With the news that MotoAmerica is headed to Daytona International Speedway in March of 2022 for the Daytona 200, we decided the perfect way to build excitement for the event would be to start digging through the history books and memory banks. Since Paul Carruthers is literally as old as the Speedway itself and covered almost 30 Daytona 200s as a journalist while working at Cycle News, it was a no-brainer that it would be him who would take on the task of trying to recall the good and the bad. And since we are the home of the AMA Superbike Series, we figured we’d have him start his look back with the 1985 Daytona 200 – the first of the 200s to feature Superbikes – and go from there. This week, we focus on the 1994, 1995 and 1996 Daytona 200s.
Winner: Scott Russell, Kawasaki ZX-7R
Scott Russell’s Kawasaki suffered a mechanical failure in the Twin 50 qualifying race in the lead up to the 53rd edition of the Daytona 200 and thus was forced to start the 1994 200 from the 16th of the 20-row grid, but it mattered not. Russell and his Muzzy Kawasaki carved their way through the field, and the pairing were in second place when a red flag temporarily halted the race. The race ended up being held in two parts and Russell won the most important part, the Georgian earning a second Daytona 200 win with a 2.9-second victory over Australian Troy Corser.
The Turning Point: The race ended up boiling down to a battle of pit crews. The Muzzy Kawasaki team elected not to change Russell’s rear tire during the Georgian’s final pit stop while the Fast By Ferracci crew went ahead and fitted new rubber to Corser’s Ducati. That proved to be the difference with Russell emerging from the pits for the final time with an insurmountable advantage.
Newsworthy: Aussie Troy Corser showed that he was something special in his AMA debut as he finished second in his first-ever Daytona 200 after coming up just 2.9 seconds behind Scott Russell and ahead of four-time World Champion Eddie Lawson.
Doug Polen made his debut on the factory Honda RC45 at Daytona, the bike clad in Smokin’ Joe’s Racing livery. Polen ended up fourth in his only U.S. appearance as he was headed to Europe to race in the World Superbike Championship for his new team.
Scott Russell would also be heading to Europe after his win in the 200, the Kawasaki rider set to defend his World Superbike Championship.
The finishing order of the 1994 Daytona 200 read like a who’s who of AMA Superbike racing with Russell, Corser, Lawson, Polen, Jamie James, Steve Crevier, Mike Smith, Thomas Stevens, Kevin Magee, and Dale Quarterley taking the top 10 spots in the race.
Fast By Ferracci Ducati’s Pascal Picotte earned pole position for the Daytona 200 with a new lap record of 1:50.068 at an average speed of 116.437 mph. The pole position was Picotte’s first-ever in an AMA National and it bettered Russell’s 1993 record of 1:50.194. Picotte’s hopes of Daytona 200 glory ended on the 24th lap when he coasted to a stop in the dogleg, his chain no longer on the sprocket.
All hell broke loose on the 31st lap when German Bernhard Schick crashed horrifically on the front straight after a front rim failure caused the front tire to lose air and come part. Fortunately, Schick escaped with only minor injuries.
Winner: Scott Russell, Kawasaki ZX-7R
A year after winning the Daytona 200 from close to the back of the 80-rider field, Scott Russell went one better in 1995 as he crashed his Muzzy Kawasaki on the second lap, remounted at the rear of the pack and somehow marched onward to his third Daytona 200 victory. As I wrote in Cycle News at the time, “It makes you wonder what he’ll try next year – perhaps he’ll start on Main Street at the back of the motorcycle parade.”
The Turning Point: After picking up his crashed Kawasaki in the International Horseshoe at the start of the second lap, Russell was soon picking off slower riders in front of him. He was up to 37th on the fourth lap when a pace car came out due to an accident in turn six. After three laps run under caution, Russell restarted his assault on the field and took the lead for the first time on the 20th lap. From there, except for some shuffling due to scheduled pit stops, he was never headed again.
Newsworthy: Russell’s win was not only remarkable, but it was historical as it placed him into the record books as only the third man in 54 years to win three Daytona 200s – as he joined legends Dick Klamfoth, Roger Reiman and Kenny Roberts.
“We like it here, what can I say?” Russell said from Victory Lane after his improbable win. “The pace car helped, but I don’t think we would have needed it the way things turned out – but we’ll take it.”
Second place in the Daytona 200 went to Russell’s World Superbike rival Carl Fogarty. Fogarty wasn’t too pleased with the result and blamed a lot of it on the pace car. “It’s pretty incredible to crash and still win,” Fogarty said of Russell in the post-race press conference. Prior to the race, Fogarty had been quoted as saying, “I hate the place (Daytona), I hate the track and I hate the Americans.”
Yoshimura Suzuki’s Thomas Stevens bested Vance & Hines Yamaha’s Colin Edwards in a final sprint to the checkered flag for the final spot in Victory Lane.
Russell became the first rider to ever lap the 3.56-mile Daytona International Speedway in under the one-minute, 50-second barrier when he ripped off a 1:49.852 to earn pole position for the 200.
Winner: Miguel Duhamel, Honda RC45
Rain forced the postponement of the 55th running of the Daytona six days, but the wait was well worth it as Scott Russell and Miguel Duhamel battled to the bitter end, culminating in what may have been the most exciting half-mile of racing ever seen at the famed Superspeedway. The pair exited the chicane for the final time with Duhamel and his Smokin’ Joe’s Honda leading Russell and his Lucky Strike Suzuki with both men surviving rear-wheel slides at 180-plus mph on the tri-oval. At the finish, it was Duhamel taking his second Daytona 200 win – this one by an unheard of .010 of a second.
The Turning Point: You don’t often lead out of the second chicane at Daytona and make it to the finish line first. Duhamel, though, did just that – despite his rear tire spinning up. “When I pulled it back in, the rear end broke around, sliding coming off the banking,” Duhamel explained. “I must have blipped the throttle – maybe 98 percent. Then it was, ‘Get back on it or you’re going to lose the Daytona 200.’ Then the straight looked like it was 50 miles long to the finish line. Twenty feet before the line I felt him, but I knew it was too late. As soon as I crossed the line I could see Scott out of the side of my eye, right by my knee puck.”
Newsworthy: As if the race for victory wasn’t enough, the battle for third was just as furious with Yamaha’s Colin Edwards barely drafting past Yoshimura Suzuki’s Pascal Picotte at the finish line.
After narrowly missing out on what would have been a record-setting fourth Daytona 200 victory, Scott Russell vowed to return. “Daytona is a great place for me, and I always have good luck here. I even look at today as a good day at Daytona. Number four is out there for me, and I’ll be back to get it. I’m not sure when, but I’ll be back.”
Harley-Davidson’s much-maligned VR1000 finished 10th in the hands of multi-time AMA Grand National Champion Chris Carr. “Harley-Davidson hasn’t finished a Daytona 200 in about 20 years,” Carr said. “I thought if we stayed consistent and burned some laps, and stayed out of trouble, we had a shot at a top 10. And sure enough, we ended up 10th.
Pole position for the Daytona 200 went to Australian Troy Corser – a week before the 200 was run after the race was delayed a week by rain. In the race, Corser had the fastest bike and led the most laps, but he wasn’t around at the finish. Instead, his Ducati 955 overheated until the point of termination on the 30th of 52 laps.
With the six-day postponement of the race obviously hurting the spectator count, Russell’s Lucky Strike Suzuki team manager Garry Taylor had the following to say as virtually no one was in attendance for Saturday’s practice session: “Are they going to bring the pace car out when the spectator has to use the bathroom?” the Brit said.