Danny Eslick on a Riders’ Discount Racing Triumph 675 triple won the 73rd Daytona 200 with an 11-second margin over second-placeman Jake Gagne. Triumph’s last win in the 200 was by the late Gary Nixon in 1967. If you heard the public-address announcers’ version of this event, you would think it had been a titanic start-to-finish struggle, with continual changes of lead, passing and re-passing, first among 10 closely matched riders, then among 6, then 6, then 4. Mortal combat! But wait. Why does this look so familiar? Ten riders together, with constant lead changes? This is the classic image of Supersport racing at Daytona: a pack of bikes and riders so closely matched that no one of them has the speed to break away—the draft forbids it. And then I remembered what Kurtis Roberts had said long ago about this. “Spectators think we’re racing out there, but the only racing is what’s going to happen on the last 2 laps. The rest of the time we’re just waiting, trying different things, getting ready for that last drive from the chicane to start/finish.” The men who were up front, trying things and staying where the action was were usually Eslick, Jason DiSalvo, Garrett Gerloff, Dane Westby, Jake Gagne, JD Beach, and Tomas Puerta. Eslick might brake hard into the lead at the chicane and others might draft past on the run to start/finish, only to have yet another rider slip into the lead into turn 1. Around and around this cycle whirled, with endless lead changes. But as time passed, it remained clear that, despite all this churning, no one could get away (Corey Alexander’s earlier breakaway SuperSport wins were a notable exception).
Despite this, the milling pack of bikes was giving some riders answers. In the post-race press conference, Eslick said, “I knew I had the motorcycle to win from about the 6th or eighth lap. I knew that I could be first at the line.” Just after the first pit stop (bikes began to come in on lap 18 of the 57), Gerloff crashed in turn 5, lost many positions, and remounted. After pitting for repairs, he would burn through the field to an amazing fifth. Although former 200 winner Jake Zemke would finish eighth on a GEICO Honda CBR600RR, this was a race just between 600cc Yamaha 4s and 675cc Triumph triples. Yes, there was a Ducati somewhere downfield, and a couple of Suzukis and Kawasakis, but these were private bikes without 200-winning force behind them. Eslick, asked about his Richard Stanboli-prepared Triumph, said, “It shows that he knows how to prep a motorcycle.” I found Stanboli in his big truck. How much time did you have? “3 weeks.” What did you do? “Valve springs. Dyno. Individual cylinder tuning. The things you do.” Eslick had said, “That bike was makin’ a lot of noise that last 10 laps.” Richard’s comment? “You always hear noises when you’re leading. Another thing. I told Danny to go hard on the fresh tires—no pussy-footing like the others. When we put them on, they’re ready to go.”
As lap 34 ended and the 4-bike nose-to-tail express of Eslick, Westby, DiSalvo, and Gagne entered turn 1, Westby’s bike gave a great snap, bringing himself and DiSalvo to rest in the AirFence. Eslick later said he had no idea of the drama behind him. After the second pit stop, all that remained was for Eslick to defend a narrow lead over Gagne. No one else was close (third and 4th, Jake Lewis and Bobby Fong, were 37 and 49 seconds back at the end). The plus-numbers on Eslick’s board grew nicely to a final 10.975 seconds, and there was no more drama. He stopped on his first victory lap, climbed over the fence, and embraced fans packed onto a platform atop a school bus. Back on his bike, and after a few burnouts, he made a flag lap. This man has endless energy! There’s always more to it. The day before, during qualifying, Jon Cornwell was puzzled to see Eslick, suited up, leaning on his motorcycle, whose tire warmers were off. What’s he waiting for, with no tire warmers? Then it became clear: He was waiting for a particular fast machine to come around. When it did, he launched in pursuit. Eslick was lining up some drafting help for a fast lap. In the post-race press conference, he burst out with grins and words. “That was the shortest 200 miles of my life!” A journalist asked, “Did we see you fist-pumping on that final lap?” “I was fist-pumpin’ every lap—thumbs-up, slappin’ the horse, I was doin’ it all!” To the question, “How will you celebrate?” he replied, “I’m goin’ to the bus!”