Superbikes back for 2011 Daytona 200?

The Daytona 200 could be making a shock return to Superbikes after possibly the smallest crowd and one of the smallest fields in the 69 year history of the season-opener.

Tyre concerns forced the switch to middleweight motorcycles in 2005, with Superbikes only using one of Daytona’s famed bankings.

But the factories have gradually lost interest and the decision to revert to Superbikes began late last year, according to one official of the Daytona Motorsports Group (DMG), which now runs AMA Pro Racing.

Running Superbikes on both bankings isn’t as easy as it sounds and just the notion of going back to Superbikes was given a frosty reception.

“No way we can run both bankings. It’s impossible,” said Larry Pegram, who overheated the rear tyre on his Ducati 1198R in Friday’s Superbike race.

Added Tommy Hayden, Nicky’s older brother, “I feel like it’s not going to as easy as just lining Superbikes up, running both bankings and racing.”

The hope is that it will get all the best riders in the biggest race and draw riders from overseas.

But that isn’t likely. Dunlop is the spec tyre supplier of the AMA, while a number of other national championships, as well as World Superbike, use Pirellis.

The possible switch to Superbikes on both bankings is yet another example of how proactive DMG has become in the past several months.

The 2009 AMA Pro Road Racing championship was the low point in the history of Superbike racing in America, the country that invented it.

A year on, DMG has re-invented itself and the early results are encouraging. So encouraging, in fact, that the possibility exists that the factories which were driven off may be returning, but not until 2011.

The 2009 season began with a debacle in the series’ signature event, the Daytona 200.

Bad calls from race direction, a pace car snafu, and exploding lights in the chicane ruined the first nighttime running of the race. And it set the tone for the season.

When the season ended Neil Hodgson lost his job when American Honda withdrew from the series, pointedly saying, “Regrettably the current AMA/DMG racing environment does not align with our company goal.”

Kawasaki soon joined them on the sidelines.

Someone at DMG headquarters in Daytona Beach, Florida got the message.

From the end of the season to this past Friday night’s Daytona 200, DMG got rid of at least five key people, most notably CEO Roger Edmondson, whose antipathy towards the factories and imperiousness was blamed for many of the championship’s problems.

In his place came  Harvard-educated lawyer David Atlas, who has little experience in running a racing series. But during a conciliatory riders meeting in Daytona, Atlas was humble and said the atmosphere would no longer be adversarial. 

And, rather than cater to the smaller manufacturers, there is a move afoot to bring Honda back into the fold. Said  one senior DMG employee said “that call has been made.”

Only time will tell if their actions equal their words, but the evidence during Daytona Bike Week was encouraging.

They got rid of the pace car and bike. There was less animosity in the paddock. The races were run efficiently. The dumbed down technical rules are no longer argued.

On the downside, the fields were much smaller than in the past. The crowds were the smallest ever for both the Superbike races and the Daytona 200, though part of that can be blamed on the weather.

When the 200 ended, after just after 10:30 p.m., it was 6C. In Florida.

Henny Ray Abrams

By Henny Ray Abrams