For the first time since 2016, the AFT series once again held their season opening double-header at the short track in Daytona. While short on length, the small bullring proved to be long on action as the best in flat track bounced off bumps, walls, and each other, as they put on a tremendous show in front of the appreciative crowd.
For the past two seasons AFT has started their season at Volusia Speedway which is a short drive down the road from Daytona. While the half mile stock car track did produce some great racing as riders did their best to stay off the concrete walls and steel guardrails, part of the allure of Bike Week was lost since the event wasn’t actually located in the heart of Daytona. For a three-year run before the Volusia experiment, AFT was in Daytona again but the racing action took place inside the superspeedway as 2017 saw the birth of the Daytona TT. While the venue was cool and the idea had some merit, the racing there never seemed to be up to Bike Week standards as a lot of the corners were very tight and more of a point and shoot layout.
As a fan who has taken in races at all of these venues, it’s true that arguments could be made for each of these tracks being Bike Week worthy depending what is on your wish list as a spectator. Volusia produced higher speeds and some daring passes, but as I mentioned earlier, some of the atmosphere seemed lost due to the location of the track in relation to Daytona Beach. As for the TT, I will admit that it was cool to attend the first one held which was held in 2017, but for some reason the idea never really took off the way AFT was hoping. Trust me when I say that it is breathtaking every time you get to step into an iconic superspeedway such as Daytona, but as a fan the racing to me just never seemed to measure up. For me the only true place to start the season is at the short track in Daytona, where riders will see not only their skills but also their patience put to the ultimate test.
Located outside turn two of the superspeedway, the short track in Daytona is a one off, and although it is larger, I can’t help but compare it to the tiny speedway in Paris that used to be part of our Canadian series. Racers have described the track surface in Daytona as moon dirt, and it really is unique as it is a strange mixture of clay, dirt, sand, and believe it or not crushed shells. Every time you hit the track the surface is different than the time before, which has riders and mechanics constantly guessing on what the magical setup should be the next time you roll to the starting line. Having rode there in 2013, I was shocked as I watched the track go from loose dirt in practice to where I needed to shift gears on the exit of corners in my final as the track had pretty well turned into pavement.
If the Daytona track is truly moon dirt, the season opening races held there this past weekend might point to AFT Singles competitor Kody Kopp being from another planet. The 2022 Singles Champion, Kopp absolutely dominated the weekend as he didn’t put a wheel wrong on either day. Along with winning both feature events in his class (including a gap of over five seconds in race two), Kopp also took the pole award on both days as well as the dash for cash at each race making it a clean sweep on the weekend. It seemed while other riders slipped all over the place on the skittery track, Kopp seemed to be on rails as the bike charged forward no matter which part of the track he decided to ride. Dalton Gauthier managed to grab second place in both races, with Trevor Brunner taking third on Thursday and Chase Saathoff grabbing third place on Saturday.
In Supertwins action, it was Illinois native Dallas Daniels taking the victory on both days, and much like Kopp in the Singles class, Daniels seemed head and shoulders above the competition in both races. Both main events saw Daniels use the same strategy as he would stalk the rider out front, and then make a swift move to the front when the leader made a mistake. While nobody had anything for Daniels on the big bikes, Brandon Robinson had a great ride to second place on Thursday with Briar Bauman putting in an impressive run to third in his maiden voyage on his KTM despite losing his rear brake early in the race. Jarod Vanderkooi finished second on Saturday after leading much of the race, while Oregon native Davis Fisher rounded out the final step on the podium. Once again reigning champ Jared Mees proved to be snake bitten at Daytona and the best he could muster was fourth place in both main events.
Canadian hot shoe Hunter Bauer took part in the event and made the final on both nights finishing 14th and 16th respectively. Although we didn’t get to see Bauer on the podium, the top three results in both classes did have some Canadian flavour. Both Daniels and Saathoff cut their teeth for many years in the Flat Track Canada series, and Gauthier could most likely credit at least part of his podium finishes on the rough track to the many laps he turned on Paris Speedway back in the day.
- From Todd Vallee