The slogan of the 2011 Daytona 200 should have been, “Well, that’s racing.” The historic race was plagued by multiple crashes and pandemic tire failure, but the day ended with a happy Jason DiSalvo—and the ecstatic Ducati factory—victorious, and the racing was as exciting as it’s ever been.
The practices and tire tests were done in shorter sessions and cooler temperatures than the main event, so the tire problems weren’t apparent to Dunlop (provider of the spec tire for the event) until racers started to pit early to change front tires, soon followed a few laps later by more and more riders. At that point, Dunlop asked the AMA to stop the race so the tires—a new compound formulated for the race—could be swapped for another compound. Understandable when the temperature soared to over 100 degrees, and the pavement had recently been resurfaced for the first time in years.
During that interlude, which lasted more than an hour, DiSalvo’s Team Latus Motors Racing swapped out his 848 EVO’s motor, which DiSalvo thought may have lost a cylinder right before the red flag was thrown. On the restart, it was close racing, with the fastest six or seven riders dicing closely until DiSalvo—who had backed off with five laps to go when he thought he was once again having bike problems—“slingshotted” himself into the lead position shortly before the finish. The race was cut short, but it was no less exciting or memorable, and the impression is that it was close, hard racing—classic Daytona 200. Ducati was justifiably proud of the win, but with seven 848s on the grid (the most Ducs in 10 years), and considering the displacement advantage, it’s hardly surprising.
The XR1200 spec race was interesting as well, with the return of “Mr. Daytona” Scott Russell to the event. He wasn’t able to pull off yet another win, ironically finishing behind H-D communications man Paul James. But the racing was close, with the top three finishers (Kyle Wyman, Chris Fillmore and Joe Kopp) crossing the line .105 seconds apart, with Steve Rapp just .10 seconds behind them.
Another story—an all-American one—is of the Sadowski brothers, Matt and Dave, jr., sons of 1990 200 winner Dave Sadowski. When not racing motorcycles, they can be found working the parts counter at Top Shelf Motorcycles, a Marin County, California service-and-accessories shop. Two Sundays ago, Top Shelf co-principal Tom “Turbo” Griffith showed up on my local motorcycle ride on a brand new Ducati 848 EVO. He couldn’t stick around for breakfast, though—he had to break in the bike and get it back to the shop to be race prepped.
A week later, a pair of EVOs, now equipped with Racetech suspension, Leo Vince exhaust, race bodywork and a few other items, were loaded into a trailer. Fifty-one hours after that, the Sadowski boys pulled into the Daytona pits. Practice went well, with all the racers getting used to new tires.
The 200 started well enough, with Mat and Dave jr. riding hard as they could and taking advantage of what seemed like most of the Sadowski family working as a well-timed pit crew, managing a 13-second pitstop at one point. But as the race wore on, the tire problems started rearing up, and the race was red-flagged for new tires. On the re-start, Dave jr., realized he would be racing what was essentially a 15-lap heat race, one he would be hard-pressed to win with what was essentially a stock-motored bike. Still, the four-time Daytona veteran pressed on to an impressive 19th place (as of Sunday night—continuing protests and other controversy may change the results).
Mat had a tougher row to hoe. On the first lap after the restart, debris hit his front wheel, ripping off the fender and his front brake line as he barreled into Turn 1 at 170 mph. “That was interesting,” Mat told me when I asked what it was like. “I used a whole lot of four-letter words, but hung on and used the rear brake,” as he hurtled towards the hay bales. Using engine braking and his overworked rear binder, he managed to scrub off 50 mph of speed before he hit the gap between two bales, managing to keep the bike upright, under control and uncrashed. “Quite the adventurous trip.”