Room To Vroom

Rolling into Daytona Beach for Bike Week

March 09, 2004|By GENE SWEENEY JR. | GENE SWEENEY JR.,SUN STAFF

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Sarah Mayer did not listen to her father's advice, making him very happy.

David A. Hutchins, 65, of Sharpsburg had always lectured his daughter about what a bad idea it was to lend motorcycles to friends. So, there he was, making his way to Daytona Beach on her 1991 Honda Nighthawk for his first Bike Week.

The retired Prince George's County math teacher, who hadn't ridden since the Carter administration, found too much sun, too much traffic, too much noise at the 63rd-annual event, but "very, very friendly people, everywhere."

Also in town was Speed Millett, owner of Speed's Cycle in Elkridge. After 40 annual trips to Daytona Beach, Millett, who gives his age as "50-something," must know a lot of shortcuts. He made the 805-mile trip from his Columbia home on his 1995 BMW motorcycle in a mere 11 hours. Hmmm.

What drew these Marylanders and upward of 500,000 other enthusiasts is the week of motorcycle madness -- racing, drinking, sunning, funning, hawking and gawking -- that is Bike Week.

It's an event that pumps $750 million into the coffers of Daytona Beach and the surrounding area, says Kevin Kilian, vice president of event communications for the Chamber of Commerce. Not bad for a little get-together begun in 1937 as a chance to race motorcycles on the sand. (The event was not held during World War II.)

Over the years, the event, which wrapped up Sunday, had earned a reputation as wild and dangerous, with rival gangs, traffic fatalities and nudity on and around Main Street. In 1988, Daytona Beach lowered the vroom: Clean it up or get out of town.

"They now issue tickets for loud [exhaust] pipes, and even jaywalking," says Lori Mauldin, who sells T-shirts at the Drunken Pirate clothing shop on Main Street. A former Joppa resident who's been at the past 26 Bike Weeks, Mauldin says the clean-up has "taken all of the fun out of it."

Still, bike enthusiasts keep coming back. And next time, Hutchins might just have his own ride.

His wife Nancy hopes he doesn't get any "crazy" ideas about buying a motorcycle, but after a test spin around Daytona International Speedway on a brand-new BMW, Hutchins says he's tempted. Then Hutchins realizes he'd have to sell his lawn tractor, which he's not sure he can part with.

"I had a great time, though," Hutchins says of his joy ride and his stop in Daytona Beach. "I would love to come again."

Just say no, Sarah.

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