Steve Rapp flew to Daytona this year for a busman’s holiday. Now piloting 70-seat commercial aircraft for GoJet Airlines, the Californian had been invited by Suburban Motors Harley-Davidson in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to race an XR1200 in the AMA Pro Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson class. Rapp’s plan? Practice and qualify on Thursday, race on Friday. Report for work back in St. Louis on Saturday.
That was before GEICO Honda rider Dane Westby crashed on Thursday while practicing for the Daytona 200 and suffered non-life-threatening injuries. Team owner and AMA SuperBike regular Chris Ulrich contacted Rapp and offered him a one-race contract.
Rapp phoned GoJet and explained the situation. Fortunately, his boss, Dennis Craig, is an ex-flat-tracker. Craig’s response? “Well, I hope you didn’t say no!” Craig even made plans to fly to Florida to watch Rapp race in person.
“Steve’s a former Daytona 200 winner and has been on a SuperBike podium in the last 12 months,” said Ulrich in a press release. “He is a true professional and can certainly get the GEICO Motorcycle Honda to the finish line in the Daytona 200. Hopefully, he can earn a podium spot.”
“They needed somebody,” said Rapp, “and I’m glad they thought of me. A good team with a good bike doesn’t come along very often, so I’m going to make the most of it.”
Rapp turned pro in 1996 and has since competed in nearly every AMA Pro Road Racing class. He also has on-track experience with electric motorcycles. Last season, riding for Attack Performance, he was ninth overall in SuperBike, with four top-fives and a best finish of second at the penultimate round of the series at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Transitioning away from racing hasn’t been easy for Rapp. “I feel like I am still competitive, and I wanted to keep racing,” he said. “But there just weren’t any opportunities. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been working on getting my pilot’s hours and ratings. I interviewed with GoJet last summer, and they hired me on the spot.” GoJet subcontracts for Delta Connection and United Express.
Rapp rode the Honda CBR600RR for the first time Friday morning in near-freezing temperatures. “I had to adjust a few things—bars, footpegs, steering damper, a little bit of ride height,” he said. “But the tires were so cold that I couldn’t really ride the bike like I should be riding it.”
Minutes after qualifying 11th-quickest for Saturday’s Daytona 200, Rapp lined up for the seven-lap Harley race, for which he had qualified second, despite having missed most of the session with a broken throttle cable. Unfortunately, he didn’t even reach the halfway point of the race, slowing after just one lap.
“The AMA switched the ECU before the race, and it broke,” said Rapp.
Despite having suffered a disappointing start to the race weekend, Rapp is looking forward to the 200. “I’m very excited,” he said. “I feel the bike is competitive. I’m a little behind on setup time, but hopefully, I can make up for that with experience.”
Indeed. Rapp steadily moved through the field and finished sixth. He was the last rider on the lead lap until the final moments of the race, when 200 winner Cameron Beaubier passed him just before the stripe.
“I wasn’t comfortable on the bike for the first 10 laps,” said Rapp. “I didn’t get a good start, and then I ran deep in the chicane; I had to go through the barriers. I chose to run the same front tire the whole race. It didn’t seem like it started working good until Lap 40.”
Regarding Beaubier’s draft pass at the checkers, Rapp said, “I didn’t even know Cameron was in the lead. My board said I was ahead of someone by 3 seconds. I figured if he was going to lead, he would pass me.
“I came here with a Harley ride and finished sixth in the Daytona 200. I’m glad Dane is okay and that Chris Ulrich gave me the opportunity to ride the GEICO Honda. I’m pleased with our result.”