Daytona has a way of expressing itself in extremes. This was the case in 1994 during my inaugural trip to Bike Week as a pro dirt-tracker. The first night at Municipal Stadium, I had an extraordinary qualifying result for the main event. That stellar effort was backed up the following evening by disappointment: I failed to make the night program. After loading up the van early, I had a 3000-mile drive home to stew over it.
A few years later, I was overjoyed with my first AMA Supersport podium at the Speedway when I finished second to my childhood hero, Doug Chandler. The following year, I flew out of saddle exiting the International Horseshoe and landed directly on Dr. Ting’s cold operating table. A few years after that, I took pole for the 200 on a Ducati 998 and, with victory just six laps away, the oil cooler failed.
Now, as I fly home to California, annoyed, in disbelief of my lack of results this past weekend, history tells me I shouldn’t be surprised, given my volatile relationship with this venue.
Daytona is somewhat of an enigma for me. After I witnessed the mad scramble and work ethic from all parties involved with our program, most notably the Attack Performance crew, which pulled one all-nighter after the next for the better part of six weeks, the hand we were dealt feels unbearable. Thankfully, the team’s young gun, JD Beach, brought home a great result in his first 200 and even managed to lead a few laps of the race.
Here’s a summary of my week:
Thursday: Mother Nature stripped us of much-needed setup time with rain and wind, clearing only in the late afternoon. Getting rolling out on the slippery “green” surface, I was nearly catapulted into the cheap seats on corner exits as the rear Dunlop slick slid then gripped. The brand-new Kawasaki ZX-10R continued to feel too active in the rear as we searched for a stiff-enough setting to handle the extreme forces generated by Daytona’s steep banking. Josh Hayes and Tommy Hayden threw down the gauntlet straight away by diving into the 1:38s.
I had only a handful of laps on the ZX-6R prior to arriving in Daytona, and, slowed by front-end chatter, we clearly had a lot of work to do. The unhappy team was forced to leave the garage area at 8 p.m.
Friday: Straight into SuperBike qualifying. Neither the clock nor the competition was waiting; it was time to dig deep whether I was ready or not. We missed the mark on our new shock spec, and a change at pit wall cost valuable time. With just moments left in the session, I squeezed out a 1:39.1-second lap—just .9 off pole. That netted me eighth on the grid, truly testament to the team’s efforts.
Straight back on the track on the 600. My mind was up to speed and sharp; if only the bike would have behaved. In an abbreviated 20-minute session, I had just one shot at the Rolex that comes with top Daytona 200 qualifying honors. Any hope for winning the watch was dashed when the fork bounced off the bump stop while I was braking. We missed the mark on the setting—too soft. With no time to make a change, the best I could muster was fifth.
My disappointment was neutralized by my ecstatic teammate’s fourth-place result. And the fact that, even though my leathers were soaked in sweat, it was time for me to line up for the American SuperBike race.
A poor launch off the line led to disaster: In just the third turn of the first lap, an overzealous rider struck the back of my machine and knocked me down. Sliding across the infield grass, I could only think in anger how badly we needed the track time to prepare for Saturday’s race. Our semi driver, Don Baynes, somehow managed the impossible and bought us an additional hour in the pit garage that we desperately needed. The team left the track at 9 p.m. famished.
Saturday: The warm-up lap for the SuperBike race was promising. The ZX-10R carved through the infield with ease; we were ready to rumble. A much-better starting effort had me firmly placed with the front runners as I dug deep to sink my claws into their backsides. Stretching the 10R’s potent legs driving out of the chicane up onto the banking was a thrill, but as I entered the Tri-Oval at 190-plus mph, the handlebars began to dance in my hands as the front tire pushed toward the outside retaining wall.
We missed the balance again, overshooting with a soft setting in the rear. Reality strikes deep; 15 more laps of this? As the laps wore on, the front tire felt as though it was a marshmallow held over a flame, wallowing on the brakes and pushing on the banking. Throwing caution to the wind in an effort to make up time, I ran off the track entering Turn 1. I drove around the banking approaching NASCAR Turn 4 with the throttle nearly wide open. To my horror, the front end folded while I was tapped-out in sixth gear and my feet got light as they lost contact with the pegs. Wind returned to my lungs as I felt my weight return to the pegs. I was still upright—whew! Eighth place would have to be good enough.
The sighting lap for the 200 brought a satisfying smile to my face. The stiffer fork setting was perfect—we nailed it! Redemption time. I knew I had the fastest bike on the track; it was my race to lose. After a conservative start to baby the clutch, I was inside the top 10. I figured it would be an easy march to the front. Then, a solid slap in the face: The motor slowed coming toward the stripe on the very first lap. Many hours of preparation gone in an instant, my Bike Week was over. Between the SuperBike races and the 200, I set out to race 87 laps but completed a scant 16. Yes, racing can be cruel, and Daytona has a special way of magnifying this reality.
The rest of my day was spent cheering on my young teammate as he carried the torch for the entire team. Congratulations on a great weekend, JD; fourth is this crowd is an incredible achievement.
The positive spin: In all my years of racing, I have never seen a team pour so much heart into an effort. The sacrifices and compromises that everyone put into getting Team Cycle World Attack Performance Kawasaki to Daytona in six short weeks was monumental to the point of being just short of a miracle.
AMA Pro Road Racing has taken a severe beating in recent years, leaving many questioning whether the series will cease to exist. My response is this: Have you watched the racing?! It has never been so exciting. Never!
A crowd attracts a crowd, and great racing is contagious. Through selfless efforts and bold decisions to push forward through hardship, racing teams like ours will continue to exist, and racing will live on and thrive once again. I’ve never been prouder to be part of a team as I am of this one. Thanks to my crew for an incredible effort and to the fans for all the cheers.