The month of March usually signals the start of better weather back here at home but it is also the host month for something much more important in the motorcycle world. Every March Daytona Beach plays host to Bike Week which is a virtual carnival of two wheels for both motorcycle enthusiasts and racers alike. We have attended Bike Week festivities as spectators but back in 2013 we took a different approach as we headed for Florida so my son could participate in bike week racing action taking part in both Georgia and Florida.
For those not in the know, the Bike Week racing schedule is an ambitious schedule as we left Ontario with plans of doing one practice day and then five racing events spread over six consecutive days. This would be a major step up from the racing schedule we were used to which was usually one or possibly two races in a weekend. Armed with money to buy six new tires thanks to Inside Motorcycles, a house rented in New Smyrna Beach as a home base and a back-up bike in the trailer courtesy of Steve Ball, we were off to see what Braden could do against some of the fastest amateurs in America.
It didn’t take us long to figure out that to put it mildly, everybody is frigging fast there! Braden was coming off a great 2012 season in which he had won two Canadian novice championships but that seemed to pale in comparison to some of the state and national champions that were present that week. Along with fellow Canuck Shane Corbeil it became apparent early on that the goal wasn’t to win races, the goal was to just qualify for main events. As I said, everybody at the track was super talented but Shane and Braden had the added competition of going up against future AFT Superstars Jarod Vanderkooi, Dalton Gauthier and Kolby Carlile. As well as oodles of talent, a lot of the riders on hand had the bonus of being on a bike pretty well year round. In 2012 I think Braden did 16 races but talking to competitors there, it wasn’t unusual to speak to riders who had taken part in 70-80 events the year before. I also talked to a family with a very impressive looking racing outfit that told me they basically lived on wieners and beans year round so they could afford to race all year. Incredible dedication but I guess I just didn’t love my son enough to change my diet for a whole year.
Race one at Oglethorpe Speedway in Georgia saw both Braden and Shane make the main event despite having over 40 riders trying to qualify. I think they finished tenth and eleventh respectively which was a decent showing but certainly a far cry from what they had gotten used to the year before in Canada. Day two saw Shane qualify for one class while Braden didn’t make it in either class so we headed out a little early for the house in Florida since we would be racing at Daytona Speedway the following day. On the way to the house we made a pit stop for gas and a coffee and if I can give you a bit of advice don’t ever get a double double in the states. Could have ate it with a fork I think.
Arriving at Daytona the next day was almost magical despite us making three attempts in finding the right entrance into the track. Since we were at Daytona I figured that I would also race and I won’t say much other than it didn’t go well and I left some of my skin on the track. Daytona short track is a strange animal and I guess the best way to put it is that you have to slow down to go fast. Real easy to say but hard to do once you are on the bike with a bunch of hungry jackals chasing you. Braden had the lead for one of his heat races here for a couple of laps but sadly after slipping off of the groove that had formed, the freight train got by. Even finishing second in his LCQ wasn’t enough to make it to the final so his Daytona experience was over other than cheering on Shane in the main event.
The next day was the Volusia Speedway half mile and after the dejection the day before, we were eager to turn things around. Shane decided to sit this one out while Braden was finally coming to terms with the clay half miles surrounded by concrete. Qualifying in both of his classes, Braden was happy to rebound from the day before and rode to strong finishes in both main events. The final day of racing was at the Volusia short track and results were mixed to say the least. Braden had an excellent ride to win his heat race in one class while in the second class he only qualified after a good run in the LCQ. Excited for his first final after watching him win his heat, my brother in law and I took our spot on the fence anticipating a fight for the win. Boy were we wrong. Right from the start of the race Braden went backwards and ended up crossing the line a distant 12th with the leaders not even in sight. Bewildered, we walked back to the pits to find a rather animated Braden telling us that Chris Carr had done something to his tires just before the race and it didn’t work at all. Sure enough a few seconds later Carr came over to apologize for messing up Braden’s race. Apparently he had jacked Braden’s front tire pressure up to 25 psi but then got distracted and forgot to do the rear tire. He said there was no way Braden would have been able to turn the bike with the tires like that and he felt horrible. Accepting his apology we allowed him to set the rear tire pressure as Braden headed out for his final main event of Bike Week. In his best ride of the week Braden battled near the front and on the final corner of the final lap gave Shane a bit of a bump and run to wrestle third place away from him. While the week of racing didn’t quite turn out as we thought it might before we left home, I was glad that Braden got some hardware before we were done and that the only injury through the week was to dad.
We stayed in Florida for another four days or so and although the racing was a big part of the trip there is just so much more to Bike Week. Main street was a blast and it seemed that every ten minutes or so we saw something that made us do a double-take including the couple and the Bulldog on the Harley where the only one wearing a helmet was the dog. Shout out to the rednecks that parked the most un-roadworthy looking motorhome we have ever seen in the parking lot at the Olive Garden. If we didn’t have photos I’m sure you wouldn’t believe us. We finally ended our trip at the dolphin aquarium so my daughter Taylor could swim with dolphins. This was her treat after spending most of the trip at racetracks.
Braden did blogs about his racing journey for longtime sponsor Inside Motorcycles so it is cool to be able to look back and relive our little adventure through his eyes. Some of the tracks have changed but the Bike Week racing schedule is still as hectic and talent filled as it was almost a decade ago when we went. Watching for results this week it is nice to see Taia Little, Shane Scott, Dustin Brown and Don Galloway out there doing battle. No matter what your result is, the fact that you were there turning laps during Bike Week is a memory you will have forever. Also best of luck to our buddy Hunter Bauer riding for Niki Kendall and her NKR Canada team in the upcoming AFT events.