Back To The Banking, A Return To Daytona: Part 1, 1985-1987

Honda’s Freddie Spencer won the 1985 Daytona 200 – the first of the 200s to feature Superbikes.

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.

1985

Winner:  Freddie Spencer, Honda VF750F

Honda’s Freddie Spencer had failed to win a race at Daytona heading into the event in March of 1985. When he left Florida, he did so after becoming the first rider to ever win three races during Bike Week at Daytona when he took victories in the 200, the Formula One National and the Formula 2 races.

The Turning Point: It looked like Spencer’s race was over early in the 200 when he pitted after his bike started to falter, running on only three of its four cylinders. When the crew couldn’t find anything wrong with the bike, Spencer returned to the track in 49th place with the problem somehow cured. From there he carved his way through the field to take victory.

Newsworthy: After his early race woes, Spencer took the lead from Wes Cooley on the 29th lap. Spencer gave up the lead to Cooley when his crew fitted a new rear tire to his Honda in his final pit stop, but it didn’t take him long to reel Cooley back in. Cooley would go on to finish second with Honda-mounted Jeff Haney rounding out the three that would end their day in Victory Lane.

All three of the podium finishers were mounted on Michelin-clad Honda VF750Fs.

The Daytona 200 win was Spencer’s first in five years of trying. In 1980, Spencer was six laps from victory when his Honda broke a crankshaft.

Spencer completed the 1985 Daytona 200 in one hour, 57 minutes, 13.067 seconds at an average speed of 102.989 mph.

The top non-American finisher in the 200 was Ron Haslam, the Brit riding his Honda to fourth place.

The big three: Eddie Lawson, Wayne Rainey and Kevin Schwantz battle in the 1986 Daytona 200. The win went to Lawson and Yamaha.

1986

Winner: Eddie Lawson, Yamaha FZ750

Yamaha’s Eddie Lawson, who would go on to win his second 500cc World Championship later that season, beat Yoshimura Suzuki’s Kevin Schwantz by 51 seconds to win the Daytona 200 in 1986 after qualifying on pole position with a lap of 1:56.228. Team Honda’s Merkel was third with his teammate Wayne Rainey fourth.

The Turning Point: This was during the heated tire-war period at Daytona with Lawson and Rainey on Michelins and Schwantz on Dunlops. It was Rainey who suffered the most when he chunked a tire on the 15th of 57 laps while battling with Lawson. Rainey lost some 50 seconds while pitting for a new rear tire and that was that. “I’m just lucky to leave here with points,” Rainey said.

Newsworthy: Freddie Spencer was entered in the 200 but didn’t show up and his entry was withdrawn. A Honda spokesman said that Spencer had a sinus infection.

Rainey’s Honda VFR750 was clocked at 171.42 mph on the high banks.

Multi-time AMA Grand National Champion Jay Springsteen finished fifth in the 200, which was the opening round of the Camel Pro Series.

An international field? More so in the support classes than the 200 in 1986 as Germany’s four-time World Champion Anton Mang beat Spaniard Sito Pons and German Harald Eckl to win the Formula Two (250cc) final. The Battle of The Twins race, meanwhile, was won by an out-of-retirement Marco Lucchinelli, the 1981 500cc World Champion riding a Cagiva to victory.

Honda’s Wayne Rainey celebrates after winning the 1987 Daytona 200.

1987

Winner: Wayne Rainey, Honda VFR750

Wayne Rainey led the only laps that counted in the 1987 Daytona 200. Rainey and his factory Honda trailed Suzuki’s Kevin Schwantz for 33 of the 57 laps before taking the lead when the Texan crashed in the chicane. Rainey lapped all the way up to second place while breaking 1986 race winner Eddie Lawson’s race record as he completed the 200 miles in one hour, 53 minutes and 46.269 seconds.

The Turning Point: Schwantz was leading the 200 by 13.2 seconds when he crashed out of the race in the chicane. “I’ve watched this race a lot of times and you have to finish Daytona to win Daytona,” Rainey said.

Newsworthy: For the second year in a row, Freddie Spencer made news at Daytona. A year after being a no-show with a sinus infection, Spencer’s long-awaited return to racing was sidelined when he suffered a broken collarbone in a crash during practice after hitting the crashed bike of Carry Andrew. Prior to the crash, Spencer had broken the lap record with his 1:54.572 to earn pole position.

Japan’s Satoshi Tsujimoto finished second to Rainey in the 200, riding as Schwantz’ Suzuki teammate, with Texan Doug Polen finishing third on a Kosar Racing Suzuki GSX-R750.

Rainey used Dunlop tires in winning the race; Schwantz and Tsujimoto’s Suzukis were fitted with Michelins.

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