Eileen Zaffiro-Kean – The Daytona Beach News-Journal / Published March 2, 2022
DAYTONA BEACH — Longtime visitors and local residents might think they know everything there is to know about Bike Week and its history, but there may be a few things even the most faithful attendees of the 10-day motorcycle party haven’t heard before.
Want to test your Bike Week knowledge? Keep reading.
How did Daytona’s Bike Week start?
Daytona Beach’s Bike Week was not originally a 10-day biker party with planned events. It began as a race called the Daytona 200 that had its inaugural competition on Jan. 24, 1937.
That first race 85 years ago took place south of Daytona Beach on a 3.2 mile course, and the winner was Ed Kretz of California, whose speed averaged 73.34 mph.
The event remained little more than a motorcycle speed competition from 1937 to 1941, but then World War II put the annual race on hiatus from 1942 to 1947. The Daytona 200’s sanctioning body, the American Motorcycling Association, solemnly noted it was “in the interests of national defense” that the event was canceled.
While there was no Daytona 200 during those war years when fuel, tires and key engine components were being rationed, there was an unofficial event taking place called Bike Week.
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It was the beginning of the festival that evolved into the Bike Week that became more about motorcyclists gathering to ride around town, listen to live music, drink and check out one another’s two-wheeled machines.
Where did the Daytona 200 take place?
The original 1937 beach and road course south of Daytona Beach ran approximately 1.5 miles northward on the beach, then it took a quarter-mile turn where the sand was banked. After that first turn the course shifted onto the paved public roadway for the southbound portion of the circuit.
Coming into the final turn on the loop was another high sand bank, after which riders raced back onto the hard sands of the beach and sped north again.
Because of the beach portion of the course, starting times for the Daytona 200 were dictated by the local tide tables.
What happened after World War II?
On Feb. 24, 1947, the famous motorcycle race resumed and for the first time it was promoted by the legendary Bill France. The race attracted so many people that city leaders asked residents to open their homes to the visitors because all hotel rooms and camping areas were filled to capacity.
The 1947 Daytona 200 featured a record 176 riders.
In 1948, a different beach and road course was used because of new development along the oceanfront. Organizers were forced to move the event farther south, toward Ponce Inlet. The new circuit measured 4.1 miles.
The last Daytona 200 to be held on the beach and road course took place in 1960. In 1961, the race was moved to the then 2-year-old Daytona International Speedway.
In the post-World War II years, Bike Week developed a rougher vibe, particularly with the unofficial events not directly connected to the race. Some local residents became afraid of the Bike Week visitors, and both law enforcement officers and city officials started to see Bike Week as more of an invasion than a friendly group of tourists visiting Daytona Beach.
The relationship between bikers and law enforcement officers deteriorated, and hit a low after the 1986 Bike Week. The city and the chamber of commerce set up a special task force was set up by the city and chamber of commerce to improve relations and change the scope of the event.
Who comes to Bike Week, and when?
Tens of thousands of bikers and people just looking for a fun time come from throughout the United States and even other countries. Bike Week normally takes place during the first full week of March, though the timeframe has changed when other events were being held at Daytona International Speedway.
Daytona’s Bike Week runs from a Friday through the next full week, wrapping up on the Sunday 10 days after that first Friday. This year’s motorcycle rally runs from March 4-13.
Bike Week has transformed into a 10-day festival that takes place throughout Volusia County. Some bikers even venture to other central Florida counties to explore or use as their home base during Bike Week.
There are plenty of events for the two-wheeled visitors throughout Volusia County, but Main Street on the beachside remains Bike Week’s headquarters and must-visit place during the biker party.
You can reach Eileen at Eileen.Zaffiro@news-jrnl.com