Friday, March 11, 2011

Still more Daytona trivia. Now that's a classy race...

Classy, eh?

Maybe we've come to accept the "200" as a Daytona SportBike-class race. Or have we just tired of complaining that it's not a Superbike race any more? The fact is, like everything at Speedway, the 200 is completely controlled by the France family, who own the track. They’ve arbitrarily changed the rules on many occasions – often to the dismay of fans, racers, and even the AMA. 

From 1937-’76 the race was run under AMA Class C rules. Until 1968, Class C permitted overhead valve motors of up to 500cc and side valve motors (the type used by Harley-Davidson) of up to 750cc. In ’69 the AMA allowed all Class C machines to displace 750cc, effectively ending Harley-Davidson’s ability to compete and causing the tens of thousands of Harley riders who converged on Daytona for Bike Week to lose interest in proceedings at the track.

From ’77-’84 the race was for Formula 1 motorcycles – typically 750cc two-strokes like the Yamaha TZ750. When race fans were bored by years of Yamaha domination, the France family arbitrarily made the 200 a race for a new class of production-based racers called “Superbikes”.

It was a Superbike race from 1985 to 2004, when the Jimmy France announced another class change. Beginning in 2005, the 200 would be a race for Formula Extreme-class motorcycles. The reason: they wanted the race to be run under rules that would again allow a Harley-Davidson (aka Buell) to be competitive.
Dick Mann rode a CB750 Racing Type - not a CR750 'kit' bike like this one. But ironically, it was the availability of this kit that forced Honda - against its will - to field factory bikes in the Daytona 200. Over the winter of 1969, Honda told one of its U.S. execs, Bob Hansen, that it didn't want the CB750 raced in the 200. Hansen, who was already running an unofficial works team out of his basement, pointed out that several hopped up street bikes were already being prepared by private teams, and that none of them had a chance of winning. To preserve the company's honor, a full-factory effort was rushed together. Only one of the factory Hondas finished, but all anyone remembers is that it finished first.

“Win on Sunday, sell (wait a minute ­– Hondas?) on Monday”
In 1970, BSA, Triumph, Norton and Honda all had new, bet-the-company 750cc motorcycles hitting the market. A win was such a vital part of BSA’s business plan that the company even lured Mike Hailwood out of retirement to ride a new Rocket III in the “200”. Even Harley-Davidson had an all-new XR750 racer for Cal Rayborn. Virtually all of the factory bikes broke down in the race but at the end of the day all anyone remembered was that the last Honda running was the one Dick Mann rode to victory.That was the first time that any motorcycle not made in the U.S. or Britain ever won the 200.

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