DAYTONA BEACH, FLA., MAR. 7-16—For the last six months and more the dominant American news story factor has been the whacked-out weather. It’s been so severe that meteorologists have resorted to terms associated with bizarre climatic patterns normally found much farther north: polar vortex, bombogenesis and williwaw windstorms. (My favorite was one a local prognosticator made up: slizzle, a combination of sleet and drizzle.) And the atmospheric conditions hovering over famed Daytona Beach would also play a major role in this year’s Bike Week—and for a change, it was all for the good.
While the days leading up to Bike Week opening weekend didn’t look too promising with cold and wet conditions on the Thursday and Friday before, everyone (bikers and spring-breakers both) kept their fingers crossed and a watchful eye on the Weather Channel. And by that first Sunday, the mojo was working with the days warming up to the high 70’s and even teasing the crowds with periodic low 80’s. Nighttime temps would still dip into the 50’s providing some chilly morning rides, but the dry air warmed quickly under that famous Florida sun and gave us one of the most temperate Daytona Bike Week experiences in recent memory. (Or maybe the nasty winter had left the majority of riders scarred and it just felt that way.)
Area hotels reported that business was the best they had seen in years with many having to turn on that dusty and seldom-used “No Vacancy” neon the majority of nights, and a 90-percent occupancy rate even for the nights that were not sold out. Bob Davis, president and CEO of the Hotel & Lodging Association of Volusia County, told The Daytona Beach News-Journal that this year may have seen the greatest generation of revenue for area hotels since before the 2007–’09 recession. And with the area lodging nearing a maxed-out level, it only follows that bars and restaurants also saw a similar increase in customer volume with most indicators giving full credit for this success to the great weather. These exceptional conditions also brought a huge influx of college kids eager to throw off the country’s icy shackles during spring break. (Ever since Bike Week slid into a time slot one week later on the calendar, the bikers and the breakers have shared Daytona and lived in peace with the beach-bunny cuties crowding the sidewalks and bars, much to the delight of the greybeards.) Daylight Savings Time also kicked in that first Sunday, which provided even more riding and partying time before sunset. Great weather and more hours to enjoy it—finally, a perfect storm we can embrace.
Construction at the International Speedway remains ongoing with the western bleachers skeletonized and the vendors relegated to lots on the eastern side along the intersection of Midway and Richard Petty Boulevards. That intersection was a hive of activity all week with demo rides of all the latest models being offered there by Harley-Davidson, Victory and Indian Motorcycle. The big, white Harley tents at the Speedway were also the location for the Women’s MDA Ride held on Tuesday, the H-D Ride-In Bike Show on Wednesday, as well as offering H.O.G. members (only) the H.O.G. Rally Point each afternoon that included complimentary nonalcoholic drinks, popcorn and Harley’s latest venture, H-D Roadhouse Customs, a line of five spicy sausages that will be available in retail supermarkets this spring. And while Indian didn’t have any major meat to brag about, they did present a well-attended Daytona Kick-Off Party on the first Saturday at the Full Moon Saloon on Main Street. Mike Wolfe, star of American Pickers, was on hand and announced the formation of the new Indian Motorcycle Riders Club. Wolfe also declared the winner of the “Epic One-Year Demo Ride,” Donnie Donahue from Hot Springs, Arkansas, who will have the use of a new Indian Chief for a full year. The big news for Victory during Bike Week was the introduction of their new 2015 Gunner, which was revealed at the Victory display at the track with U.S. Marine Drill Instructor R. Lee Ermey (The Gunny) and the Ness family (Arlen, Cory and Zach) on hand at various times for public meet and greets.
The big news on Main Street was the reopening of a venue that was last known as the Dog House, a great party spot on the corner of Main and Wild Olive that last year was used as a parking lot after the demise of the House. This year Bad Boys Saloon took over, occupying the asphalt lot, as well as the adjoining two-story building, with a huge tent and stage. Owner and long-time resident Lou DeRosa hopes his new business will once again become part of the Main Street party epicenter. The building was the site for the Cycle Source Industry Party on Tuesday night and featured the magazine’s editor, Chris Callen, and his band Big House Pete. It was also the location for a poker run Saturday morning conducted by Heart Strings for Heroes, a nonprofit founded by international recording artists in support of Purple Heart recipients (www.heartstringsforheroes.com). Gabby Barrett (on track for a possible recording contract with Sony) had everyone at attention with hands over hearts while performing a heart-rending performance of the “Star-Spangled Banner” before two-dozen bikes left for this 22-mile ride that ran through the more scenic sections of the area, ending at the boardwalk. The organization also sold tickets to win an autographed guitar provided by Willie Nelson.
But while some venues are new and flourishing with a splash, others are either defunct or downsizing. After two years, Bikers on the Hill, the City of Holly Hill experiment, has abandoned their attempts at producing a major venue and scaled back. They have now decided to combine forces with Boss Hoss Motorcycles as their sole vendor, offering demo rides on the biggest Hoss around. It’s a nice layout if you’re a fan of the big V-8’s, but not so much if your tastes run more towards V-twins. And the venerable Broken Spoke along the Ormond Strip had closed. But that didn’t mean that Ormond wasn’t the place to be, with traffic lines long at times and the Iron Horse Saloon perpetually packed. Unfortunately a teenage girl driving a truck reportedly knocked down three people crossing the street in front of the Horse on Wednesday night. All three injured were transported to area hospitals and the reckless female was charged with DUI.
Bike shows were in full force this year with a Bagger Show at Riverfront Park on the first Saturday, a second Bagger Show at the Boothill Saloon Outpost on Tuesday, The Horse magazine’s Ride-In Show also at the Outpost on Wednesday, a Victory Motorcycles show at Volusia Motorsports that same day and a L.E.D. Bike Show at the Outpost that night. That was followed by Willie’s Tropical Tattoo Chopper Time Show on Thursday (see coverage on page 34), and then on Friday, the Boardwalk Bike Show along the beach, the Baddest Bagger Contest at Destination Daytona, an All-Indian Motorcycle Show at Corbin in Ormond Beach and a ride-in bike show at Bad Boys, finally ending with the Rat’s Hole at the Water Park on Saturday. And although you most likely would see a few of the same bikes in several of the shows, the variety of creativity is always impressive. It’s always amazing what those snowbound minds, pent up for months on end due to bad weather, can forge during the winter months.
The Boardwalk Show on Friday featured 104 absolutely beautiful works of rolling art. OK, maybe 90 absolutely beautiful works of rolling art and then another 10 or so that were absolutely bizarre rolling art creations. Ingenious? Oh yes—but not something the average biker would ever care to straddle. But under azure skies and a light coastal breeze, with roller coasters, a Ferris wheel and the Atlantic Ocean as a backdrop, this had to be one of the best shows of the entire week.
The day before the world-renowned Rats Hole Bike Show at Daytona Water Park on Saturday, there was the Rat-a-Palooza, an opportunity to enjoy live music, a pin-up girl contest and a tattoo competition. Our very own North Editor, Shadow, had even been requested to serve as one of the judges for the day’s tat contest. The Water Lagoon was also the destination point on Friday for the 10th annual V-8 Motorcycle Run & Show. Starting at Custom Works off International Speedway, almost 100 V-8 two- and three-wheelers took off that afternoon for a ride across the Main Street Bridge over the Halifax River before rolling into the Daytona Lagoon, the local water park. Unfortunately, this year the group was not able to secure an escort, which meant this huge collection of V-8 massiveness became fragmented, interspersed with autos and separated by unknowing riders on tiny-displacement 100 and 125 c.i. bikes. On Saturday the 42nd annual Rat’s Hole Show was held at the Water Lagoon, bringing with it a new Judges Competition. This where the six Rats Hole judges entered bikes they personally built with the winner being chosen by popular vote. Once again it was a fine day under fair skies, with the stellar collection of motorcycles submitted being a testament to the creative talents of the wizened and the novice, the seasoned innovator and the brazen avant-garde.
And not to be forgotten, the lineup of musical talent ran the gauntlet, including well-known players Boston, Bad Company, David Allan Coe, Great White and Jasmine Cain, along with an underground collection of those yet to be discovered nationally: Mustang Sally, Tim Dugger, and JB Walker and the Cheap Whiskey Band—all on the cusp of fame and fortune. Buy a CD; make them famous!
The week ended on a high note with the warmest days being the last weekend, Saturday and Sunday. Local riders apparently had been watching the Weather Channel and decided this was their time. The invasion was immediate, resulting in packed venues, long lines and a 40-minute wait to get over the Silver Beach Bridge from Beach Street to Daytona. That’s a good thing since it means the most savage winter in years is abating and spring may actually be right around the corner for all of us. Let’s hope so, because polar vortex, bombogenesis, williwaw windstorms and freezing-ass cold are not terms any riders want to be a part of their lexicon or memories.