BANKING ON ’70’S EXCESS

In its glory days, Daytona was the world's most important motorcycling race, and the wildest

CLASSIC BIKE

by Classic Bike Team |

I had been fascinated by America’s super-speedways for years before I actually got to see one in 1971. By that time the ultimate lap record around Daytona’s 2.5-mile tri-oval stood at a barely credible 194.015mph, a speed set by Cale Yarborough in a Mercury stock car (ie saloon car) the previous year, on primitive crossply tyres.

I tried to walk up Daytona’s east banking, to examine the feared wall that Yarborough and other stock-car greats such as Fireball Roberts and Richard Petty must have scraped (or occasionally gone over) in their tussles in the track’s 500- mile car races. Near the top, my shoes slipped from under me, and I had to get on all fours to reach the rim. Daytona’s bankings are really steep – 31° at the top.

I fell in love with everything about Daytona: the scale of this vast celebration of speed, the hedonism of America in the early ’70s and the Florida sunshine. For the 200-miler that year, no less than 117 riders formed up in waves on the grid (the Spanish 500cc Grand Prix that year had just 14 starters). The mad policies that prevailed at BSA-Triumph led the group to field ten works riders and a support crew of 60, even as the water was swirling over the captains’ ankles on that doomed ship.

We were staying at the same hotel as the BSA-Triumph crew, and I remember that every time a journalist walked through the foyer, a PR puppet would spring from the bar and ask: “Would you like a drink?”

Word came that Forkin’ Frank, whoever he was, was holding a party in his basement room. He turned out to be a manufacturer of chopper forks from the mid-west, but he also seemed to be an alcoholic, because when we filed into his place there was an entire wall lined with cases of booze. Frank spent a lot of time crawling about on the floor, which we put down to him being drunk. But when it was time to go, we found that he had taped together everyone’s legs. You had to get a knife or scissors to cut yourself free.

It may have been later in that unending night that I flung my passport to the far corners of the hotel bar, declaiming: “I’m never going back to England!” It must have been later still that ‘friends’ wedged my bed (with me in it, unconscious) diagonally into a lift and pushed the button for the ground floor. No idea how I got out of that mess.

I had been fascinated by America’s super-speedways for years before I actually got to see one in 1971. By that time the ultimate lap record around Daytona’s 2.5-mile tri-oval stood at a barely credible 194.015mph, a speed set by Cale Yarborough in a Mercury stock car (ie saloon car) the previous year, on primitive crossply tyres.

I tried to walk up Daytona’s east banking, to examine the feared wall that Yarborough and other stock-car greats such as Fireball Roberts and Richard Petty must have scraped (or occasionally gone over) in their tussles in the track’s 500- mile car races. Near the top, my shoes slipped from under me, and I had to get on all fours to reach the rim. Daytona’s bankings are really steep – 31° at the top.

I fell in love with everything about Daytona: the scale of this vast celebration of speed, the hedonism of America in the early ’70s and the Florida sunshine. For the 200-miler that year, no less than 117 riders formed up in waves on the grid (the Spanish 500cc Grand Prix that year had just 14 starters). The mad policies that prevailed at BSA-Triumph led the group to field ten works riders and a support crew of 60, even as the water was swirling over the captains’ ankles on that doomed ship.

We were staying at the same hotel as the BSA-Triumph crew, and I remember that every time a journalist walked through the foyer, a PR puppet would spring from the bar and ask: “Would you like a drink?”

Word came that Forkin’ Frank, whoever he was, was holding a party in his basement room. He turned out to be a manufacturer of chopper forks from the mid-west, but he also seemed to be an alcoholic, because when we filed into his place there was an entire wall lined with cases of booze. Frank spent a lot of time crawling about on the floor, which we put down to him being drunk. But when it was time to go, we found that he had taped together everyone’s legs. You had to get a knife or scissors to cut yourself free.

It may have been later in that unending night that I flung my passport to the far corners of the hotel bar, declaiming: “I’m never going back to England!” It must have been later still that ‘friends’ wedged my bed (with me in it, unconscious) diagonally into a lift and pushed the button for the ground floor. No idea how I got out of that mess.

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