The Last Race on Earth (Daytona 2020)

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The annual centerpiece for the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Series sat anchored firmly in its spot on the SX calendar, March 7, 2020, sandwiched between the Atlanta and Indianapolis rounds. The race, held prestigiously at the International Speedway for nearly half a century, was set to be one of the series’ most memorable. Studied fans of the sport will recite an appropriate quote from memory, much like a daycare rhyme or religious hymn. “The series starts at Daytona,” an adage straight from the mouth of one of the sport’s all-time greats, Ricky Carmichael. Statistically speaking, the winner of the Daytona Supercross will win the championship 47.8% of the time. Put bluntly, this race is important. Feld Entertainment, the purveyors of modern day Supercross, know it. The International Speedway team that puts on the race independently, know it. The racers, mechanics, industry personnel, and fans, they all know it. There was ample understanding of the gravity surrounding this event, but starting in December of 2019, this race became unknowingly strapped to a ticking time-bomb.

Worse yet, nobody knew when it was going to go off.

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I forgot to mention it was Wednesday, March 4th, 2020. I don’t remember what time it was, but I left for Daytona sometime that afternoon. About an hour and fifteen minutes removed from Chicago, Illinois, meant it’d be roughly a day and a half to reach Daytona Beach, accounting for the fact that I was the sole member of this mission. Measuring up the bed of my Ford Transit, I determined my sleeping pad would inflate to about 6 feet, 1 and 1/2 inches… about half an inch too long. I wasn’t measuring diagonally, though, which is how I would be lying to accommodate for my motorcycle strapped inside.

It’s a 2014 YZ250, two-stroke, purchased brand-new that summer. It has 193 hours on it, currently sporting its second engine rebuild. The Pro Taper handlebars are removed from a 2009 YZ125. The original shroud plastic and graphics remain, hanging on for dear life. Select knobbies are missing on both front and rear tires, though new rubber is sitting in the garage, starved of their bloodlust from twisted knuckles. The shift lever develops slop on the spline every now and again, but I had just finished tightening that up in the van. She’s a rocket-ship though, fierce and nimble, out-cornering even the priciest of bloated four-strokes any day of the week. I absolutely adore this bike, so the anxiety of contorting my body underneath the engine frame to sleep is nil.

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The pad is rolled up, but this was more or less the arrangement. My knees would occasionally hit that orange gas tank at night.

I stuffed a single paper mask in the side of my duffel bag, setting my iPhone to shuffle as I peeled out of nowhere, Indiana. I wondered if my traveling to Florida was unnecessarily irresponsible, given the information beginning to surround the novel Coronavirus strain, Covid-19. The news cycle began picking up steam right around the time I jettisoned down I-65 Southbound, making me uneasy.

That Wednesday, CNN had reported that economic fears over the coronavirus epidemic had started to manifest into action. The Federal Reserve slashed interest rates by half a percentage point in an attempt to give the US economy a jolt, in its first unscheduled rate cut since the housing crisis of 2008. All the while, Congress was still nit-picking its way around a spending bill to tackle the virus, thousands of school-children were being sent home for the remainder of the semester, and the global infection rate was creeping towards the 100,000 mark.

“…[H]e let me use his shower. A true samaritan right there.”

Despite armageddon, I first had to call Jordan Hoover. Jordan has become a good friend of mine over the last two years, having been a fan of his artistic video/print work for just as long. I mentioned off-hand the week prior that I’d be attending the big race, and he went so far as to offer me a place to stay the night I got in. It was much appreciated, for not only the fact I got to see Jordan again, or the fact that I met his wonderful girlfriend Rain, but I was simply grateful for the fact that he let me use his shower. That’s a true samaritan right there. Sipping IPA’s, watching Bob Dylan documentaries, cruising the mean streets of Jacksonville, and walking the beach barefoot by moonlight was all just gravy.

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Jordan, Rain, and I selling seashells (and jellyfish) by the seashore.

Jordan didn’t seem too worried about the virus, although I didn’t really have much time to ask him about it anyway. We spent all night talking about Turnstile, skateboarding, and a little bit of moto, after I made mention of visiting Pax Trax the following day. Jordan was pumped, assuring me the torrential downpour that evening meant the track would be in rare form. Only I was in rare form as well, unfortunately.

That Friday, as Bloomberg reported on Minnesota’s first case of Covid-19, credit markets endured their worst day in a decade, and the annual SXSW music and arts festival shuttered its proverbial doors, I pulled into Pax to a packed house hoping to meet some new friends before the Earth folded in on itself. Despite my excitement for riding, my body was depraved of sufficient nutrients from the past two days traveling down the country. I was dehydrated, melting into a white blob in the Florida sun. I didn’t have any virus to worry about now, because either the heat, the lack of fluids, or the fact I was about to get landed on by the fastest group of A riders I’ve ever seen, would get me first.

One of those riders was Andrew Boccarossa, whom I was greeted by when I pulled in for the day. Andrew hails from Redding, Connecticut, and is part of an east coast crew that tore up the region last year for an independent film called “Dog Days,” a thirty-minute epic captured by fellow New Englander Elliot Phelps. Andrew had gotten to know me after I praised the movie on my website, and by seeing some of my own videos I made last year in Europe with the Team Fried crew. He knew I’d be in the area and offered I come ride with the crew I admired from afar in the Midwest. No fooling, I thought that was pretty damn cool.

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Pax history.

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Andrew… affectionately called “Bocco” by his confidants. Pronounced Bah • Ko.

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Andrew turned this massive single-single into a double on the intermediate track before the day was over, which stoked out Speedy Pete and inspired a few of us to give it a shot, too.

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Dude was seriously stoked!

I had never met any of these guys before in my life, and they treated me like I was one of their homies from back home. Andrew, Joe Tait, Carrie Davis, and more were so easy to hang out with. Even Andrew’s father, Pete, who chatted my ear off about his passion for motocross and superbikes, was warm and welcoming. His enthusiasm was infectious, so much so that he even let me take a few laps aboard his fire breathing CR500, my first experience on the fabled displacement. All I can say is, I can’t believe anyone ever raced those monsters.

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While Pete wanted to gabber on about the finer details of his machine, and as much as I wanted to hear every last bit, it was getting late and I needed to find another shower. I was covered in black Florida silt, which looked more like soot in my street clothes. A miner coming back from an honest day’s work.

Luckily, those same members of Team Fried I mentioned earlier were already roaming the Daytona area. I tossed a lifeline to my filmmaking comrade Tom Journet, making my plea over speakerphone. “Hey Tom! How are you? Get into town all right? Cool, awesome. Great to hear. Yeah, no. I’m doing good man, thanks. By any chance are you at your hotel right now?”

So there I sat in the lobby of the Oceanfront Hilton, waiting for Tom to sneak me into the elevator. It was pretty ritzy by Midwestern standards. Marble floors, iconic motorsports memorabilia at every turn. Old, white dudes with spiky grey hair and Rolex watches. I was really classing the place up with my greasy, pit-stained t-shirt and basketball shorts combo. Excluding the skateboard I used to get there, and a backpack holding nothing but a change of underwear and a towel.

“I was really classing the place up with my greasy, pit-stained t-shirt.”

After catching up with Tom on the ride up to the top floor, I was greeted by the TF crew’s de facto leader, Jason Anderson. I was happy to see him relaxing, as I had last seen him in the Amsterdam airport, virtually drained from a month-long excursion to bring the Chamberlain Trophy back stateside with Team USA.

Jason didn’t seem worried about the virus either, though it eventually became a conversation between the three of us. By then riders like Ken Roczen and Yamaha teammates Justin Barcia and Aaron Plessinger had canceled their autograph signings. Even the local motorcycle dealerships were forced to can their popular meet-and-greets. Despite news that evening that the airline industry was poised to lose $113 billion in sales due to the outbreak, the mood remained loose. While Tom and Jason bantered about the relief on airfare, I sauntered off to grab that shower before joining them for dinner.

Benny Tozzi was now with us and wondered where I’d be staying that night, and soon scoffed at the idea that I’d be kissing my drain plug goodnight for the second time this trip. Jason had my back though, “Van life is seriously underrated,” he went on, “You can stay anywhere you like! Beach front property!” And with that inkling of information, I thanked Tom for letting me tag along and Google Map’d my route to the nearest public access point.

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Pre-social distancing eeriness. I complimented the couple who rolled up while I was brushing my teeth that morning. “Nice Harley!” They didn’t say anything back.

Saturday morning, March 7th, the Italian cabinet began discussion on a draft that would lockdown the Northern half of the country and it’s dividing provinces, prohibiting any movement in and out of those respective areas until further notice. In New York, the city’s coronavirus case total snuck up to thirteen. Across the world, Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, declared that the government would launch a scheme to extend zero interest loans with no collateral to small and mid-sized companies, reeling from the new coronavirus turmoil.

“Chalk it up to another moto-mystery, next to all the other infamous what-ifs.”

In Daytona, the virus was nothing more than a light conversation piece as fans poured into the infield of the Speedway, parking along grass and tarmac, cinching up drawstring bags and packing coolers full of aluminum beer cans. The energy was palpable, an uncertainty hung in the air wondering which rider would separate himself from the field for the rest of the championship. An unseasonably cool afternoon and even colder evening gripped Ken Roczen and Eli Tomac, who found themselves in the midst of a heated dogfight, tied 200 even at the top of the round. Justin Barcia, Cooper Webb, and Jason Anderson wanted nothing more than to play the momentum-sucking spoiler in tonight’s program.

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Bocco showed me around the pits on Saturday alongside his friend Taylor Smith. I enjoyed the company of the privateers, Davey Sterritt here being no exception. He just missed out on the night show, but had the sickest Maico jersey out there. Respect.

I’ll spare the minute details of the evening, as we all know by now what happened. In what feels like a lifetime ago, the #3 Kawasaki turned in the ride of his life on the frustratingly tight Daytona circuit to clinch his fifth win of the season, coming from considerably far back to snatch a walk-off win from Ken Roczen. While I’m sure he’s got more important things to think about, I do wonder if Ken lays awake at night, contemplating if he’d known the stakes were higher, could he have been able to fend off Eli? Chalk it up to another moto-mystery, next to all the other infamous what-ifs.

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Traversing the roadways back towards Indiana, I thought of how generous each member of my trip was, and how in one way or another, they were all linked to this dinky little website I started back in 2018. Whether we conducted an interview, exchanged comments on Instagram, or filmed a couple videos, each individual pointed back towards World of Echo. Without them, none of this would be possible and, hell, I probably wouldn’t have even went to Daytona in the first place.

These were welcome thoughts as initially, I was uneasy taking this trip. Yes, partially due to the novel yet very real threat of the coronavirus, but even moreso because I was starting to question why I even run this site. After two years of work, that lust was fading – the honeymoon phase officially over. However, what I learned on this trip, and continue to reflect on while we isolate ourselves from the world, was that the foundational value of World of Echo lies based on the connections made within it. A link between genuine-ass people who love the same things I love, do the same things I do, and feel the same way I feel about life, music, and motorcycles. It got me feeling all fuzzy inside, excited for a chance to see most of them again the very next weekend as the traveling circus stopped in the Circle City. Something wasn’t quite right though, you could almost feel the tension from the outside world was starting to collapse on our little sport.

And there it went. Only then did that time-bomb finally strike zero, a mere week after Bike Week’s closure, and if speculation had been perhaps a bit more keen, it should’ve gone off the week before in Florida. Instead, the blast struck Indiana, Michigan, and one-by-one, each remaining round of the Supercross series. Just as no one knew when that bomb would go off, Daytona had unknowingly become the last race on Earth.

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