By Broc Bridges

Daytona International Speedway’s “Bike Week” has been an annual tradition since the inaugural Daytona 200 in 1937. Only WWII could stop this lively event (1943-1946), and 2024 marks the 83rd running. In 1974, Daytona International Speedway and Bike Week hosted the first round in the “Yamaha Super-Series”, the first iteration of what is now Monster Energy Supercross. Pierre Karsmakers won the 250cc Class, now the 450SX Class. Daytona Bike Week 2024 is set to host 450SX Class round #750. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Supercross, Daytona’s rich Supercross history began long before the Yamaha Super-Series in 1974.

Daytona starting gate

While Daytona International Speedway has been a part of all 50 seasons of Supercross racing dating back to the 1974 round, motocross racing at the Speedway pre-dates even the Pro Motocross Championship. In 1971 the Florida Winter-am held their Championship finale at the Speedway on March 13th, the same day the 200 was set to run. Because so many athletes showed up, practice turned into a traffic jam, delaying the event as the 200 race was approaching. Heat Races had to be ran for both classes to qualify for the final. Once the finals were held the first Open Class winner was Cleveland, Ohio’s Bryan Kenney on a Husqvarna. Kenney beat out Jimmy Weinert for the victory and continued racing professionally in the Pro Motocross Championship’s first few seasons beginning in 1972. In the 250cc Class it was Gunnar Lindstrom, also on a Husqvarna, taking the victory and joining Kenney as one of two of the first ever Daytona Motocross/Supercross winners. The Pro Motocross Championship would begin in April of 1972, but Daytona International Speedway was slated to be the finale of the Florida Winter-am once again. Jimmy Weinert was scorching through the early ranks of American Motocross stardom and redeemed his ’71 loss by winning the 250cc Class in ’72. Mark Blackwell won the Open Class over Gary Jones, the same Jones who was about to begin his run as Pro Motocross’ first Champion a month later.

Daytona Bike Week garnered an incredible opportunity in 1973 to host the Opener of the 250/500 Pro Motocross Championship. Bob Grossi scored the overall in the 250 Motocross Class while Karsmakers won the 500 Class. Karsmakers would come back to Bike Week and win the first ever 450SX Class race in 1974’s Yamaha-Super Series. While the Speedway/Supercross model has blossomed in other locations, such as Atlanta Motor Speedway, Chicago, Charlotte, and Talladega, Daytona has stood the test of time with the series. As Supercross raced through 50 years and nearly 750 rounds, Daytona remains a difficult mid-season test in every season.

Eli Tomac

Nobody has navigated the Daytona beast as smoothly as Eli Tomac, who is looking to score his eighth 450SX Class Daytona victory. Tomac raced in the Western Regional 250SX Class from 2011-2013 so he never experienced the Daytona Supercross in the smaller-bore Championship. During his Western Regional title defense of 2013, his final year on the 250, he was given a four-race cup of tea in the 450SX Class in Atlanta, St. Louis, Daytona, and Indianapolis. Daytona was his best finish of the bunch scoring a solid fourth place finish, his first career 450SX Class top five finish of many to come. That fourth-place ride, what most consider a solid day in the treacherous conditions, has been Tomac’s worst Daytona finish to date. Only missing 2014 due to injury, Tomac has compiled seven wins and two runner-up rides in the Speedway. Justin Brayton’s magical 2018 ride where he eclipsed Tomac by mere seconds at the finish line remains as Tomac’s only Daytona blemish from 2016-2023. Tomac sits at five in a row and is looking to become the second rider in 450SX Class history to win in the same venue for six straight seasons (Jeremy McGrath, Minneapolis, HHH Metrodome). Tomac has caught fire going into Daytona, after a furious 16th to 2nd place comeback in Arlington. He will look to make a dent in his point standings deficit versus red-plate Jett Lawrence in their first Daytona duel. Supercross #750 and Daytona #51 or #54, depending on how you look at it, is set to be an exciting competition with a lot on the line.