By Mitch Boehm
It’s been 51 years, but the Daytona 200 of 1970 still resonates powerfully, especially when March rolls around and Bike Week flashes on the motorcycle world’s consciousness – as it’s done for the last 10 days.
Honda had launched its axis-altering 750 Four the previous year, and though the company was hesitant to race the huge-selling and wildly-popular CB750 (and possibly risk its on-road performance reputation), National Service Manager Bob Hansen pushed for an effort over the winter – and finally got R&D to agree.
Honda Japan would prepare four works-spec machines, three for British Isle of Man/GP phenoms Tommy Robb, Ralph Bryans and Bill Smith (whose efforts R&D techs would manage), and one for a rider of Hansen’s choice – which turned out to be AMA Hall of Famer Dick “Bugsy” Mann.
The competition was extra fierce that year. The Triumph/BSA squad featured Mike Hailwood, David Aldana, Don Castro, Gary Nixon and Gene Romero, all riding highly modified 750cc triples housed in Rob North frames and bodywork shaped by the Royal Air Force wind tunnel. Harley-Davidson came loaded as well, with Cal Rayborn leading the way aboard the latest version of the new Ironhead XRTT.
But in the end, all that mechanical and riding-talent firepower didn’t matter much at all. The British triples (all but Romero’s) and Harley twins all overheated and broke, and the Hondas had serious cam-chain tensioner issues, which sidelined Robb and Smith, with Bryans’ bike having literally burned up earlier in a fiery crash.
Only Mann’s CB750 lasted the 200 miles (though just barely), thanks largely to the engine being rebuilt by Honda’s Bob Jameson the night before the race to repair the tensioner. Mann got the holeshot of his life at the start and ran up front as attrition percolated all around him.
At the end, with his Honda slowing dramatically due to a worn-out tensioner and having burned oil like a derrick fire the entire race, Mann babied the thing across the line with just two seconds separating him from Romero, who’d been closing dramatically during the last 50 miles. Hansen had calculated how slow Mann could run and still win, and communicated this to his rider. His savvy paid off with a historic and memorable win for Honda, though it cost him his job when he told Honda’s head R&D man to get lost when Hansen’s late-race strategy was questioned. “Bob Jameson won Daytona in 1970,” Hansen said later.
“Honda’s 1970 Daytona win was an incredible result that foreshadowed the future of American roadracing,” wrote motojournalist Aaron Frank back in 2012. “By the end of the decade, BSA was out of business, Triumph was headed that way, and Harley-Davidson had abandoned sport motorcycles to become the cruiser juggernaut it is today.”