Though it no longer quite stands as the international judge of motorcycle road racing that it once was, the Daytona 200 is still one of the last races where motorcycles require the spectacle of refueling and tire changes. Recent years have been marked by attempts at night racing and growing pains as DMG took over running the event and the AMA Pro Racing series. While many long for “the good ol’days,” these photographs from 35 years ago, at the 1976 Daytona 200, give one a sense of what once was, and might be again.
For those that aren’t familiar, Alberto “Johnny” Cecotto, then the reigning 350cc World Champion, was back in Daytona after a career-making 1975 season. The year before, he started from the last position, after his non-factory Yamaha would not start on the grid. He raced from last to third in 1975, his rookie Daytona year. As the year progressed, racing only got better for the young Venezuelan as he held off Giacomo Agostini for the World Championship.
In the 1976 Daytona 200, he raced on a Venezuelan factory machine, and though Cenotto would have multiple crashes as the Championship switched to 500cc machines, he managed third in the 1978 before making the move to car racing, which included a stint in Formula 1. In 1984 he was teammate to Ayrton Senna, but now Cenatto focuses on his son’s car racing career.
Qualifying and practices required actual stopwatches and pretty girls (not seen here) to keep track of lap times and write them down for teams to later analyze.
Kenny Roberts, Sr. started on pole, with Cecotto fourth. There was no staggered gridding, and a proper standing start, not a rolling start as has occurred in recent years.
Before qualifying, Cecotto waits while Victor French, later a European Champion spark plugs distributor, ironically changes spark plugs on the factory Yamaha.
Cecotto spent much of the race holding off Roberts, as the Venezuelan factory team tuned their Yamaha a bit differently than the American factory team. Cecotto was a bit slower, but able to make the race distance, whereas Roberts could not.
It was a truly international race, with various foreign visitors foregoing pants while checking out a conversation between Roberts and Kel Carruthers.
Other notable riders included a pensive Barry Sheene, coolly withstanding the scrutiny of Pat Hennen, Sheene Senior, and Team Manager Mervin Wright while wearing his lucky Gary Nixon t-shirt.
Sheene made sure he drove Daytona in style, complete with his own name on the car.
“How many times have I told you to lay off my women and liquor?”
Erv Kanemoto was in the midst of his famous and fast partnership with Gary Nixon.
Also racing in 1976 was the Cycle magazine Ducati, called “Ol’ Blue.”
Photos: © 2011 Albert Reid – All Rights Reserved