Honda signed up as the title sponsor of the Daytona Supercross in 1991: 22 years ago this year. As long ago as that sounds, Honda fielded a Pro motocross team for the first time in 1973: 40 years ago! Given Honda’s win record on the rough and tumble man-made Daytona track, it absolutely makes sense to call the race “The Daytona Supercross by Honda.” Honda has more Supercross Class (originally the 250cc two-stroke class, and now the 450cc four-stroke class) wins at Daytona than any other brand, but the legend goes deeper than those numbers.
Honda is the only brand to sweep the podium at the race, and that feat has happened four times! Add to that an 11-year win streak and an unmatched four-in-a-row streak amassed by Honda ironman Jeff Stanton.
Interestingly enough, the Honda team was a year late for the first Daytona motocross. In 1972 there was no such thing as Supercross, so the Daytona race on a Gary Bailey-designed man-made track was still considered motocross. Even after Honda arrived in 1973 with Gary Jones, Dewayne Jones and Marty Tripes, Daytona wins eluded the team. In fact, Honda’s first Daytona Supercross victory (by then it was Supercross) came after the enigmatic Tripes rode for six other teams, retired from the sport, returned to the sport and signed with Honda again!
And what a win it was. Honda had an amazing year with works bikes in 1977, and for 1978 the stunning fire-engine-red production Honda CR250R was amazing. To promote those machines, Honda fielded one of the most talented teams ever assembled, and swept the Daytona podium in 1978 with Marty Tripes winning followed by teammates Marty Smith and Jimmy Ellis.
After Honda’s sweep in 1978, Honda racers swept the podium three more times. In 1982 Honda released a works bike that stunned the world: low-boy fuel tank, integrated ergonomics and incredible power. One advantage was a Showa cartridge fork with magnesium sliders. Despite the success in ’82, Honda redesigned the bike in 1983 and added mercurial Bob Hannah to the team. Newcomer Hannah won Daytona in 1983 and was joined on the podium by established Honda stars Johnny O’Mara and David Bailey.
Nobody ever ruled Daytona like Michigan’s Jeff Stanton. Throughout the 1980s and into the ’90s, Daytona had a reputation as one of the most brutal tracks in the series, combining all the obstacles of Supercross with the harsh track conditions of motocross. Stanton was a fit, strong, moto-brawler who relished the rough and tumble Daytona course, and he won Daytona four times, starting in 1989. In 1990, Honda would sweep the podium again, this time with Stanton winning and French world MX champion Jean-Michel Bayle and Mike Kiedrowski joining him on the podium.
The final sweep occurred during one of Daytona’s dreaded mud-baths in 2008. Kevin Windham and Davi Milsaps used stellar mud skills and exceptional strength to good effect to finish first and second while privateer Jacob Marsack was third.
Honda’s Daytona’s win record also includes an 11-year win streak from 1982 to 1992. Stanton’s record-setting four-in-a-row is included in that total. Honda even won with a true privateer rider: Rick Ryan’s career high victory at the 1987 mud event.
Coming into 2013 Honda has an excellent chance to extend its Daytona record. The revolutionary twin-exhaust CRF450R has already proven a winner, as have the two riders on the factory team: Justin Barcia and Trey Canard. Canard won the 250 race at Daytona in appalling rain conditions in 2008, and finished third in the 450 class in 2010, and Barcia won the 250 race last year.
Winning Daytona is so elusive that many of the best Supercross riders in history never won there. And others struggled to add that Daytona trophy to their mantle. Jeremy McGrath, for example, was in pursuit of his third title before he ever won at Daytona. The rough track, relatively high speeds and longer-than-normal track length make it tougher than a typical stadium track, and few Supercross riders thrive at Daytona. Three-time Daytona winner and former SX champ Chad Reed is an exception to that rule, and another Honda rider to watch in 2013.
Honda will be amply represented in the Lites class as well. The most likely favorites are GEICO Honda teammates Wil Hahn and Zach Bell, but you can’t count out Kyle Peters, Gavin Faith, Jimmy Decotis, Vince Friese or the other Honda-mounted riders in the Lites class.
One thing is certain: Daytona has always been as unpredictable as the rain that often turns the track into a muddy battleground. But if history is any indication, the podium is likely to be colored red.
Honda Daytona Winners
1978: 250SX (Honda Sweep) 1- Marty Tripes 2- Marty Smith 3- Jimmy Ellis
1982: 250SX 1- Darrell Shultz
1983: 250SX (Honda Sweep) 1- Bob Hannah 2- Johnny O’Mara 3- David Bailey
1984: 250SX 1- David Bailey
1985: 250SX 1- Bob Hannah
1986: 125ESX 1- Keith Turpin
250SX 1- Rick Johnson
1987: 250SX 1- Rick Ryan
1988: 250SX 1-Rick Johnson
1989: 250SX 1- Jeff Stanton
1990: 250SX (Honda Sweep) 1- Jeff Stanton 2- Jean Bayle 3- Mike Kiedrowski
1991: 250SX 1- Jeff Stanton
1992: 250SX 1- Jeff Stanton
1993: 125ESX 1- Doug Henry
1996: 250SX 1- Jeremy McGrath
2002: 250SX 1- Ricky Carmichael
2003: 250SX 1- Ricky Carmichael
2006: Lites 1- Davi Millsaps
2008: Lites 1- Trey Canard
450SX (Honda Sweep) 1- Kevin Windham 2- Davi Milsaps 3- Jacob Marsack
2012: Lites 1- Justin Barcia