Craig Murto: Barnes big winner at Daytona

Craig Murto

Florida Supersport rider Michael Barnes won the 75th running of the Daytona 200, the first Daytona victory for the 47-year-old racing veteran.

Barnes ran away and hid from the field twice – once before and once after a red flag – to beat Geoff May by 10 seconds at the finish. California rider Wyatt Farris finished third. The top eight riders were on Yamaha.

The Daytona 200 was exciting. It was a thrill to watch the skilled riders on the high banks and the road course. The race is still the most prestigious and historic motorcycle race in the United States, but it is nowhere near the race it once was.

The now semi-pro event is run with the 600cc sportbikes. This is as if the Indy 500 were run with Indy Lights cars or the Daytona 500 became an American Racing Club of America race. To the event’s credit, Victory Motorcycles stepped up to sponsor the race, which offered $175,000 in prize money to the top 40 riders. American Sportbike Racing Association-sanctioned the series, and since ASRA is an American Motorcyclist Association series the fact that it was an AMA-sanctioned event was stressed at the 11th hour to attract more sponsorship and interest.

But would the Daytona 500 have the same interest if Frank Kimmel were the biggest name in the field?

In 2009, AMA Pro Road Racing held 16 rounds of Superbike competition, each attracting more than 20,000 spectators. Then Daytona Motorsports Group (DMG, NASCAR) bought the rights to promote AMA pro racing. By 2014 there were fewer than 10 rounds of pro road racing and less TV coverage. It appeared that DMG felt it would be better to have more hours of washed up racers discussing Sprint Cup on TV than to promote professional motorcycle racing.

At the same time, the crowds that once attended AMA pro races dried up.

“It was good that there were a lot of bikes in competition,” said Phil Worthington of this year’s Daytona 200. Worthington is a host on The Dawghouse, a motorcycle Internet show podcast at ntnradio.com.

But Worthington fears that “respect for the race is going away” internationally and that the loss of respect isn’t fair to past champions.

The race used to be a 1,000cc Superbike race. But prior to the 2015 season, the AMA – seeing that its interests were not cared for by DMG — sold the rights to promote AMA Pro Road racing to a new group, MotoAmerica, headed by three-time American MotoGP champion Wayne Rainey.

You don’t mess with DMG without paying a price. In this case the price was the Daytona 200. It’s as if DMG feels it cannot allow MotoAmerica to compete at its track for fear it “lost.” Instead, everybody loses.

Rainey has been working to bring MotoAmerica Superbike rules in line with FIM World Superbike. In the future that may prove challenging if the Daytona 200 is ever to be a Superbike race again, as the hot pit stops and tire changes required to complete the 200 may not fall in line with World Superbike safety regulations.

The Daytona 200 is a great event. Michael Barnes rode a great race to score the win in the 75th running of America’s most prestigious motorcycle race.

But if somebody doesn’t swallow their pride soon and make this race a Superbike race again, there may not be a 77th running. Is DMG really going to hold the grudge so long that they diminish the event to the point there’s no reason to hold the race? Or will we finally see Superbikes – and international prestige – back on the track in 2017? Many people fear that if the 2017 race again is a sportbike race, it may be the final Daytona 200. Is that the legacy DMG wants to leave behind for its involvement in motorcycle racing?

DMG currently controls AMA flat track racing and outdoor motocross. For the first time in more than 50 years, flat track will not compete at Hagerstown. And do you ever see them promote the outdoor motocross events at Budds Creek?

The best thing for motorcycle racing would be if DMG gets out of the business altogether, except as owner of the tracks in Daytona. Let AMA have flat track back, get out of the outdoor motocross business, and bury the hatchet against MotoAmerica.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.