging 73.34 mph. Kretz “captured” the inaugural “City of Daytona Beach” trophy; back then, the only racer that kept the trophy was the rider who won the race three times; Dick Klamfoth, who won in 1949, 1951 and 1952, has the trophy.
In 1948, due to development of Daytona Beach, the race was moved south near Ponce Inlet. The 4.1-mile course remained in operation until 1961, when the famed race was moved to the pavement of DIS, where it will likely continue forever.
And that foundational 1937 race also created a need for events surrounding the Daytona 200, laying the platform for Bike Week as we know it today. Thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts descend on Daytona’s warm sand during the final weeks of winter ever year for Bike Week, which runs for 10 days in a large area of Volusia County.
Photographs courtesy of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company Archives.