One of the highlights at Daytona Bike Week is the Daytona 200, the only endurance race on AMA Pro Racing’s calendar. And for 2011, the historical race will be celebrating its 70th anniversary.
The winner will join the Daytona 200 history book, which includes the highest level of talent in motorcycle racing: Joe Leonard, Paul Goldsmith, Giacomo Agostini, Kenny Roberts, Wayne Rainey, Miguel Duhamel and Mat Mladin, just to name a few.
Next Saturday (March 12), 51 riders will grid up for the Daytona 200, ready to take on a 57-lap race around a 2.9 mile circuit with 12 turns. Unlike previous year’s events, though, this year’s Datona 200 will revert back to a Saturday-afternoon start time (aired live on SPEED TV, 1 p.m.).
As racing fans eagerly await the 2011 Daytona 200, here’s a history of the ultimate race which continues to set the tone for the upcoming AMA Pro Racing season.
Daytona 200 History
Since Jan. 24, 1937, the race has required the commitment and skill from multiple racers, some winning entrants becoming legends (think Giacomo Agostini).
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.
Black & White photographs courtesy of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company Archives